Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Testa.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Tony. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started dancing when I was 8 years old in my hometown of Fort Collins, CO. A friend asked me if I wanted to try a tap dance class, but in my head, dancing was for girls. Come to find out, I was kind of right, dancing was for girls, A LOT of girls. I found this thrilling, but there was something else about dance that kept me going back. Eventually, my friend dropped out and I just kept going. Tap eventually lead to breakdance, hip-hop, Jazz, ballet and contemporary dance. My mom was teaching dance at a local studio at the time and I started assisting her classes. This is how I learned to teach and was introduced to the practice that mesmerizes me to this day. I didn’t know it then, but my initial impulse to stick with it was b/c in my heart of hearts, I had a choreographer inside me dying to come out.
This was my first encounter with true passion. In the beginning, I would go to the local studio on my lunch breaks from school and choreograph. I would create a dance for the classes I was now teaching AND I would create a dance that was just for me. I had a private stash of movement that I was exploring that was sacred to me. I didn’t really tell anyone about it and even fewer got to see it. I recorded these experimentations by propping my mom’s video camera up on a chair and filming myself into the mirror. This simple process of filming myself than watching the playback is how I developed my voice.
When I was 16, my mom encouraged me to teach some of my friends this choreography and she taped us performing it around the city. Just like that, we had made my first choreography reel. Because YouTube wasn’t a thing back then, I would just pass this DVD around to different guest teachers and artists that would come to town. I had no agenda other than wanting them to see what we had made because I was so proud of it.
Two years later, while I was sitting in English class during my senior year of high school, I got a call that would change my life. My little homemade reel had somehow made it all the way to LA and into the hands of Janet Jackson and she wanted me to be a choreographer on her upcoming tour.
After much hyperventilation and a high school graduation, I packed up my Pontiac Grand Prix, waved bye to my family in the driveway and began a new life for myself in Los Angeles, CA.
Fast forward 13 years, I have been so incredibly fortunate to have worked with the best and sustained a living with my art. This longevity is due to the incredible teachers who graciously shared their wisdom with me. My story is nothing without acknowledging Mimi Westin, Rick Justice, Kevin O’keefe, Jenny & Julie, Miss Luba, Gil Duldulao, Brian Friedman, Kenny Ortega, Dimitris Papaioannou, Tony Selznick, Julie McDonald + MSA, and most of all, my mother and father.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When I first started choreographing in LA, I learned one of the hardest and most valuable lessons of my artistic life: NEVER RELY ON THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS TO DICTATE WHETHER YOUR ART IS GOOD OR NOT.
When I first started working with Janet, I wanted my dance to be better than it had ever been before. I came down on myself hard and scrutinized every single little movement based on whether or not it was to some impossible gold standard. This mindset began to dig my grave and eventually led to me to a massive Choreography block with layers of insecurity that took me years to shed. I wasn’t doing what she had brought me out to LA to do and her whole team could see it. When I eventually climbed out of that hole, I swore to never again allow myself to put anyone’s else opinion of my art above my own.
Yet somehow I was able to bring just enough of my true self to keep my foot in the door with her and her creative director and we worked on and off together for the next 3 years. To this day, she is one of the most generous and kind spirited “popstars” I’ve worked with.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Tony Testa – what should we know?
The older I get, the less I’m drawn towards words like “business” and “company” in regards to my own pursuit of art.
Not because I don’t have bills to pay or I don’t wish to make a living with my passion, but rather because when I think about my art in terms of a business, it’s very nature becomes diminished. There seems to be a universal trend throughout the arts that make it standard for people to say “my work” or “I’m making a work,” but it seems that by calling my beloved “work,” I am subconsciously making it so. I saw a graduation speech by Laurie Anderson and she was the first to bring this concept to my attention.
It’s not always the case but usually, when I begin approaching a project from the perspective of business, resume, brand, etc., I’ve already stunted its growth. Sometimes, I can accept this for what it is and just have fun. Sometimes, not. I spent the majority of 2017 questioning my process and carefully removing the irrelevant. I’m not nearly as stripped back as I plan to be, but I’m on the road. This digging has brought me back to many of the original feelings from when I was 15. A good sign.
- Website: www.tonytestaofficial.com
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- Twitter: @TTestaOfficial