Face to Face: Joey Dowling
Talks about her debut on NBC’s “Smash”
Joey Dowling has one long leg planted in the commercial world and the other in concert dance. The former Radio City Rockette has appeared in the films Chicago and Rock of Ages, performed on Broadway in the revival of Sweet Charity, choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance” and was associate choreographer for the Tony Award–winning musical In the Heights. Dowling grew up competing at her mother’s studio, The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, and she continues to be a role model for young dancers nationwide. On faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, she also choreographs for competition studios and designs dancewear for Jo+Jax, the apparel line she co-founded with her sister. “I’ve always liked being busy,” she says about doing it all. “I freak out when I sit home and have nothing to do. It’s just how I keep going—there’s always something more.”
This winter, Dowling adds another show to her credits—a dance role in the second season premiere of NBC’s television musical drama, “Smash.”
Dance Teacher: Can you tell us about your role on “Smash”?
Joey Dowling: I play a dancer playing a model in a Broadway show routine that Derek [Jack Davenport] the director and Karen [Katharine McPhee] go to see. It’s a number about a black model (based on the famous Naomi Sims) who breaks out onto the scene. At first, you only see white models walking the catwalk, and all of a sudden, the Naomi Sims character, played by Jennifer Hudson, appears and starts singing to the effect of, “Get back. I’m coming down and I’m going to make my mark.” We’re all dressed in very couture houndstooth suits, and as she walks down the runway telling us off, she throws out her hair and takes off her dress to reveal a gold outfit. The other models jump onboard and it turns into a huge go-go dance party.
DT: What were the rehearsals like?
JD: We had about four days of rehearsal and then we shot the number in one day. We got in at 5 am, and we wrapped at about 7 pm and did not stop. When we were working with Jennifer Hudson, many dancers—myself included—would keep getting distracted because she was so vocally amazing. She would sing on top of the track and we just wanted to stand and listen.
DT: On “Smash” we see a rendition of Broadway behind the scenes. Are the fictional rehearsals true to life?
JD: There’s more comedy in a real rehearsal, more joking around. But they capture the essence: people falling, tripping, screwing up and also doing a run-through so amazingly and having a vibe that’s magical.
DT: What are the differences between a Broadway and TV rehearsal?
JD: A lot of it depends on the choreographer; he sets the tone of the room. If he is stressed, the room gets very tense. But I understand that pressure from being on that side with In the Heights. You really have a time crunch. Maybe 20 years ago, people had six to eight weeks to put a show together; now you’re lucky if you get four. You have about one day to teach each number before moving on to put in the scenes and transitions.
TV is a bit less stressful. There’s more time, and when shooting they can do as many takes as they want to get it right. I’m a big fan of films. It pays better, you get residuals and it’s more relaxed.
DT: Do you have advice for young dancers trying to break onto the professional scene?
JD: You can’t get complacent and expect that if you get an agent, you can just sit home and wait for things to happen. The best artists have their own YouTube channels; they’re producing videos and collaborating with friends. They’re doing everything in their power to make things happen on their own.
The competition world really sets you up for having a career, period. And not only in dance—any career has a competitive edge. DT
Photo: Joey Dowling (far left) in costume for her “Smash” debut, by Eric Liebowitz/NBC