Interview: FROM FAME To CABARET To LONDON: Toney Wilson Jazz Dancer

Monday 24 April 2017

Jazz dancer, Toney Wilson, has, in his long career, brought his lyrical jazz style to both On-and-Off Broadway shows, including Cabaret and A Chorus Line. Since discovering his love for dance, he’s also trained with some of the masters – Joe Tremaine to Jaime Rogers of West Side Story – worked on FAME the TV show and taught dance students across his native Los Angeles.

Toney will be teaching a jazz dance Masterclass for Intermediate and Advanced students at Pineapple, this May. We chat to him about his career and what it takes to make it in Jazz.

When did you first start dancing?

I started dancing and performing at the San Fernando High School in California, aged 16. I was doing African dance with a group of 26 dancers and live drummers. This was an amazing experience for me, because I grew up as an asthmatic not knowing that I had the stamina or even the physical strength to dance a two-hour set. I knew afterwards that I had an amazing spirit and very strong body.

Once I graduated, I took my first jazz class from Joe Tremaine in Hollywood, at age 19. That’s when I started training professionally. I stayed with Joe for ten years. When I walked in to that studio, that first day, everyone was spinning and jumping, and leaping through the air. My mouth was open, my heart was beating fast, and I vowed that day to never stop dancing. In the same studio where I was taking class from Joe, there was the great Jaime Rogers, from the movie West Side Story, teaching Modern dance. So I had the pleasure of dancing with the masters of dance at an early age.

What was the attitude like towards men dancing in your community when you were growing up?

It was not received well. There were not many male dancers. My older sister was a dancer, and I would always go to her rehearsals and watch the various bodies winding and twirling, so this must have had an impact on me. I was really blessed to have so much support from my family.

What was the attitude like towards men dancing in your community when you were growing up?

It was not received well. There were not many male dancers. My older sister was a dancer, and I would always go to her rehearsals and watch the various bodies winding and twirling, so this must have had an impact on me. I was really blessed to have so much support from my family.

Tell us more about some of the companies you have danced with?

I was a member of Dennon and Sayhber Rawles Dance company (Jazz Dancers Inc.) for five wonderful years. This was a mixture of classical and Broadway jazz. They focused on technique and style. Everything had to be in place. I learned form and so much about musicality, dance phrasing and precision. I also danced with the great modern dance instructor Karen McDonald, a fabulous dancer that pushed me beyond my limits.

Tell us about your Broadway work?

I have had the wonderful opportunity to tour and dance with Broadway touring companies such as A Chorus Line, Arthur, the Live Adventure, and the Della Reese Blues Revue.

Every touring company is different in its own right. First they are all different styles of dance, and that is what was very intriguing and exiting to me. Some of the tours were back-to-back. For instance, I would be on tour with Della Reese Blues Revue, doing a more cotton club, bluesy-type style of dance, for about a month, then come home, repack my bags and go back on the road with A Chorus Line. That was so exciting to me to have to change hats like that.

Training with Joe Tremaine to working with Debbie Allen on FAME. That sounds impressive. Tell us about it.

Joe Tremaine was exciting, energetic and a complete showman. I didn’t get technique from him, but I must say I truly learned how to be a showman, and find my own style at an early age. Working on the TV show FAME was very cool, starting with the audition. It was a cattle call. There must have been 500 people there. A rockin’ routine, technique and then she stopped the audition and came over to me and said, ‘What’s your name? You are a beautiful dancer, and I have a special part for you.’ My heart was fluttering. She gave me a nice little solo piece, filmed at the Guitar center in Hollywood. That was very exciting.

What does it take to dance jazz professionally?

In any dance form, it takes commitment. In jazz, I believe that you need to take class from lots of different instructors, and then the more you practice like crazy your own personal style will soon emerge.

Toney will be leading a masterclass at Pineapple Studio on 08 and 10 May. For more information contact via email: lizaforeman@gmail.com or call 07931-867735

Toney Wilson was interviewed by Liza Foreman.



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