Magazine article Dance Spirit

Dancing FOR the Stars

Magazine article Dance Spirit

Dancing FOR the Stars

Article excerpt

Being a backup dancer is much more than tagging along. By Tim O'Shei

Hilary Duff has a confession: Even she-the sweet, mature, 20-year-old pop star-can be a troublemaker. "We're doing the same thing every night onstage," she says. "So we do get into trouble sometimes: We play tag." Julianne Waters, one of her four backup dancers (who's sitting next to her on a couch during the interview), giggles.

It's about an hour before an early September concert in upstate New York. Duff and her crew are one month into the six-week North American "Hilary Duff: Dignity Tour. " Night after night they are staging the same songs in the same order with the same dances. When it gets a little old, Duff and her dancers spice things up by playing tag, right onstage and smack in the middle of the music. They're subtle about it-so subtle, in fact, that the audience doesn't even notice.

"Do it tonight," suggests someone in the room.

Duff turns to Waters. "I'll start out," she says.

"OK," Waters says. "You're it!"


Duff is most definitely "it. " Though she and Waters call themselves friends, they're coworkers first. And in this relationship, Duff is clearly the VIP. While her four dancers and eight band members cram into a dozen bunks on a single tour bus, Duff has her own bus. She shares it with a bodyguard, a few managers, and her dog Lola, but she doesn't sleep on a bunk. Instead the back of the bus has been converted into a bedroom with a queen-sized mattress just for her.

Hanging above Duff's bed is a photo collage made by Anjolie Marfori, a 19-yearold dancer who counts the Duff show as her first tour. The frame contains behindthe-scenes photos of Duff and her backups having fun and hanging out.

"[My] relationship [with the dancers] really developed before the tour, when we were rehearsing," Duff says. "I was so nervous to dance-I'd never danced on my tours before."

Waters, Marfori and choreographer Fatima Robinson helped Duff learn little tricks, like how to dance in heels (hold your stomach tight!). And in July, when Duff forgot her moves during the dress rehearsal for a performance of her song "Stranger" on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," Waters went over the steps with her in the star's dressing room right before the performance-which Duff nailed. At the end of the song, while still on camera, Duff glanced at Waters and breathed a sigh of relief.

"They're always on it," Duff says of her dancers. "I'm motivated and inspired by them."


Waters, Marfori and their two male counterparts-LyIe Beniga and Misha Gabriel (see the DS cover, May/June 2007)-have a simple task: Make Duff look good. And that's the same principle for every backup dancer on any show.

"If you're a dancer," says 29-year-old Nanci Anderson, who's touring with Justin Timberlake, "you're not a star."

"You're the background," adds another Timberlake dancer, 22-year-old Tammy Fey. "We're there for him. He hired us and is paying us. We're there to make his show better. "

But getting-and keeping-the job is a grueling process that is driven not only by skill, but also by looks (hair color, skin tone and height all count), luck and who you know.

Marty Kudelka, who choreographed and co-directed Timberlake's "FutureSex/ LoveShow," chose Anderson after a sevenhour audition that started out with about 150 dancers. Though he knew most of the nine dancers who were chosen for the tour, Kudelka had never met Anderson, who had previously toured with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.

Fey, on the other hand, came from the same Dallas dance studio as Kudelka. They first met when she was 8 years old and Kudelka was a teenager teaching an advanced dance class. "She had big ol' bangs, overalls-very country," Kudelka said. "We laugh about it to this day."

Fey has definitely transformed. She now has stylishly short blonde hair with a black streak that gives her a sexy, rocker-girl look. …

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