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-Megan McGee

Laying Down the Beat with her Feet: Hillary Marie

Hillary-Marie Michael, at 25, is one of the youngest accomplished producers and directors in the tap-dancing world. She is the Founder and Director of Jersey Tap Fest, New Jersey's sole dance festival which features world-class tap faculty and extravaganza, an accomplished solo performer and a teacher who has traveled  internationally to teach her craft.

By the age of 12 she was appearing in 11 shows a week in the pre-professional company 'Showstopper's' at the Edward Nash Theater. Hillary's studies continued with Karen Callaway Williams, whose credits include Tony Award Nominated Duke Ellington musical PlayOn.

She has been featured at some of the most prestigious venues on the east coast and her high energy classes and performances have brought her to studios and stages around the world.

A few of the talented artists she has worked with include Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards (Cotton Club Sophisticated Ladies), Jason Samuels Smith (A.C.G.I.), Derick K. Grant (Rhythm Is Our Business), Maurice Chestnut (The Above Ground Project), NJTAP Dance Ensemble (Director, Deborah Mitchell), Awoye Timpo (Sonnets on Tap), Boston Tap Company (Rhythm in the Night), Christopher Scott (W-L-U-V), Marvin HamlischNat Adderley Jr., both the Princeton and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

She has also performed on The Colbert Report, 30 Rock, and for Estee Lauder.

Here is a little piece of her inspirational story. 

What were you like in high school?

I was such a big dreamer in high school (I still am). My head was never in the classroom. I had notebooks filled with choreography, show ideas, event ideas... but I was a straight A student. I would zip through the books, lock in the material, take care of history homework in math class, math homework in science class, etc. so I didn't have any work to do after school. I'd go home from school, take a quick nap, and then spend the rest of the evening in the dance studio, taking class, processing registration in the office, selling dance shoes in the boutique, assisting class, anything I could do to just be surrounded by dance. I started dancing professionally by the age of 16. I was assistant teaching dance classes, subbing dance classes, teaching my own dance classes, doing any performance I was offered and traveling to NYC on the weekends to take class and spend time with my mentor. 

How long have you been tapping for?

I've been tap dancing for about 12 years. 

What got you into tapping and did you fall in love with it right away?

I grew up dancing at the local dance studio and was taking Jazz classes (that real old school jazz). My mom asked me one year if I wanted to add a second dance class to my week and I said sure, and we chose Tap. I was in middle school at the time though, and I ended up in class with the babies. I was attracted to rhythm because my father was a drummer and I was playing drums in school. Having such a deep connection with music through dance just made sense to me. Instead of being discouraged about being the oldest kid in class, I asked my dad to bring a piece of plywood up from the basement so I could practice - didn't want the babies to show me up! I practiced so hard on all my syllabus steps and kept advancing to the next level class. I craved knowledge and loved to practice.

Do you have a favorite routine? If so what is it?

Opus One, choreographed and conceptualized by my mentor, Dr. Harold 'Stumpy' Cromer. I had the beautiful opportunity of assisting him in teaching the piece many times. Opus One wasn't just a piece of choreography, but it was a life lesson. That piece taught me about life, maturity, growth, focus and intention.  

What’s been your favorite gig or one that sticks out to you (Saw you tapped for 30Rock, amazing!!)?

My favorite gigs are when I get to travel and teach/perform abroad.  It's so amazing that tap dance, an American art form, is so widely spread. It truly is an International art form. Honduras really comes to mind. I was brought out to work with these beautiful, young, hungry dancers who were so open and excited to receive information. I'm fluent in Spanish and loved teaching in two languages. I was so honored to spend time with these kids, as many of them come from poor families with very little money to spare, and they put it towards their child's dance education.

For me, it brought to light how great of an impact arts education can have on a child's life and made me realize my passion for being an advocate of publicly accessible arts education around the world.  While I was there, I also had the opportunity to visit the ancient Mayan ruins. Amazing. I'm passionate about ancient history and to think that my art brought me to another part of the world and gave me the opportunity to not only share my passion for the dance, but to also visit such a sacred landmark and absorb another culture, is just amazing to me. 

What’s the average day-in-the-life of Hillary Marie look like?

Well, I'm a night owl. So I go to bed around 3am or 4am - night time is my most creative time and my favorite time to brainstorm, create and dream. That being said, I wake up in the afternoon.  Everyday is different. Sometimes I have rehearsal, or I'm teaching, or I'm traveling somewhere, or I'm conceptualizing my next show or just shedding. On top of the regular teaching/performing/rehearsing/practicing, I produce/direct a tap festival (Jersey Tap Fest), co-own a dance studio (Grooves Unlimited Dance Studio), direct a tap company (FutureSTEP Tap Company), and manage my own personal gigs, so I spend a couple of hours each day on the computer responding to emails, writing proposals, doing bookings, etc. I'm a total book worm, so I read science-fiction novels for fun. I love to cook and secretly think I'm an Iron Chef, so I spend extra time in the kitchen making homemade meals.

How often do you practice?

I do my best to practice every day, both on the floor shedding and off the floor ear-training. 

I know you were in Taiwan recently- awesome. Where else has tap taken you(internationally)?

Taiwan was beautiful! I loved every minute of it. Tap has brought me all around the world. Spain, Paris, Sweden, Taiwan, Honduras, Guatemala, Anguilla and more. Every country I visit is such a beautiful opportunity to both share my passion for music and dance, and learn about another part of the world. 

What has been the most important part of your self-promotion?

Authenticity. I spent so many years being a dancer that I wasn't because I was in a phase of absorption and replication. Don't get me wrong - that phase is beautiful. The best way to learn is to absorb everything from your teachers and replicate it. But you have to move on from that stage and find yourself. When I found myself, the self-promotion wasn't a struggle, because all I was doing was sharing a piece of myself that was true and un-fluffed. 

Are you working on anything new currently?

Of course! My mind goes a mile a minute with ideas. I have so many notepads filled with new pieces, shows, concepts, etc. I'm finalizing a debut piece of original music and choreography called "Black Velvet", building a new acapella piece of choreography and I'll be presenting my next show in the new year. 

If you had to give one piece of advice to a performer looking to advance their career, what would it be?

Spend some time alone, get to know yourself and practice. Artists are so heavily pressured to get their names out there, network, get more social media followers, scavenge for new opportunities, build a better website, make the coolest new video, etc. Don't leave your artistry in the dust and become a master self-promoter and an amateur performer. Your love for art and craving to share it with the world is what brought you to a performance career. Never let the artistry slip from your mind and heart.  

For updates on class offerings and performances, do check out Hillary's Facebook page and website.  The premiere of FUTUREstep Tap Company will on August 16th, 2016, in Bloomfield, NJ at Tap 'N Time and will feature the talents of Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ayodele Casel, Anthony Morigerato, Hillary-Marie, Corey Hutchins, Jeff Foote, Kyle Wilder, Boston Tap Company, Capitol Tap, Metro Youth Tap Ensemble).

THANK YOU Hillary. 👑 👯

To Be A Queen: Miss Jamaica International, DaisiJo

Creating Art and Future Bosses: Victoya Venise