University of Houston Dance
University of Houston Dance

Dance Arc: A UH Dance Bridge Initiative

"Dance Arc" chronicles stories in our dance community. Dance writers and the featured dance artists are members of our University of Houston community of dancers, choreographers, dance educators and practitioners.  We hope you enjoy our journey.

Following the Dream with UH Alum Michelle Mayo

Interview with Michelle Mayo by Karen Stokes

February 28, 2021

UH Graduate Michelle Mayo

Michelle Mayo performing at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Michelle acknowledges her dance minor prepared her for the reality of professional dancing. 

The dream:

 

What drives me (in dance) is the dream. The dream that I made when I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a professional dancer. My parents were not the most supportive of my dance career. Every since I was little, they pushed dance as a hobby. I understand they want what’s best for me. In reality, pursing dance as a career is hard on so many levels (emotionally, physically, financially). I look back on all of my performances and know that I made that dream happen. 

Musical Theatre:

My first musical I booked was "Mary Poppins" at Theatre Under the Stars. I believe I booked this show because of my versatility. The audition consisted of ballet, jazz, and tap. I was so fortunate for the tap classes my mom put me in! Tap was my least favorite because rhythms were hard for me. During the rehearsal process we did have a challenging moment. One of our fellow cast mates got injured in tech rehearsal. We had to rearrange all of the dance numbers and replace her in a few scenes. Thanks to our Director, Dance Captain, and Stage Manager the changes were made smoothly. "Mary Poppins" will always be my most rewarding performance. It was my first contract at an equity theater. I was also so proud to be cast as a local performer among NY Broadway veterans.

 

After working a few musical theater contracts, I was looking for more stable work. I saw Disney World was looking for full time parade performers and I went to their audition in Dallas. The Disney audition consisted of a beginner dance combo, animation, and a more difficult dance combo. I felt comfortable with the animation portion because of my background in musical theater. Disney was very similar to musical theater auditions because they are looking for storytellers. The most challenging obstacles when working at Disney are the physical conditions. Our parade route is 30 minutes long, concrete surface, and can get up to a heat index of 100 degrees. I have to stay hydrated, well rested, and build stamina. I loved working at Disney because everyday was magical. During parade, I would look up at Cinderella’s castle and feel honored to be part of the Disney legacy. 

 

My political science degree:

 

I have used my education in Political Science through out my various projects and performances. In musical theater, my political science background has been helpful and useful when developing a character or storytelling. I was in a Latino/a inspired production of "Guys and Dolls" at TUTS. Our Director Nick DeGruccio situated the musical within a historically accurate era of Latino/a gangsters and gamblers. 

 

My University of Houston dance program training:

 

My UH dance training has supported my professional work in so many ways. I was exposed to different styles and techniques through my college dance training. Dance Production exposed me to the tech rehearsal process that I later experienced during musical theater productions.   I wouldn’t be where I am today without my training and guidance I received at UH. My modern professor, Courtney Jones, was a huge inspiration to me. The first day of class, she gave a brief introduction and I was amazed that she was in the touring cast of "Wicked." I knew I wanted to pursue musical theater and I needed to learn everything I could from her. Even though I was a dance minor in the UH Dance program, I was still upheld to a high standard. The thoroughness of the dance training and education at UH is what stands out to me. The faculty of the program is also a huge advantage of joining the program at University of Houston. Karen Stokes, Teresa Chapman, and Toni Valle are all leading choreographers in the Houston area. UH Dance Department has so many connections to the professional dance scene in Houston. 

About Seasonal Performing:

 

At Disney and Universal, performers are hired into 3 different categories (full time, part time, and seasonal). These categories determine how often you are scheduled to perform. When I first relocated to Orlando, I was hired as a full time performer, working 32-40 hours a week. I am currently employed by Universal Orlando Resorts as a seasonal performer. I perform during their peak seasons; Spring Break, summer, and the winter holiday season. 

 

About the Pandemic:

 

This pandemic has effected entertainment on every level. Magic Kingdom has scaled back their shows and parades. They now offer small cavalcades, which limits the amount of performers needed. I was 1 in 28,000 Disney cast members that was laid off due to the pandemic. Thankfully for my union, I have the ability to be called back to Disney anytime between now and 2022. Disney cast members are hopeful that we will be recalled. Entertainment is the heart of Disney theme parks. The guests come to be entertained!

Advice to young dancers:

 

Broaden your studies. As a dancer, you will be more marketable if you have more skills. Do not limit yourself and get out of your comfort zone. I’ve been asked to tumble, speak Spanish, speak in a British accent, and do partner acrobatics at various auditions. We are more than dancers- we are storytellers, artists, thinkers, athletes.  The list could go on & on! Build your success on excelling through diversity. 

Moving into education as a Fifth Grade Teacher:

 

Once I was furloughed from Disney, I began substitute teaching in my county. I have taught dance growing up at local studios and drill team camps. I am not a stranger to teaching, but I’ve always taught dance. I was nervous to teach elementary subjects. I realized that teaching is teaching. I want my students to succeed and I give them the tools they need. I want my content to be exciting and fun. I want to explain and model for my students to better understand concepts. I have found that I use many positive reinforcements that I use on my dance students with my elementary students. I am building a community in my classroom and forming relationships just like I would with my dance students. 

 

Even though I have transitioned into another career, I still consider myself a dancer. Being a dancer never leaves you. Some of my favorite performances were on the stages of Houston local theaters. My career started at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston and I will always be a proud Houstonian! 

 

 

About the Writers

Toni Valle

Toni Leago Valle is a choreographer, dancer, and dance educator in Houston. She is a Professor of Practice in the Dance Program at the University of Houston, where she teaches Production, PR & Marketing, Grant Writing, and Somatics.  Toni is Director of 6 Degrees in Houston. 

Karen Stokes

Karen Stokes is a choreographer, dancer, and educator in Houston, Texas. She is Director of the Dance Program at the University of Houston, and Artistic Director of the non-profit dance company "Karen Stokes Dance."

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