Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Michael StanekIf you’ve ever attended a musical at Parker High School and wondered how the students learned to dance in near-perfect unison, you’ve seen the work of choreographer Michael Stanek.
The Spring Green native and 1986 River Valley High School graduate possesses a wealth of dance experience, and along with director Jim Tropp and musical director Jan Knutson, he makes up one third of the triumvirate that drives Parker’s theater program.
Stanek got a late start on his dance career, first taking up his eventual profession as a junior at UW-Madison. While a student, he supplemented his training at a local dance studio and, after two years, relocated to Los Angeles after winning a dance scholarship under the iconic founder of the Joe Tremaine Dance Center.
Stanek’s career highlights include being the original prince in the DisneyWorld production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which opened in 1991 and is the longest-running theme park show in history. He also was a finalist on Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” in 1993, and he was awarded an observership from the Stage Director and Choreographer Foundation in New York City to assist director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall on the Encores City Center production of “70, Girls, 70.”
To learn more about Stanek, search for “Michael Stanek Choreography” on Facebook.
1. Share your earliest memory as it pertains to dance. I didn’t start formal training in dance until I attended college. Prior to that, I remember in middle school I was chosen to perform country line dancing I had learned in phy-ed class for the student body.
2. There are a bunch of dance shows on TV these days. In your opinion, is it good that these shows bring increased attention to dance, or does this type of attention actually cheapen dance as an art form? I think all mediums that portray dance are positive. I especially think a show like “Dancing With the Stars” is positive in that it shows how difficult it is to execute dance and the amount of time you rehearse to master it. The more people can see and enjoy dance, the more appreciation they will have for it.
3. When it comes to professional dancers, who would you say has had the most influence on the art form and why? Many names come to mind. As a professional dancer/performer, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were ahead of their time in the industry. Their performances are still extraordinary to watch today. Bob Fosse, as a choreographer, would be one of the biggest influences in musical theater style dance. His style is infamously recognizable.
4. The most difficult thing about dance that most people don’t understand is: That dance potentially can hurt the body. Many of my friends have had chronic back pain and/or hip replacements.
5. Where is your absolute favorite place to unwind and why? Well, I do love to sip a margarita by a saltwater pool somewhere warm. When I can’t get away, home is the best place for me to unwind.
6. “Singing in the Rain” is my favorite film featuring dance, but I consider “Saturday Night Fever” as a sort of guilty pleasure. Which dance-centric film would you consider your favorite artistically, and is there another one you enjoy just for fun? It’s difficult to name just one. “West Side Story” and “Cabaret” come to mind. Guilty pleasure is “Grease.” I love it!
7. What is your worst habit? I’m an awful procrastinator. I don’t prep my choreography the way I used to because I often fear I will lose the ability to be creative. I know it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter how many shows I set, I still doubt myself in the moment.
8. As a choreographer, is it more important to be able to think spatially or analytically? I think both are important. I I think being analytical is key so you can tell the story through movement.
9. As a professional dancer, what would you consider to be your career highlight? This is a tough one. Performing the original choreography of “42nd Street” while touring Europe.
10. If you had not pursued dance, what would you have done for a career? if I hadn’t danced, I’m not sure if I would still be alive. Dance gave me a focus like nothing else could. I didn’t make great choices as an adolescent, and dance helped me to learn work ethic.
11. People would be surprised to know that I: Am an identical twin. He was all sports, and I was all arts.
12. When you go to the grocery store, what is the one item that goes into your cart whether you need it or not? I have a terrible sweet tooth, so it takes everything I have to not grab baked goods.
13. Share the title of a good book you read/film you saw/podcast you listened to. I watched the “Joker” movie recently, and the acting was truly superb.
14. If you had the opportunity to meet anyone (living or dead, actual or fictional), who would it be and why? Carol Burnett. Growing up watching variety shows on TV was so special. Carol’s work was both brilliant and history making.
15. If you could go back in time, what advice and lessons learned would you had given your younger self? I would’ve told myself to trust my talent and always be kind.
16. What would you say has been the most difficult dance routine you have had to perform? Easy—playing the role of Bobby Child in the musical “Crazy for You.” Not only do you need to be an exceptional tapper, but you need to sing well and have great comedic timing. It’s the quintessential role for a song-and-dance man.
17. Dancing is hard. Do you find it necessary to exercise, or do you dance enough that it’s not necessary? Now that I’m older, I definitely need to supplement with exercise. Dancing is not enough. The only time I would say it was was when I was performing five shows a day outside in the humidity at Walt Disney World. I was in my best shape.
18. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could play piano. I studied a bit but never stayed with it. I love it.
19. Who is your favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy was a favorite as she had unlimited confidence.
20. Share your most memorable moment on stage. I was doing the show at a dinner theater in Florida when, in the middle of the show, a person collapsed in the audience and had to have CPR as we were performing. It was crazy. The stage manager finally stopped the show, but the sound person left my mic on. I was so upset I said a profanity that came out over the sound system.