Chloe Lukasiak: A Talent for the Ages

She absolutely stunned us with her graceful movements, poised demeanor, and impeccable numbers. We have followed her journey since the age of 9, watching her blossom and flourish into one of the most talented dancers in the nation. Through thick and thin we have supported her, guided her, and advocated for her, knowing that in every form of the way, she deserved every second of our attention. Chloe Lukasiak, Dance Mom alumni and National Title winner, is certainly something special.

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Beginning at the age of two, dance has taken a prominent place in Ms. Lukasiak’s life. For twelve years, she took to dance, displaying beautiful form and incredible passion. We were able to watch a glimpse of her journey beginning in 2011, as the young talent became one of the fan-favorites of the ever-so-popular Lifetime show, Dance Moms. That journey, however, was not completely smooth, resulting in her departure in 2014. Yet as we can view from some of the greats, people who have achieved far beyond what life allows for most, the journey is often a winding path filled with barricades of the greatest stature. Ms. Lukasiak can certainly power through every one.

All of the masters begin at a certain point, even Leonardo Da Vinci has had to have held a paintbrush for the first time. So where did her journey, her masterpiece begin? “I was two. My mom just put me in dance class because she thought every little girl took dance!”

The majority of two year olds are still beginning to learn cognitive functions and she was already beginning her career – how impressive, indeed. Yet, as a toddler, none surely know what interests they wish to pursue. When was it that she decided dancing was it, that is was the sport she was meant to do? “Probably around eight. I have tried a bunch of other sports along the way and it was always dance that I wanted to be doing.”

And as we all know from one of our favorite guilty pleasure, Dance Moms, Ms. Lukasiak was one of the star dancers, a definite fan-favorite. What was her experience at the Abby Lee Dance Company like? “I was two. I met Paige on the first day of class and we were best friends from the start. I was an only child for eight years, but I was incredibly close to my dance friends so they were like sisters.”

At the age of nine, it must be incredibly surreal to be immersed in the entertainment industry. The glitz and the glam can be quite exciting for such a young star. What seemed to be her favorite memory of the unique experience? “Probably getting to travel with my friends and see and experience some really cool stuff together. It was crazy to go from just a regular dance group, who had known each other for years, to all of a sudden being recognized all over the world.”

Yet it comes in such an unfortunate case that not every experience can last for a lifetime. As I have said before, barricades occur on the path of your aspirations, and Ms. Lukasiak chose to leave Dance Moms. If she could go back, to change anything in the past, would she? “Nope. Everything happens for a reason and I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” And are there any regrets about leaving the studio?
“No, it was no longer a good place for me. I am so much happier at my new studio, Studio 19. Does she miss it? “I miss the friendships and they way they used to be.”

With the noticeable talent that Ms. Lukasiak is in possession of, it certainly would be somewhat of a crime to allow her potential and craft to go to waste. Is she dancing at another studio now? “I’m dancing at an amazing studio! It’s called Studio 19 Dance Complex. I feel like I am learning so much and I’m challenged in so many new ways.”

Often times, it is difficult to find yourself in a new position, balancing between the past and the present. How does she feel about her position now? Is there any difference? “The big difference with Studio 19 is that it is a very positive environment, but the dancers are amazing. I feel like we all thrive with some positive reinforcement.”

It surely has been quite the journey, filled with incredible bonds and wonderful memories. What resonates the most with her, what serves as some of her favorite memories? “I think everything! Dance Moms started when I was very young (nine) so I’ve basically grown up in a crazy, weird situation. It has helped define who I am and it will always be a part of who I am: dances, trips, modeling shoots, etc.”

With the talent she is in possession of, the potential the fills her, where does Ms. Lukasiak hope to take her dance career? Are there any further aspirations beyond the world of dance? “I don’t know! There are so many things I want to do. I want to act. I want to dance. I want to be an attorney, maybe a doctor? But definitely a mom.”

Well surely, a talent as such, the world is an oyster for her taking, an opportunity at every turn. Where does she perhaps see herself in 5 or even 10 years? “That is the hardest question for me to answer. I’m 14, so my answer changes daily. I can’t imagine my life without dance. It’s as much a part of me as breathing.”

And true passion is something that life is filled with, for life without a passion is just aimless actions. With her passion, there must be numerous projects that she is working on. “I have a few really cool things coming up, but they haven’t been officially announced yet, so I don’t think I can say! I’m so sorry! Just keep checking out my social media! Announcements are coming there! And don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel. You can still catch me dancing every Tuesday! It’s 33troijka.”

What a joy it is to know that there lies passion in a soul as such. Chloe Lukasiak is something to marvel at and I do hope that everyone takes notice, that they pay close attention to the accomplishments already achieved and the future aspirations that Ms. Lukasiak has. She will certainly go far and beyond the expectations of many and most certainly, even the expectations of herself.

 

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Jake Rosenberg: A Production in the Works

I’ve always held a certain admiration for playwrights, people who can create a world of their own, emulating feelings and expressions onstage. The greatest of talents is reflected in these characters and Mr. Rosenberg is certainly among that crowd.

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Jake Rosenberg, 19, is a California native, currently taking residency in New York City. Here, he is among the most talented in the nation, studying at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Mr. Rosenberg, while young, is still an incredibly accomplished writer, with numerous productions under his belt and even celebrity acknowledgment. How great it was to hear of his success and to see where his future will take him.

So, when did he begin to acknowledge his craft?

“I started writing when I took a playwriting class as a sophomore in high school. Before I took that first playwriting class, I’d never actually internalized the idea that somebody sat down and wrote a play. I’d always naively assumed that either the actors made up their lines when they were on stage or the director magically beamed his or her ideas into people’s heads, or some other explanation. The nuts and bolts of the process had never concerned me, only the finished product, so I really had no conceptual framework of what writing a play actually looked like. Suddenly, once I enrolled in that class, I became very aware of a natural talent I possessed for this specific kind of writing, for controlling the logic of human interactions in a very linear, organized and verbal way. I wasn’t great starting out, I wasn’t Albee or Stoppard, I’m still not, but I was marginally good, and I followed my interest from there.”

And of course, even Picasso had to pick up a paintbrush for the first time, so when did Mr. Rosenberg paint his first picture?

“The first piece I ever wrote was for that class. It was a scene…less than a page, and I think the prompt was “The King Died, the Queen Died of Grief.” Everyone else in the class wrote these serious short pieces about the death of some noble, regal patriarch, and I wrote about Elvis dying on the toilet. Of course nothing happened with it, because I mean, come on, it was the first thing I ever wrote! But everyone seemed to dig it at the time.” 

Of course, all writers dream of the first piece taking off, taking them to the splendors of fame, yet that is rarely the case. So then what was his first piece of notable work?

“My first notable piece of work was a play I wrote at 16 years old called The Scotland Company, and to be perfectly frank, it was amazing. And I’m allowed to say that because I wrote it at 16 and it certainly was not amazing, but I worked very hard on it, and to this day, I’m still immensely proud. It was a farce set in Victorian England about the fictional pseudo-invention of the country of Scotland. Before that, during the first semester of sophomore year, I’d written a lot of short pieces for class and ten minute plays as assignments, but I had an idea for class and my teacher encouraged me to run with it and blow it up as big as it needed to be. Through a really lucky turn of circumstances, the Thunderbird Theatre Company in San Francisco selected it for a full production. I was treated so professionally, and really got lucky with an experience where the production took my vision seriously and realized it to the fullest extent possible at a point in my artistic development where I certainly did not deserve to be treated like anything close to a professional. It was on the closing night of The Scotland Company that I decided I want to be a professional playwright, and it has been my dream ever since.”

As a creator, we all have certain predilections for a piece of work we have created. What has been his favorite creation?

“The favorite thing I have written thus far is a play that I’m just finishing up now, entitled Brothers, which takes a look at the really disturbing origins and effects of college fraternity hazing, a subject of fascination I’ve held for a very long time. I’m interested in exploring dramatically both the questions raised by hazing on an individual level (how can you tell someone they can be your brother only if they let you hurt and abuse them?) as well as the immensely detailed world of frat life. From the start, writing Brothers has been a very personal formal exercise. With Muse of Fire, my previous play, I followed my natural inclinations and wrote a very structurally complicated play with a lot going on. Too much going on, to be honest. With Brothers, I wanted to push myself and see if I could go small. So that was my own personal challenge to myself, to test if I was capable of creating a very formally Realist drama…just two people, sitting in a room, talking, and seeing if I was able to make that as dramatically compelling as the larger devices I like to play with. I’m still very much in the process of writing and shaping Brothers, and plan on trying to put it up here in New York next fall.

In my opinion the Greek community, and by extension the country’s failure to address the very real problem of hazing effectively is a national disgrace. We excuse it because we have a very romantic popular notion of college, and so we write hazing off as just a harmless byproduct of youthful hedonism. Hedonism is ok in college, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can’t continue to be used as an excuse for violence, for suicide, for torture and for murder. I’m proud of what I’ve written by myself in my room, but that’s the next challenge…being brave enough and strong enough to look unflinchingly into the abuses of one of the oldest and most powerful communities in The United States, a community I recognize I’m absolutely not a part of, and call them on their bullshit and take everything that’s going to get thrown at me because of it. Or who knows? Maybe this will be the first play that frat boys flock to in droves. Fingers crossed.”

And if I heard correctly, there were even talks of an Adam Sandler collaboration?

“I’ll be the first to admit it, I love Adam Sandler. I was raised in a house where Sandler worship was compulsory, and call me crazy, but I think he’s a really talented actor, and a very misunderstood one at that. When I was writing Muse of Fire, which centers on a Jewish comedian trapped in Auschwitz, among other things, I couldn’t help but picture Adam Sandler owning that role completely. And once it got a decent reception here in New York, I, perhaps naively, figured I finally had my big chance to try and hook him, even if nothing ever happened, because why the hell not? So I found his agent’s number after asking everyone all over town, and pitched the hell out of it over the phone. When they got back to me, they seemed like they seriously considered it, but ultimately they declined because he’s doing too many movies. But I’m not giving up, I’m still a Sandler fanatic, and if I ever meet him again, I’m totally going to assault him with my script.”

Well, with a potential celebrity collaboration, Mr. Rosenberg must be in a place where numerous accolades have been given to him.

“I’ve been very lucky to have received some recognition for my writing. I’ve been a finalist for a few national awards, and have been produced by some really remarkable theater companies and have written for some really exciting publications, but to be perfectly honest, I feel like my greatest achievements have always been finishing whatever I’m working on. The buzz doesn’t matter to me, though it’s certainly fun, because at the end of the day I’m only ever writing to please myself. It’s selfish, but I’m the only one that matters when I’m writing. If it doesn’t please me, it’s a waste of time…and it’s certainly happened before where I’ll have worked on something for a year, two years, and have had to throw it away because I just can’t stand it. So completing Muse of Fire was huge, completing Brothers is huge…I’m working on a new play after Brothers that feels really exciting to me, because I’m finally walking on the tightrope of doing something dangerous, something that’s really not allowed in theater for a lot of reasons I don’t want to go into…but it’s breaking with a lot of rules I’ve assumed were unbreakable, and kind of giving the finger to the idea that individuals can’t claim ownership over certain subjects because another group of people already “owns” them. It’s nowhere near done, but just mustering up the personal courage to attempt writing something that’s really breaking the rules on purpose…that’s the best feeling of achievement in the world.”

With so many fantastic things in his arsenal, it is hard to imagine wanting anything more, yet surely he has aspirations far beyond. Are they any further goals, aspirations?

“That’s a fascinating question, and one that doesn’t really allow me to not give a cocky answer…but I’ll take the bait. My future aspiration, my one singular goal, is to be a successful playwright for the stage. I have a lot of other things I’m working on right now, including an app designed to give students better access to Broadway shows and trying to do some more activism work, particularly in the respective areas of free speech and political justice in Israel. I’d also like to try and write some nonfiction stuff too, more scholastic articles and see if I can go anywhere in that world. I want to do everything in the world as long as I feel like I’m helping people and don’t have to show up to work at the same desk at the same time every morning. Getting fame and fortune out of my writing would be nice. Really nice actually. But to be honest, I only want to inspire people the way that my favorite playwrights inspired and left an impression on me. That’s what I want to do. That’s my definition of success.

As for what I hope to get out of my writing…that’s a more interesting question, and I think there’s a more complicated answer. Everyone has an expectation of me and of my writing and why I’m writing and so a lot of people are kind of…how to put it…babying me, if that makes sense. They tell me “Oh, you’ve already accomplished so much because you’re so young… and so they give me this weird praise, but it’s like…you haven’t seen the play or read it…you don’t know if you like it…stop assuming it’s good. I feel like I’m only a big deal because of my age, not because of what I’ve written. I feel far too squeaky clean.

I hope to get out of my writing a reputation of someone who’s known as dangerous. I want to be the person who people can rely on to tell the uncomfortable truth. I want to write things that alarm people with the truth you continue to choose to ignore, because recognizing it means implicating yourself….you know, things that disturb people from their apathy, rather than reinforcing what makes them comfortable. That next challenge, is to actually WRITE something that challenges people, not just be a personality, not have people think they know me because of what’s written about me, but have people think they know me because of what I’VE written…if I can do that, I’ll have satisfied the only person that matters when writing. I’ll have done something worthy because I’ll have done something real.”

Already, Mr. Rosenberg has proven himself a worthy candidate for success. There is not a doubt in my mind that Broadway will be greeting him soon enough with open arms. Congratulations and continue on your path to splendor.

Kate Heldt: An All-American Girl

Through the strife and chaos of life, features have been quite scarce, yet I promised that this deserving feature would see her day.

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Katherine Anne Heldt, a Freshman in the Liberal Studies Program at NYU, is something to marvel at, an amazing talent. In between the short time she so graciously answered these questions till now, Ms. Heldt has had numerous stints behind the camera and even a trip to Fashion Week. The talented model is on the rise, a sure fact, and I was so lucky enough to be graced with her kindness and professionalism.

A natural model, the beauty and form of a professional, it seems as though modeling would be a lifelong profession for Ms. Heldt. “I started modeling when I was a junior in high school. I had always been told growing up that modeling was something I should pursue and when I started getting approached by scouts, I realized that it could be a reality. During that time, I even met with agencies in New York but felt like finishing high school in Miami was important so I signed with an agency there instead.”

And soon after signing, Katherine was sent on her way to stardom, her first shoot. “My first shoot was a test shoot to build my portfolio to send to clients. I just remember being a young and inexperienced 16 year old who was nervous but filled with excitement. We did a bunch of different looks and styles, which was a lot of fun. We shot some in his studio with music blaring and then we ventured outside to take some pictures out on the streets of Miami. Naturally, people walking down the street stopped to witness the photo shoot unfold and a crowd soon gathered around. I could feel their eyes glaring at me, observing my every move. It became motivation for me to perform and the pictures turned out great.  It was one of the first times I had been behind the camera, and I loved every second.”

And that natural demeanor, the ease that came to her helped her with all the modeling she has done, even helping her work for some major brands. “I would say that the most notable brand that I worked with was Tommy Hilfiger. Representatives who had seen my pictures online wanted to book me for a press shoot event they were having in stores. Tommy Hilfiger collaborated with George Esquivel to brand a new pair of loafer shoes and I had the “all American look” that they wanted. I made appearances on the news and fashion blogs and attended multiple launch events. It was such an amazing experience because I had always loved the classic Tommy look and I was glad I got the opportunity to represent their brand.”

With experiences such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ms. Heldt’s portfolio must be filled with incredible endeavors, so many to choose as a favorite. “My favorite shoot was completely impromptu. I was interning with a magazine photo shoot so I was responsible for steaming clothes, organizing accessories, and assuring a smooth shoot. Unexpectedly, I ended up behind the camera of one of the most prominent photographers in the fashion industry, Arthur Elgort. I didn’t have on any makeup, I only had the clothes I had on, and it had been quite a long day of assisting others so I guess you could say it was completely spontaneous. But I loved it because the shots were completely natural with a magnificent view of the bay surrounding the Hamptons. It was truly an unforgettable experience.”

With the talent she possesses, agencies must want to be snatching her up as quick as they possibly can. “I previously signed with Ford Miami prior to attending NYU. However, now that I am in New York City, I am currently looking for another agency to sign with. I was still under contract when I first moved here, but I terminated early so that I would be able to pursue modeling in the city.

And even without an agency, Ms. Heldt held the wonderful opportunity to walk in Fashion Week. “Fashion Week was a busy, yet surreal experience that I was fortunate to be a part of. I was involved in a number of shows including designers Laquan Smith and Lux Cartel. It was a dream come true as I had the opportunity to walk for Rozalia Bot at Lincoln Center, a venue I had visited but never been previously booked at. Although it can be quite hectic, participating in NYFW was such an incredible and rewarding experience.”

Well, I assure her that with her portfolio, professionalism, and personality, a career in fashion is a definite option. “I would love to make a career out of modeling! However, the industry can be very unpredictable which is why I feel as though it’s important to continue pursuing a college degree as well. If the opportunity were to arise to take modeling even further, I would be more than willing. My mom is 100% supportive of anything I want to do. Whenever I face criticism or rejection, which happens frequently in the modeling world, she is always there to pull me back up. If it’s truly a passion of mine, she would be willing to help me do anything to make it happen.

Perseverance is key in a world full of rejection, yet I am sure that with her talent the world is her oyster. What dreams does she have for this unpredictable world? “My biggest dream is to travel. For now, I’m working hard to get back into modeling in the city and see where it takes me. I just love experiencing new things and being given opportunities to do so is inexplicable. Modeling is something I could see myself doing, and I am working to make it happen.”

A tenacious, beautiful girl with dreams she can surely obtain, I am quite positive we will be seeing Ms. Heldt many times in the near future.

Griffin Osborne: A Rising Star

Men and women of multiple talents are not uncommon at The First Catwalk. In fact, I’d say it’s a defining quality of every notable feature. Griffin Osborne, well, he is no exception to this fact.

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Griffin Osborne, 18, is currently studying in the world-renown Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. An actor, a writer, an incredible mind, it is wonderously peculiar at how he managed to acquire such talent in his short duration of a career, so far. It was an incredible experience, learning his past, present, and future, and something that I am more than proud to present to the world.

Even the most talented of actors range from their beginnings in the arts. From commercials as infants to extras in their middle-ages, the range is broad and undefined. Where does Mr. Osborne lie in this spectrum? “It really depends if you ask me or my dad. My first role was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was about 7, but my dad likes to tell stories of when I was five or six hanging up a blanket for a curtain and directing my cousins in staged versions of Disney movies. So I guess I’ve been performing for awhile but my first interactions with acting as an art form came with Midsummers and quite honestly, I hated it. I think I liked the idea of people looking at me and starring in the show more than the actual ‘craft’ of what I was doing, but I was seven so that’s to be expected. I actually got in a lot of trouble because I refused to learn any of my lines until the night before the show, and that night I promised to myself I would never act again. Then I walked out onstage, said my first line, and now I’m here in New York studying it everyday. It was a shaky start but as soon as I was in front of an audience I knew this was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.”

So, not entirely the best of beginnings, but it seems as though he managed to gain his footing. Hopefully his first, major role was something of a more joyous experience. “Well this sort of goes back to Midsummers in third grade, which was a pretty large role and a lot of pesky memorization. I would say my first large role that was a bit heftier than what I had done before was Man in Chair in the Drowsy Chaperone. The writers of that musical did something I think is very beautiful in crafting this character that acts as the bridge between audience and dramatic action without ever really becoming a part of either world. It’s more than just a narrator that traces the plot it’s a three dimensional character that feels and hurts and wants to be better. In that role, I got to improvise, work on comedic timing, and really relax within the role and I think that’s the first time I stepped away from just performing a character and really understanding it.”

Well, from roles as such, Mr. Osborne has certainly built an impressive skill set, allowing him not only grow as an actor, but a writer. Channeling his inner creativity, he was able to construct wonderful masterpieces, such as his first, written play. “My first play was a piece called As the Ashes Rise, which I wrote and produced at my high school in my freshman year. It dealt with faith and loss and a man questioning his belief system in the face of unexpected tragedy. People responded to it really well, and it was sort of just something I pumped out in a couple hours at home. I’d always been writing short stories, poems, failed attempts at novels, but there was something about a script that came really naturally to me and was overwhelmingly fun. I enjoyed creating something that was both interesting and dynamic to read as well as interesting and dynamic to stage; I wanted the piece to work as something you could sit down with in an armchair and read like a newspaper or sit down in a theater seat and engage with onstage. Playing to both of those goals I found challenging and exciting.”

And that challenge allowed for the growth of his writing talent, which can be seen in his recent publication by Samuel French. “So I was very fortunate in that for the last two years I have been able to spend a portion of my summer at Stagedoor Manor which is a performing arts training center in the Catskills. There they have a competition called Dramafest where kids from all over submit short plays, with the chance of being selected to both direct the play onstage and get published by Samuel French in an anthology. I was fortunate enough to win both years I attended Stagedoor, so two of my plays Chapter 8 (2013) and Fallen Suns (2014) have been published by them. Chapter 8 is on its surface about a young man who finds a book that details his entire life story from beginning to end, and the moral consequences of owning such an object. Yet really, for me, the story is about the relationship between the young man Jacob and his best friend Damon. That friendship has to be strong, has to be grounded otherwise the supernatural elements become gimmick and have no weight. This is the same philosophy I take into my other plays like Fallen Suns which again on the surface is a story about PTSD after an alien abduction but is really kept grounded in reality with its focus on human relationships and what it means to be good.”

If that is not astounding enough, he also has a collection of his own plays published, eight of them, to be exact. “The whole thing started off with me wanting a collection of the eight plays I had written in high school, then sort of blew up into this giant thing that I’m so absolutely blown away by and so thankful for. The title Writer’s Block comes from those aspects of playwriting I find immensely attractive: the rather Romantic struggle of grappling with your own insecurities, the complex ideas you’re dealing with on the page, the building of something beautiful from the ground up. It really stands to track my progress over four years; I didn’t go back and edit or update any of my early work. I think that’s what makes it different than just an anthology of eight plays but really a snapshot of myself as a writer over this period of time; something I can look back on and cringe at how jaded my dialogue came across or how apt I am to let my characters monologue for three pages at a time. Primarily, the book has served as a medium to get my work out there and into people’s hands. I’m always so flattered and humbled by the response each piece receives or when someone asks to produce one at their school or college. A friend and I recently looked at a map of the United States and put a little dot where productions have taken place and seeing my work spread out to so many people is just a dream come true.”

With the undeniable talent and potential Mr. Osborne possesses, the question comes to, where is the best institution to harness and perfect his innate abilities? He believed that The Experimental Theatre Wing of NYU was the most obvious option. “Oh man, how to explain ETW? Vaguely, the aim of the studio is to offer each performer a palette of knowledge from which they can choose and explore; approaching each theatrical exploit as a challenge. What can you figure out? What does that mean to you as an actor? A person? We ask questions of ourselves and others in the hope that we can create something new or see something in a new way. I’m sure there are a lot of ETW people reading this and shaking their heads but that’s the best way I know how to articulate it. It’s very physically and emotionally challenging and some days it takes everything I have to pull myself out of bed but each and every time I’m so glad and thankful I do. The people there are some of my favorite people on the planet and I could not be more excited to learn from them and study with them and get super weird with them. As to rumors regarding rampant nudity in the studio? No comment.”

Living among aspiring artists, seeing crafts perfected on a daily basis, I have come to witness future greats, people who will make a mark on the world larger than any streak that has been painted before. Mr. Griffin Osborne is among this crowd. Talented, tenacious, and terrifically placed, I hold the utmost certainty that I will be seeing Mr. Osborne amount to things greater than even he can imagine.  

 

Alexa Anderson: A Dancing Dream

The art form of dance has graced the Earth for centuries, allowing individuals to express emotion, passion, feelings, and whatever they could not speak through movement. It is an extraordinary form of expression and talent, which is why I am so pleased to now feature it on this site.

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And who better to feature than Alexa Anderson, a 21 year old Californian. Ms. Anderson has had her fair share of experience in dance, started at a spry, young age. From her passion grew many years of wonderful performances, ones that have taken her to the stages of So You Think You Can Dance, the XFactor, America’s Got Talent, and so many more. She is truly an amazing talent, one that I find to be the perfect feature to welcome Dance to the site.

With such an impressive resume, it would seem as though she must have had years of training, starting from an early age. What was Ms. Anderson’s dance history like? “I started dancing when I was 12. My mom enrolled me in a class at a studio nearby and I remember thinking to myself that I was the absolute worse one in the room, but I loved it. I had my mom sign me up for a full schedule the next year and  then things took off from there. Life was hectic between school and my dance training every week night. I would wake up, go to school, get dropped off at the studio, train for about 4 hrs, and then do homework before I slept and repeated the whole thing. On top of that, I took my academics really seriously and eventually started touring with a convention on the weekends. I think I was always just different levels of exhausted but my family was supportive and I was completely in love with it. Arizona was a great place to grow up dancing. I was always surrounded by so much beautiful talent and my instructor always gave me a lot of freedom and encouragement to explore my own style. I felt comfortable developing my own original way of doing things. It helped me become the weirdo I am today.”

“Weirdo” or not, she certainly blossomed into a wonderful, talented young woman. Her career shortly skyrocketed after SYTYCD, but what was her career before the hit television show? “Before going on the show I had danced in an off broadway show in NYC and then moved to Los Angeles directly after. I was mostly auditioning a lot and taking classes. I did random gigs here and there. I danced on Xfactor, American Idol, and did some commercials. I also landed a promo tour for Kanye West and was a part of a contemporary company called Shaping Sound.”

Anyone that has viewed SYTYCD knows the complete and utter stress the dancers are put under. How was her individual experience on the show? “I feel like anybody who has auditioned for SYTYCD will tell you that the process is really stressful. The dancing is hard on the body, but all the interviews and the pressure to perform is hard on the psyche. I had been to a lot of auditions and was pretty used to that atmosphere of having to learn choreography quickly and deliver, but the show was a completely different ball game. I wasn’t used to anybody being concerned about my personality. I wound up learning a lot about myself and how to deal with stress and nerves. It was also really good exposure.”

And of course, after her run on the show, she was given the opportunites to perform at many other venues. What were some of the incredible experiences she was involved in? “Since SYTYCD, I’ve been on television shows like Xfactor, Americas Got Talent, Dancing With the Stars, All The Right Moves,The Teen Choice Awards, and Glee. I’ve performed with artists like Queen Latifah, Colbie Caillat, Paramore, The Wanted, Icona Pop, Havana Brown, and Demi Lovato. I’ve also toured with Shaping Sound and traveled choreographing and teaching dance and yoga. I’ve learned that its important to be smart, professional, and always bring a great energy. People want to work with dancers who are not only talented and on top of it, but also a pleasure to be around.”

With such an incredible career and future ahead of her, her life will forever be entwined with the art form. With it being such a large part of her life, it must be her one, true passion. “Dance means the world to me. Its my love. It makes me happy everyday. I love being athletic and I love music so dance is perfect in my eyes. I love that its so difficult and I think it show cases the best of people (strength, beauty, artistry, vulnerability). There’s a lot to be learned from being a dancer. I think growing up doing something that requires so much commitment teaches a lot about work ethic. I also think that dancing encourages students to explore their creative mind and develop a strong presence and point of view as a human in general.”

An accomplished dancer, such as herself, is an inspiration to young dancers everywhere. What is her advice to them, the knowledge she can share? “I would say to not only work hard, but work smart. Try to fully digest what an instructor is giving you as opposed to always reverting to old habits and only utilizing what you know makes you look good. Every class should be an exploration and an opportunity to try something outside your comfort zone. Also, don’t feel the need to over produce when you’re doing movement you feel uncomfortable with. Feel confident and comfortable showing the movement on your own body while you continue to work. Come to the floor with an optimistic self-assured attitude. Know that you’ve worked hard and have something to offer. I truly believe that an audience is drawn to a dancer because of their energy and intention; not just a really cool dance move or precisely how every step is being executed.”

Well, it certainly was a pleasure in hearing the incredible accomplishments she has met through her career, especially still being so young. The world is ahead of Ms. Anderson, a world, I’m sure of, that will be so gracious to such a talented individual.

Joshua McLeod: Victor + Alexander + Magnificent Talent

Soaring from New York, my next feature takes residence down South, creating an entire brand all on his own.
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Joshua McLeod, age 20, currently studies as Savannah College of Art and Design. His major, Fashion Marketing and Management with a Graphic Design minor, has allowed him to create an incredible brand, Victor + Alexander. His site, www.victoralexanderco.com, features Lifestyle choices and incredible fashion, which is available to purchase. Currently in Hong Kong to study abroad, Mr. McLeod graciously granted me time to get a glimpse into his most fashionable life.
With such a fantastic site, it seems as though his enticement for fashion must have sprouted early on in his life. “I first became interested in the fashion world in middle school. I was known as the guy with the most shoes. I loved getting dressed for school and seeing people’s reactions to my outfits. But looking back, I could not dress at all. Better believe those photos have been burned and no longer exist. My interest in fashion went away after middle school and I started to focus on film and graphic design. The interest came back during my senior year of high school. I was scrolling on Pinterest and I came across the “Men’s Fashion” sections which I never even knew existed and I just began pinning, and pinning, and pinning. A lot of the fashion I saw I couldn’t afford, so I thought I would try to make it. The first item was a bow tie. I watched YouTube videos and read blogs and I figured out how to make a bow tie. I was so into it that I bought tons of different patterned fabrics. I decided I should sell them, so I did. I was successful at it, but I wasn’t ready to commit. So I stopped with the bow ties and shifted my focus back to graphic design.”
And with a simple view of his site, we can see that the fashion aspect resurfaced. We all have experienced times of fashion uncertainties, but we soon find our way. How would Mr. McLeod describe his way, his style? “My style in terms of clothes is honestly what ever I feel like wearing. If you look at my closet you’ll see anything from very minimal black or white t-shirts and graphic tees all the way to preppy button downs and bow ties. It really just depends on how I’m feeling that day. When it comes to my design aesthetic, both in fashion and graphically, it’s very minimal and geometrically inspired. Fashion is just another way to express myself. It just goes back to how I get dressed in the morning. I think of fashion as a mood ring, some days I feel bubbly so I’ll put on a bright blue woven shirt with a polka dot bow tie and blue oxfords, other days I’ll feel like a bad a** and wear tattered black jeans, a black graphic t-shirt and a leather biker jacket.”
With the idea of style in mind, Victor + Alexander was born. What insight into his creation can Mr. McLeod present to us? “Victor + Alexander started with my idea of “If I can’t afford something, then I can figure out how to make it.” In August of 2013 I came across this menswear bag by one of my favorite designers and I thought, “I can’t really afford this bag, but I bet I can make it.” And I did. I loved the feeling of spending 4 long days making something that I wanted so badly. I decided that maybe this is what I should be doing. That October I designed and produced a collection of vegan leather bags by hand, and was amazed by the feedback. I never launched that collection however because I wanted every bag to be perfect. While working on the  next collection I started blogging about my process and also began to incorporate my own personal outfits into the blog. Come January 2014 I had a small following mainly made up of my family and close friends. I decided I would start a YouTube Channel to share my idea of “If you can’t afford it, then make it” I did weekly videos on Fashion Do It Yourself projects and my following grew.

My first collection of 4 bags launched in April of 2014. Each and every bag that was ordered was (and still is) handcrafted by me. I believe that a handcrafted item reflects the creative spirit of the person who made it. It was kind of surreal when I got my first order. It’s an incredible feeling when someone pays for something you’ve made, something you worked hard to produced. That’s when I realized that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After that collection, I launched 2 collections that Summer, one titled Sorbet + Sherbet (A collection of brightly colored bags) and the other Operation Hong Kong (A collection to raise money to help me study abroad in Hong Kong).

The name Victor + Alexander derives from my 2 grandfathers, Victor McLeod and Alexander Quilon. Victor, who lived in a small town in North Carolina, was a loving husband and a hardworking father of six. And Alexander, a fisherman from the Philippines, worked hard to keep his wife and six kids happy and satisfied. These men living across the world from one another had one thing common: dedication to their families. I wanted to honor that dedication thought the start of Victor + Alexander.”

It truly is an incredibly site, one with more to offer than just fashion. “On the Victor + Alexander you’ll find 2 parts. The Lifestyle Blog & the Online Storefront. On the blog you’ll find my outfits of the days, collaborations with other bloggers, and Do It Yourself videos. On the Online Storefront you’ll find my latest collection of handcrafted vegan leather handbags. You can also find a short documentary on Victor + Alexander under the About section.”

As for the fashion aspect, what might viewers be able to purchase from the shop? What is the full value they are buying? “Victor + Alexander offers handcrafted vegan leather handbags for both men and women. Each bag starts with an idea. That idea is then translated into sketches and designs. I then draw up a pattern and begin to build the bag using the best materials and tools. All of the bags are inspired by geometry. I love clean silhouettes and simple shapes. My favorite piece so far has to be the Nico Tote inMidnight Saffron. It was very experimental and it ended up being a really cool and architecturally inspired bag. ”

With such an impeccable idea, the sky is the limit. Where does Mr. McLeod hope to take his brand? “I have this gut feeling that 2015 is my year. It’s my year to expand beyond handbags and into smaller vegan leather goods, as well as handcrafted apparel and home decor. I want my bags to be offered in small specialty shops and boutiques around the country. I would also like to invest (and to find investors to invest) more into my brand to obtain better tools and materials to produce my bags, but I still want my bags to be handcrafted by me or by someone working for Victor + Alexander.”

And in the next 5 to 10 years, I am positive that there will be a tremendous growth in the company, one that will take him as far as he hopes to go. But that is just where I see him in the years to come, where does he want to be then? “In the next 5 to 10 years I see Victor + Alexander having it’s own brick and mortar shop in New York. I fell in love with New York as a kid when my mom and I would take the train from our home in New Jersey to the big city. New York is so diverse and everybody there has a story to tell, and I want to continue to write my story alongside those individuals. I know New York is a hard place to start a business, but I truly believe in that I can do anything if I put God first.”

Well, anything is possible with talent such as so. It was truly an honor to be presented with such an incredible site. I do hope everyone visits and has the pleasure of viewing the amazing skills, creativity, and innovation Mr. Josh McLeod has to share with the world. 

Greg Contaldi: A Real Contender

After a short hiatus, I am pleased to resume features with a leading lad on and off the camera, Greg Contaldi.

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Greg, a Fairfield, New Jersey native, packed his bags and rushed off to the big city, with aspirations as bright as the stars. Currently studying at NYU, Greg wasn’t too thrilled with his admittance into an alternative Film and Television program, but once engulfed in the curriculum, he truly feels as though the program will benefit him in all regards. With a taxing program and 9 different projects, it is amazing that Mr. Contaldi has managed to keep up with all that he does. Luckily, he set aside time in his schedule and allowed me a glimpse into his hectic life.

To dedicate his entire life, free time and future, he must have a deepseeded passion for film. “I’ve been interested in Film and Television, for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would always have a camera in my hand. If I weren’t filming skits with my friends, I’d be interviewing relatives at family parties or my brother’s sports events. As a child, I appreciated films made long before my time. My grandfather got me hooked on the movies he watched when he grew up. I was the only kid in elementary school who appreciated the work of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Sergio Leone. I was obsessed and it only intensified as I got older.

It was after I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, with my grandpa, that I realized I wanted to take part in the creation of the art. Inglourious Basterds was anything but a typical World War II flick. Tarantino puts a twist on the genre of war films and even rewrites history in the process. He has created his own vision of the world that is stylish, witty, and singular and I felt that I could do the same. I want to create my own vision in my films and Tarantino proved to me that there are NO LIMITS when it comes to filmmaking. I feel that I have the potential to create art that has never been seen before.”

And that potential must be cultivated so that it can bloom into what, no doubt, will be an incredible career. What was his first experience in this cultivation process, his first job in film? “My first professional experience working with production and film is when I began interning at Nightstand Studios, in Fairfield, NJ. Nightstand Studios is a fully operational Film, Television, Animation and Recording Studio owned and operated by Emmy Award Winner and Four-Time Nominee; Randy Rossilli, Jr. It was at this internship where I learned about all the aspects that go into a production from idea pitching, set/lighting design, camera setup, animation, and editing. I was able to experience entire productions from the beginning to the final edit.”

To add to that fantastic experience, Mr. Contaldi has also had his run in front of the camera as well. “At my high school, I was part of 5 productions; Guys & Dolls (Lt. Brannigan/ Assistant Director), Midsummer/Jersey (Lyle “The Understatement” Fagioli), Sweeney Todd (Ensemble/ Assistant Director), Our Town (George Gibbs), High School Musical (Ensemble). At NYU, I was part of the student production of Superbad and I am currently in rehearsals for Talk Radio. I have acted in a number of student films and I recently finished shooting a commercial for VYBE sunglasses.”

With each of those roles came experience and an interesting story. What was it like working on all those productions, especially a play based off of the hit movie, Superbad? “My high school drama club is where I got my real start in acting/directing. I was happy with the variety of different roles I was able to play. From a Guido on the New Jersey Shore to a police officer in 1950’s NYC to a murder victim baked into a meat pie.

The last play I was in was, Superbad, which closed three weeks ago. I was on the way to a club meeting when my friend told me that he was auditioning for Superbad. I was so confused. The movie? Are they making a sequel? But no. To my surprise a NYU student theatre group was putting on play version of the movie. I auditioned and I was fortunate enough to get a part. Well, actually many parts. I pretty much played every supporting character in the show. My roles included: Terry, Mark, Maroki (Evan’s Asian partner in home-ec), Liquor Store Employee, and Liquor Store Robber.

Superbad has been one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever worked on. We only had 3 rehearsals before our first show and we were able to use our scripts during the performance. It was a true immersive theatre experience. We performed the show in an apartment around our audience and even got them involved in the show.”

With all those being in the past, what is Mr. Contaldi working on as of now? “Currently, I am part of NYU’s Backstage Theatre Company’s production of Talk Radio. Talk Radio was written by Eric Bogosian and tells the story of Barry Champlain, a radio personality, on the eve of his radio show’s national syndication. I am playing the role of Stu Noonan, Barry’s radio operator.”

It seems as though Mr. Contaldi has pieced together an impressive resume for his future, one filled with multiple feats and talents to beat the band. How has New York helped him lengthen this resume? “My experiences since moving to New York City have been nothing but great. The city obviously opens doors to opportunity, and NYU continues to offer me the best resources, best advice, and best professors, so I can become not only the best filmmaker, but also the optimal person. Coming from a high school where “the arts” isn’t a top priority, it is nice to be in a community of people who are just as excited about the craft of filmmaking, acting, and media production as you are. NYU gives you the opportunity to meet and work with many industry professionals and I feel this is integral to understanding film and anything else.

As I said before, I’ve been doing a lot of acting on my own in student projects. Recently, I’ve been working with one of the Tisch Sight and Sound: Studio Classes acting in their TV shoots. I very much enjoyed acting on a professional set for a 3-camera shoot. It was much different environment then what I was used to.”

So much has already been accomplished, so what more is there to do? Where does he hope to see himself in the next 5 or 10 years? “Hmm. Lets see. In 5-10 years, I’ll still be relatively new to the industry. I hope to continue to get my foot in the door of the entertainment business world and be making connections. If all goes well, I hope to eventually have my own weekly variety/comedy series. Something similar to The Dean Martin Show. I want to put a spin on late night television and break away from the “set structure” many late night shows have today. Narrowing it down to only a weekly show will allow me to work on other projects as well. I hope to be directing features and have a drama series of my own.”

Well, with all that he has done, I’m sure he will far surpass his aspirations and be the star we all know he can be. It was an incredible pleasure and I know one day, we will all know the famous, Greg Contaldi.