Movement is movement, says Mark Stuart, associate choreographer of Andy Blankenbuehler's latest Broadway hit, Bandstand. But the motivation to dance really comes down to being inspired by music that speaks to you.
While at Syracuse University, friends dragged him to Swing Night at a local downtown bar. Inspired by the athletic, vibrant style and roaring big-band music, he started social dancing once a week and DJ-ing events, a hobby he'd cultivated around the same time. Though he had no formal dance training, he was a quick study, and six months later he won the American Lindy Hop Championships. From there he was offered a spot in the national tour of Swing! and went on to be a part of 16 different productions of the show over nine years, filling every position from dance captain to assistant choreographer and director.
Stuart has become the industry's go-to partnering guy. Photo courtesy of Stuart
Stuart, who founded Mark Stuart Dance Theatre in 2009 and was assistant choreographer on the 2017 Dirty Dancing remake, prides himself on being the industry's "partnering guy," a skill mastered from his swing-dancing days. Rooted in improvisation, social dancing and swing dancing also primed him to choreograph.
When he's setting a piece, he likes to find a song and then picture the movement. "I'll close my eyes and listen to a song 4,000 times," he says, "but rarely what I see in my head is what the choreography ends up being." The movement changes based on the individual interpretation of the dancers he's working with.
To keep his dancers on their toes and out of their heads, he likes to mix up the music for a combination they're learning. For instance, he'll teach four counts of eight to a simple piece of music, and then have them do the same combination to a totally different song, while traveling around the room, with the added challenge of not running into anyone. "Unfortunately, most dancers are just worried about doing the steps properly, and that's not interesting," he says. "Anyone can do the steps, but what makes you special as a dancer?" The music connects the dancer to the artistry.