Saturday, July 13, 2024

Prancing from Pontiac to Mumbai by Caleb Nickerson

Above, Marie-Josée Corriveau pictured by THE EQUITY’s Donald Teuma-Castelletti dancing at a show in May. Below, the instructors left to right Alisha Corriveau, Caley Stewart, Samantha Corriveau, Danika Newberry, Alida Horner, Bilie Désormeaux, Marie-Josée Corriveau, Geni Corriveau and Emily Dubeau. Missing: Anne-Marie Chevrier, Natacha Corriveau and Jordan Long. Picture by Caroline Potvin.

The great Chinese philosopher Confucius said that if you choose a job you love you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
For Marie-Josée Corriveau, a young lady from Litchfield, the adage is more of a reflection of reality than a lofty aspiration. As a professional dancer, she has appeared on stages from Montreal to Mumbai doing everything from music videos to musicals.
The 23-year-old grew up with eight siblings and started dancing at her family’s studio, The Corriveau School of Dance, when she was four.

“Being one of the youngest I always had older brothers and sisters to do things with,” she said.” I don’t think I would have ever gotten the love or knowledge of dance if our family didn’t have a studio.”
She emphasized the impact that her oldest sister and coach Natacha had on her development.
“She always pushed me because I was her sister,” she said. “It was great but when I was younger I was never sure why she was always picking on me when I was dancing. Not picking but being a little more firm with me. Even at home she was working with me on my flexibility. At times when I was younger I was lazy, I didn’t understand the importance of it.”
Her preferred style is jazz, though she is trained in countless other dances like swing, tap, hip-hop and even a little ballroom.
“It’s always been my favorite since I’ve been young, I don’t know why,” she said. “The genre of music is more upbeat. It’s very in-your-face and the movements are big. It’s very fun, very active and I’m an active dancer, I love to do tricks and jumps.”
Though she grew up learning the family trade, Corriveau didn’t know that she would pursue a career in dance until she was in her teens.
“I always enjoyed it but I didn’t know I wanted to do it professionally,” she said. “We started to go to competitions in Ottawa when I was about 15 and when I saw other dancers and we went on stage and competed, I started getting a little competitive with it.”
She began attending auditions and a few years later she landed her first contract, appearing in Ottawa singer Kristina Maria’s “Move Like A Soldier” music video (which currently has about 250,000 views on Youtube).
A little over a year later she got a contract with Cirque du Soleil to perform at a ten day event in Mumbai, India.
“That one I got asked to be in by the choreographer,” she said. “Sometimes you audition and sometimes the choreographer already knows who they want.”
Unlike many dancers, Corriveau doesn’t have an agent and usually just searches for auditions with Natacha.
“[Natacha] has a lot of knowledge on dance so she was able to teach me all the styles and what I would need to know for auditions,” she said. “The more auditions I go to I’m meeting more people, so now I’m hearing about auditions through people.”
In an industry that revolves around connections and knowing the right people, Corriveau seemed unfazed by cutting out the middleman.
“It would definitely be beneficial but I’m doing ok without one,” she said.
Currently, she’s living in Quebec City and working on a production of Mary Poppins produced by Just For Laughs. Her first performance was on July 5, but she began training for the role back in May.
“My main role is a chimney sweeper in Mary Poppins,” she said. “But we play different roles. Sometimes I’m just someone walking by or in ‘Supercali[fragilisticexpialidocious]’ I’m a client, but my biggest role is the chimney sweeper for sure.”
In addition to dancing, the role requires a bit of singing as well, a skill she honed as a part of the glee club at her family’s studio.
“My mom, she sings at the church in Vinton and I always sang in the choir there,” she said. “Other than that I’ve never taken singing lessons. I’m hired based on my dancing for this [production], but I had to do a singing audition.”
Corriveau said that Mary Poppins has been doing quite well, packing the 1,000-plus seat theater and will continue to play for the rest of August. The show is already booked for a string of shows in Montreal around Christmastime.
“We have 24 more in December,” she said. “It depends on ticket sales if we’re going to go somewhere else in the summer.”
She has considered moving to the dancing hotbeds of New York or Los Angeles but is currently content with the contracts she is getting in Canada.
“I haven’t decided to go out further because I’m getting contracts and I’m getting work and I get to go home to my family,” she said. “It’s more of a humble area to work in, Montreal, than L.A. or New York. I like the humbleness of the artists. The people are great to work with.”
The uncertainty and short-term nature of the work is something that Corriveau says is one of the hardest parts about being a professional dancer.
“You walk into an audition and everyone is good and they could technically be casted. You couldn’t have gotten invited to the audition if you weren’t good,” she said.
“When you go to an audition, it’s not really about your dancing anymore, it’s about your height, your hair colour, the way you look, the way you speak for a singing role or an acting role.”
“The hardest thing is, if you don’t get it you’ll never know why. We’re not told why,” she continued. “You go in, you’re given a number and for the next round they just call the numbers they want and it’s the door. If your number doesn’t get called, you just leave.”
She described professional dancing as constantly being in a job interview. Her contract for Mary Poppins is six months and it’s the longest she’s had so far. Though the industry is dog-eat-dog, Corriveau is not without options.
“I studied in [Early Childhood Education] before I decided to take dance seriously,” she said. “I told my mom that I wanted to go and dance and she said, ‘You should go and get an education first and then you can dance.’”
“I love kids. I also teach dance when I’m not working so I work with kids a lot,” she continued.
Corriveau said that the number one recommendation she could give to a young aspiring dancer would be to study the more technical forms of dance like ballet.
“It’s so funny because if dancers want to do hip-hop or they want to do music videos, they always look at what’s on TV and they don’t think about the technical basics for dance,” she said. “I would say, even if you don’t want to be a ballet dancer, you need to still take ballet for your base technique. It benefits your dancing so much.”
“There’s always room for improvement, so always practice and train,” she added.
The last bit of advice isn’t just a saying that Corriveau tosses around, it’s an axiom she lives by.
“Even when I’m not dancing for work, I’m dancing because it’s what I like to do,” she said.
“On my days off I go to the studio, it’s what I do for fun.”