I love dance so much. It makes me feel like I'm flying. It’s like everything I can’t say with words, I can say with my body. - Alicia Albright
As I mentioned in last week’s piece, I’m out of town working with the wonderful Transcendence Theatre Company in Sonoma, CA. One of the best opportunities that an actor or dancer can get while working on any project is the chance to meet new colleagues. Turns out this one is no different, because during this creative excursion I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with one of the most positive, talented, and genuinely happy people I’ve ever met: meet Alicia Albright. Alicia is a dancer and musical theatre performer who has toured with shows like All Shook Up and Wicked, and made her Broadway debut in Wicked, as well. She’s a very well respected swing and dance captain in the professional theatre business, and on top of all that, she’s also a yoga teacher.
During a lunch break from rehearsal this last week I sat down with Alicia to talk about her history as a dancer, her career, and just what it is that helps her stay so positive.
MICHAEL: Hi Alicia, thank you for taking the time to sit and chat with me today on the lunch break. How are you?
ALICA: (with a big, bright smile) I’m good how are you! It’s nice to see you!*
*We’d just spent all morning dancing and signing in rehearsal together…
MICHAEL: (laughing) It’s always nice to see you too. Ok, so, one of the things you said the other day really resonated with me. You said that dancing, for you, was the expression of your soul. How did you originally find your way to dance, and how did you figure that out about yourself?
ALICIA: I think that [idea of dance being the expression of my soul] was something that came up later. I started dancing when I was four years old, but I was always a little “fluffy” kid, I was never the best at my studio, and I loved dance— but, I didn’t realize I loved it until I wasn’t dancing. In high school I did a lot of things; dance, dance team, drama club, marching band— and I got so busy, that when my ballet teacher didn’t move me up to the next level, I quit dancing for three months. It was then that I first realized I loved it, because I missed it.
I’ve always loved the storytelling aspect of dance, too. I remember one time, we did a ballet piece to the song “Look Down’ from Les Miserable, and I think it was then that I was able to realize and make the connection between dance and story telling.
There was a time where I actually fell out of love with dance, too— because of life being difficult, not feeling like I was good enough professionally, and because I’d been a swing for so many years and thought I wasn't “good enough” to be onstage. I actually thought I was going to leave the business— then out of nowhere I had this “opening” about how much I loved dance. I love dance so much. It makes me feel like I'm flying. It’s like everything I can’t say with words, I can say with my body. I always knew it made me feel better, but as I got older, I realized that moving and dancing made me a better person, made me feel grounded. I began to notice that if I was feeling grumpy, I’d ask myself ‘have you danced today? have you moved your body?’ … usually the answer was ‘no’. I started to cue into that connection [of movement and happiness]. I feel like my heart shines the brightest when I dance.
MICHAEL: You’ve said you’re a movement junkie, right? Well, you’re also a Yoga teacher; how do you think your practice informs and affects you as a dancer?
ALICIA: Ohh! So much! It keeps me grounded as a dancer —and as a person who lives in New York City! I fell in love with Yoga because I went through a very difficult time in my life in my early 20’s, and meditation and Yoga we’re the only thing that could really help me calm down. Because of Yoga, my anxiety stopped. Connecting movement with mindfulness in a different way than dance had done was so helpful, and studying Yoga philosophy on top of it, was very powerful for me. Connecting my breath with my body and marrying that with the life lessons and philosophy helped me grow as a person.
Yoga makes me a better person; it helps me be my best-self for the world. Because of Yoga, I show up better for other people and I show up better for myself. I feel like I’m able to trust that I’m expressing myself authentically.
MICHAEL: You’re making this very easy by segueing all of my questions. You have a very positive vibe, aura, energy about you. In a business that can be really hard sometimes, how do you maintain that?
ALICIA: It’s a choice. It’s a choice. I do think my natural state of being and my vibrational energy are positive and joyful, but, I do believe that it’s a choice. Somebody once told me, “you can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven” — meaning that at any point in your life, you can choose to take the positive road.
For instance, one of my first jobs was the European tour of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. (Laughing) It was my first job and I was like ‘ahhhhh!’ I was 22, so much energy, crazy! They treated us not so well on that tour— and I didn’t know any better—, but I do remember, at times, getting very, very negative. When I went back a year later as the dance captain, by then, I had realized how important it was to stay positive, so I refused to let the negativity happen.
When I was first starting out in the business, I did a lot of non-union bus-and-truck tours where we’d do one nighters and then get on the bus at like 5am the next morning to go to the next town, but I always chose positivity. They’d call me ‘Polly Positive” and make fun of me, but, for every person, life occurs differently.
I think I learned from the negative experiences, and I decided I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to be that in the world. For some reason, some people think choosing the positive or choosing love is a weak choice, but it’s actually the stronger choice. I’ve grown to be proud of that choice. Granted, I get upset sometimes, but I know it’s always a choice to flip it.
MICHAEL: You’ve done a lot of swinging and dance-captaining, with shows like All Shook Up and Wicked, what do you think makes a good swing or dance captain?
ALICIA: Multi-tasking and staying calm. My swing brain and dance captain brain have sort of melded into one, but being able to see both the big picture and be detail oriented are key. I think someone who can multitask and likes it, and chooses to think it’s fun, make a good swing.
One time when I was on tour with Wicked, we were in Schenectady, NY and like everyone was out, a whole bunch of people were sick that week, and I had to do four tracks at once! During the ‘Oz Dust Ballroom’ scene, I was running around from dance tracks to playing the roles of Phannie and Shen Shen, and at the end of it, I was like “Werk!” I loved it!
When I first started swinging, if people didn’t tell me I did a good job, it hurt my feelings, but I grew to realize that I’d done my best work when they didn’t even notice a difference. They knew it was me, and that I had my essence, but I melded in so perfectly that they forgot that I was not normally supposed to be there. I had to learn to not be a perfectionist. So many of us are perfectionists, but as a swing you’re not always going to do it perfectly. I used to go home and cryyyyy… then I realized that we’re all humans and we’re not perfect and that’s what makes us beautiful. I learned from my mistakes.
As a dance captain, I learned you have to think of people as big, and myself as big… you always have to see those around you as big people who can accomplish big things. I see everyone around me as capable and amazing, and that’s how I'm going to talk to them and give them notes. If they have an issue from that, that’s on them. Someone once told me that it’s not kind to be “too nice”. But, if we think of ourselves as big and capable of accomplishing anything, then, we will do that.
You also have to remember that A: it’s just a show, and that B: we all learn and grow. I felt like the more I opened up about my imperfections with my colleagues, the more it brought them closer to me— and that we’re just trying to be our best.
I began to equate it to life… approaching the question ‘ how do we be the best we can in this show’ to ‘how do we be our best-selves’.
MICHAEL: What was it like making your Broadway debut in Wicked?
ALICIA: When I got the call, it was a dream. I remember starting to cry and I remember exactly where I was and who I was with. It was that moment that I’d been dreaming about since I was five years old.
Actually making my debut, was, kinda weird. I came in to the Broadway company as a swing, so I didn’t know when I’d actually be on. When I did go on for the first time, it was a surprise. I had just been doing the show on tour so it was very similar, except the people onstage were different— but, wearing the same costumes.
But, finding out that I was going to go to the Broadway company was the dream come true moment.
MICHAEL: What drives you outside of dance or the business?
ALICIA: People. Humanity. Stories. Travel. Animals. Children. I think the biggest thing that ties it all together for me is connection. Connecting with things I love: the ocean (laughing) —I really love the ocean and I wish I was a mermaid, but that’s a whole different interview—, human connection, connection to spaces or other places, connecting to an animal… any way any where I can find connection, get’s me going. Anything from being a a part of theatre company that connects performers like we’re doing now, to something as simple as posting a quote online that meant something to me and hoping it connects with someone else. I want to be a person who can do something with connection.
Special thanks to Alicia for taking the time to sit down with me and spread some positivity. You can keep up wth Alicia, and maybe find an inspirational quote or two, on Instagram at @aliciaalbright. While we’re at it, make sure you follow Dancenetwork.tv on twitter and Instagram at @watchdancetv, and me @michaelmahany.
Oh and before we go… Alicia’s Top 5!
Favorite Post Show Meal: Cheese… and wine…
Favorite Post Show Beverage: Wine or Prosecco… or sparking water over ice- in a wine glass.
Favorite style to dance: Contemporary
Dancer who inspires you the most: My friends
Music/song that gets your going: Can’t Stop The Feeling - Justin Timberlake
Michael is a host and the New York Correspondent for DanceNetwork.tv. He is also a professional actor; you can find out more at his website, www.michaelmahany.com, or you can follow him on twitter and instagram at @michaelmahany.
“I love the ocean —I really love the ocean and I wish I was a mermaid, but that’s a whole different interview” — Alicia Albright
All Photo Credits: Alicia Albright