From Philly to Vegas: A Dance Journey with Bernard H. Gaddis

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Vegas so how are all you entrepreneurs doing out there? We have a special treat today we have a very special guest in the Studio this morning Leah, would you like to introduce? I will so I would like to introduce to you. Mr. Bernard H Gaddis hello, Mr. Gaddis. Hello ladies Thanks for joining us this bright and early Saturday morning. Well thank you for having me. All right so Bernard I want to jump right in because you have Contemporary West Dance Theater, I mean Dance Company. Yes. We've been talking about this for years and well me and you talk about this stuff. You were very instrumental in my daughter's life in dance and helping her to pursue what she thought was going to be her dream of dance. Tell me about you. I mean graduated from the Philadelphia School of Performing Arts, Philadelphia High School for Performing Arts. Let's get it, Philadelphia High School for Performing Arts. What does dance mean to you?

Well, I mean, it definitely means more than pretty costumes and the music and being in front of the audience and everything, and as you said, dance saved my life. I came from an abused family and dance was an outlet for me. I remember sitting, watching a PBS special, and it was seven men going across the stage. It was the first time that I had seen it. It was after school, and I was transfixed. I watched it, and I was just like, wow. And then I got up, and afterwards, I just went out and started playing. And little did I know that that was the seed that planted everything. Because then everything that happened afterwards kind of led me into dance, where it was, you know, my teacher who was home economics teacher who taught sewing, who asked me to perform Michael Jackson in her, you know, her fashion show. And then it went on to, you know, you know how at the end of the year like when you're about to graduate middle school they asked you what there's a list of what high schools you wanted to go through okay and so I knew I didn't want to go to West Philly

High okay not nothing and anybody from Philly okay so anybody because I know thankfully we're not in Philly so but again nothing gets West Philly but I can

understand not wanting to go to West Philly in the 80s right and I and so I saw creative and performing arts on the on the sheet and you know at that time the performing arts or Fame without videos. Fame without, yes it was. Videos had just started to come out like music videos

I won't hate you for that, but it is. I'm telling you. MTV, BET, VH1, you were showing all of that.

All of those videos and dancers were getting a lot of love because they were in all those videos. Exactly, exactly. So, you know, I chose that. I auditioned. I had never had a dance class before. Okay. I had brown dress pants. I didn't have any dance clothes. I went auditioned. I did Michael Jackson. Okay. You did what you knew. I did what I knew. I did what I knew. And, you know, and after that, you know they I guess they needed men so they probably needed men yeah time and boys in Philly are not are not really no no no and and the funny thing about it is that creative performing arts was in the hood right across it was in on South Philly 11th and Catherine I know where 11th and Catherine is yes and right where the projects is yeah so we had to fight for our lives getting into school and coming

out no it's interesting because at that time in the 80s, Philadelphia always had a bunch of high schools for, had magnet high schools. And they had a school for the performing arts. They had your academic school, they had engineering and science, it was called engineering and science. So it was these schools around town. But you know, the city, and it's interesting because we caught public transportation to school. We didn't, it wasn't a school bus that came by and picked everybody up in the neighborhood. You got on public transportation, so you were riding the bus with everybody, people going to work, you were going to school, and I mean just every, and did you go to school from

seven, from eight to three?

Yes, no, it was 7 30 7 30 till about 3 o'clock, right?

So what they did for so what they did for the magnet school kids, we had a longer day Than if you were if you went to the neighborhood schools So we were on the buses earlier and on the buses later because we would get home. I mean, I would get home from school at 4 35 o'clock Every day and was on the bus at 6 30 in the morning And this was for high school. So, you know, I feel you Talk about paying dudes. Yeah, they start right here. Mm-hmm on scepter, right? So let's talk about you because you've danced You've been you've lived in New York

Yes. Well, I mean I joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1992. Okay. But before that, I joined Philodenko. Philodenko. And I was actually the youngest member. I actually, I started at 14, and then I got into my first professional company at 15. Wow. Which was Philodenko. Okay. And so I was a full company member then. And she's still living.

93. She's 93 years old.


That's wonderful.

What's her name? I don't remember. Joan Myers Brown.

Joan Myers Brown. Now did you go to the location on 63rd Street? No, at that time

we were on 40th and Market. Okay, she'd already went to 40th and Market. But she still had the 63rd

Street location. Because my mother had the dry cleaners underneath and I would hear the kids stomping above me and I'm like, mom can I go to dance class? She was like, absolutely not. Alright mom, you won't let me go? No, because you didn't go, you didn't want to go to class when I wanted you to go to

Class I was like got it, but so you're 40 different markets, so you're dancing with her

Yeah, and you know just kind of backtrack to what I was saying you know before Just you know once I got into high school, and I you know I took to it like a fish to water They could not pull me out of the dance room, and I didn't know you could make money at it I just knew I loved to dance and it kept me away from home.

Got it.

So that's what I mean by it saved my life and then cut to being in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

What was that like? Stop there, stop. Because when you hear Alvin Ailey, I mean, that is the creme de la creme.

You went from, I just started this and then less than 10 years, you're on stage with Alvin Ailey. That's huge. Yes and blessed and blessed. Yes blessed. So what was that like?

It was it was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, but I already knew how to swim Was Judith Jameson running the company? Yes, she was. Mr. Ailey had passed in 1989 Which I for a summer I was his gopher. So I was able to sit by his feet and watch the main company and watch him direct a main company Because I was on scholarship. I was on a full scholarship and So you were good. Thank you

For you to be there in 80s. Uh-huh. We want this baby. Okay. Yeah

And the funny thing about it, I've you know, I've always had to travel back because I didn't really have a lot of money So if I had to always travel so I lived in Jersey and subsidized housing, and I would get on the bus and remember how they would give you the change back once you get into the city, like the city had some kind of agreement with the bus. And so I would recycle the change so that I could go and do the the summer intensive and the scholarship.

So being hungry and doing what it takes to be there, to be present. So that famous number that Ailey does, Revelations, yes Revelations, I knew you knew it. Have you performed that?

Yes, I was.

Can I touch you?

Can I touch somebody?

I can tell the world, I touched somebody that did Revelations, it's a beautiful piece. It's a beautiful piece and I had the opportunity of performing it in high school. Believe it or not, I had a dance instructor, cheer coach in high school that taught dance. Of course, there were only really a handful of dancers in the class and everybody else was there. But because I was in her class, she decided to do Revelations and make me the star person in Revelations. So it was very interesting to see because it was a very mixed crowd, you know what I mean? But it was really good. She was bringing culture to an area that really didn't have it. And so then my dance instructor who was from downtown Detroit came to see the performance and bought other folks to see it So it was really cool, but revelations is a signature piece that they've been doing for a hundred years signature Everybody loves that piece. They never get tired of it Honestly, because when a Lee when a dance company comes here, I just want what time is revelations coming on? Cuz I need to see that. Mm-hmm. I really want to see that.

So go ahead.

So you are.

Wait, let's tell our listeners. We're speaking with Mr. Bernard Gaddis, who's the founder and artistic director of Contemporary West Dance Contemporary West Dance Theater. So he has been a dance a long, long time. He's an entrepreneur. He started the organization. What was it like starting the dance company here in Vegas?

It was one of the hardest things that I've ever done. You know, and actually I can't take the credit for having the idea.


That was Charmaine Hunter. Okay. And Charmaine Hunter was a principal prima ballerina with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Oh, wow.

And she had moved here and she was working a little bit with Cirque du Soleil doing auditions and things like that. And so when I got the job with Cirque du Soleil, Zumanity, we had already known each other, you know, because Ailey and DTH, we toured eight months out of the year. Well, like, she would be right behind each other. Or either in front, yeah, like either they were in the city before us or we were in the city before them. So we, and we also took class, they would come down and take class at Ailey We would go up and take class at DTH. So I've known Charmaine forever and so she decided she said I did a while I was in humanity I did a benefit concert for children with living with HIV and women's breast cancer and It was also for the dancers of Zumanity to have something else to do because we were doing the same show day in and day out. And so basically, Charmaine had came and saw the performance. She's like, you need to start a dance company here. And I was like, my first thought was like, and H to the double E, hockey stick.

Hockey stick.

Hockey stick thing.

Right, right, no.

Just no.

No, no. And I just needed to emphasize that. I know it's radio, but I had no.

No, no, right, right.

Because I just knew, I didn't think, you know, I wasn't thinking about being artistic director. I've always, you know, been the dancer. And I did, was a director for Danko 2, which is their second company. But, you know, I didn't really, you know, that wasn't my thing for right at that point.

But you know what a performance is supposed to look like.

Yes, yes.

You know, because I remember the first time you said a piece on children,

well, the children here. Yes. And it was for performing a visual arts camp. And these, I mean, these babies, he said a piece on these babies and I just had this, I was like, oh, they can dance.


And it was just, it was clean. It was crisp. And it was, it was amazing. Just watching them just step their game up. Mm-hmm, you know, so I want to thank you for that because that was huge

Thank you. That was you so you so you've danced for humanity. Did you any other Cirque shows?

Mystere mystere. Okay, that was the longest run that I did So I did zoom Andy for three years and then I did mystere for about 14, but I started a company in 2007 okay sort of when I was changing from Zumanity to Mystere.

Now what's it like, okay, so how many times a week are you guys actually performing the show?

We do two shows a day, 10 shows a week, five days a week.

From Wednesday to Sunday, Thursday to Sunday?

Well, it depends on, because they always have a show playing, so we were kind of Monday through Friday.

Oh, Monday through Friday, oh. Or something like that,

or maybe it was like Wednesday through Sunday or something like that I don't remember but it was definitely ten shows a week and yeah and I'd started

the company then too. Okay so now do you have to practice too on top of the ten

shows? Well you know it depends on how good you are I didn't have to. Okay let's

talk about that for a minute. Okay in regular dance right at your studio getting ready for a performance you're practicing every day. Yes. And then it's time for the performance but then you have a rehearsal before the performance or a stretch before the performance and then there's performance. So let's talk about this whole Zumanity thing. So now you didn't have to practice every day

but why did others? Were they stand-ins or? Well, no, I mean because you know the type of dancing that I did is the artist's heart form. Okay. The artist's art form. Okay. As far as dance. Okay. You know because there is entertainment. There's commercial dance. There's the fine arts You know which is what it is that I do which is the pure purity of what dance is And so if you're able to master that then everything else comes easy. That's true Broadway came easy for me You know Zumanity came easy for me. It was very 101 so I'm like you know once I got the movement I'm like I'm good, and then you know and then I they saw me continue to progress in the movement. So they're like, oh, okay, well, we don't really need to rehearse him.

He's like doing a wobble, huh?

Once you get it, you can do it.

It's like doing a wobble.

I'm just saying.

You said the wobble.

The wobble.

I'm just, you know, I say that.

You did say it, but you're right.

There's a lot of different techniques. I know when I was at Howard University, I think I told you earlier, I danced in the company there and our instructors taught us the Martha Graham technique. We did a lot of Martha Graham. So all of that was new to me because when I was in you know junior high high school I was one of those kids that did start dancing it you know out of out of the crib right you know I did ballet tap jazz you know all that fun stuff. I had never really gotten into modern you know like that. I did mostly everything else but when I got to college that's when I learned modern and Martha Graham and all that fun stuff and all that was great you know just helped take me you know to where I needed to be. But I can say this being a dancer you're in great shape. It is something you look great and most dancers look fabulous because when you're at when you're dancing you're having fun so you're not exercising. Exactly. You know what I mean? But you are though. But you are but you're not. But like like to me like when I hear about Pilates and all that stuff Pilates is just ballet slow. Mm-hmm. If you've never you know if you've never done ballet in your life and I just you know I giggle you know. Right. I giggle at it like, Oh, okay, that's a little ballet. But anyway, I understand you're going to be having some new classes coming up.

Yes, actually, you know, we're partnering with the city now. And Las Vegas, yes, the city of Las Vegas cultural arts affairs, which is now parks and recreation as well. Okay. And I believe they combined it. And we've been we actually partnered started partnering with them through the pandemic. And we started with the company and then we started doing schools, like after school program, which I called at the time ArtsWork. Okay. And we changed that to conservatory, but we still have the ArtsWork program because I'm trying to cultivate going into the schools and having that be community enrichment.

Got it.

For the company and for the schools and for the community.

And that might be a good, I mean, I don't know a lot about the school district politics, but I know that a lot of the arts are not in, like the home economics classes and dance classes. Unless you're going to the performing arts schools, you really don't have access to that stuff.

Right, right. And so, yeah, we will be going into the inner city schools and creating workshops and programs and lecture demonstrations. And for me, it's always about the kids seeing what they can become. Because if you just kind of go in there and show them dance and not show them what they actually can strive for, then they're really not going to connect with it. And for me, being a kid that connected, and I will tell you, just to touch on what I said about the seven men going across the stage, when I got into Alvin Ailey, I was in the same room with the same choreographer doing the same ballet that I saw when I was 11 years old. Wow, how was that? It was surreal. It didn't hit me until I was like wait, this is a ballet I saw. This was the Seven Men. It was Sesame Street? No, I don't know what it was. It was PBS. And the ballet is Rainbow Around My Shoulder by Donald McHale.

Mikhail. Hmm oh my god so surreal comes full circle. Yep. You see it didn't even know that the seed was being planted went outside to play. Yep. And a decade later you doing the same performance. Mm-hmm. I wonder who has been inspired by you. Oh my god I

you know you don't think about it you know I know I don't think about it I just do what I do and dance means so much to me and my teacher did tell me, Althea Leslie, she said, when I'm giving you this information, it's not yours to keep. You must pass this on and you must promise me that you're not going to keep this for yourself. And I promised her. And ever since that day, I have been passing it on as much as I can, you know, and trying to do it at the way she did it at the highest level, at the highest quality, and at the highest of integrity.

Excellent. Excellent.

No, because when you watch them, I mean, dancers, first of all, they have a certain level of


It's a graciousness. It's how they walk. It's how they talk. It's how they move their hands. It's just gracious.

But no, if you watch it.


You can tell who the dancers are.

You can tell who the dancers are.

You can tell who the dancers are.

And at first, I thought, you know, when I was hanging out with you when we first met and you would say, Oh, I know Bernard's walking through the room because I guess I was like, is she making fun of me?

But it's honestly it's it's funny because I remember we were the society and the children had done their performance And I don't know if you I don't know if you have placed that piece on them and they had practiced it or if you knew Something about the piece but they practiced at my house where they moved the furniture in my house because I have a hardwood floor and after they performed if you could see just the execution of him he looked and his face turned and he Shook his shoulders to the side got up and gave him a standing ovation. I was like, oh my god It was it was good coming from you because I think you were sincerely and surprised and and happy that these children, right, that the piece was so clean. And these are high school kids, but they look like a professional company. That's fantastic. So tell me something. Let's go back to you starting the dance company. So how hard was it to start this business?

think that when it's when you're the first that everybody is just going to accept it and clamor to it and you know and it's so much about education in the city that does not is not steeped in the fine arts because I believe they've had one ballet company for and that was it for years and so when when I when Charmaine and I did start our company we wanted to make sure that it was integrated and multicultural and diverse as possible. So even with that, you know, it was trying to educate people about the reason why we have an intermission, you know, because in Vegas, they don't have intermissions, or you can get up and you can eat popcorn and you can have a hot dog or whatever. That's basically the shows, you know, and relate to, and that it's not artsy fartsy and over their heads. And they're kind of like, I don't know what this is, you know, avant garde. So cultivating that the programming and the ballets in which to show, you know, getting dancers, you know, was was a difficult, you know, thing here. You know, I think our first set of dancers were from UNLV.


And that's because Charmaine was teaching there at the time as a guest teacher. And then a lot of the other dancers were my friends from the strip. My sister, Stephanie, came out from California. We danced in Ailey together and she was actually a principal with Dance Theater Harlem as well. So I was pulling on friends and I was like we have one time to make an impact You know and we did our first performance at the Cashman Center. Hmm, and I like the cashman center. Yeah, it's a really cool cool theaters

Yeah, and

We I think we had about seven hundred and fifty people Mm-hmm, and I remember jewel and Yanni bought kids from the West Las Vegas Cultural Arts Center. They put a whole load of kids down and a lot of those kids had never seen concert dance. It was like their first time seeing it ever. But it's been it's been rough just financially getting the finances because you know when the powers that be right now I think they're more focused on you know, of the stadiums and the teams and stuff like that. And so, as a person of color, you know, you have to, I feel you have to work ten times harder, you know, and you have to be out there ten times more in pushing and educating people on what, you know, the arts is, that it's not just ballet. There's many different aspects of dance and theater and acting and opera and all those things that is the purity of what it is that the strip actually offers. Because if it was not for us, entities like us, then you would not have a lot of the entertainment. Yes, because they wouldn't have the training in which to do it.

Nice. Okay. But I love it because your performances are for us locals.


Something for us to do. I mean, a nice night out. I mean, because, you know, New York, you have Broadway where you can go see a whole bunch of musicals, plays and things like that. I look forward to your next performance. I know you're working on something.

Yes, we're working. Well, we're in our summer right now. We're doing a summer intensive where we offer intensive classes to students from all around the community. Then we go into our fall season. So we have our fall season with the company, and then we start our after-school program as well. And our fall season is October 6th and 7th. That's the main company, and that's three performances that weekend.

October 6th and 7th, and you will keep us posted on the location.

Of course.

And everything else, when you get everything solidified,

let me know. Of course.

Because we want to promote, and we will be there.

Thank you.

We will be there with bells and whistles on.

It's at the, actually, Charleston Heights Performing Arts Center.

Oh, it's at, okay.

Charleston Heights Performing Arts Center.

800 Brush Street.

Charleston Heights, go ahead.

Now, do you ever take the students who come, okay so you teach classes for students, do you ever take those

students to see any of the dancers that come here to perform? Well yes, we always try to educate and we do you know dance history classes and stuff like that. We have taken the kids to the International Associations of Blacks in Dance as well as the Laguna Arts Festival. You know I believe in giving them as much education as possible and also knowing where I come from, I bring choreographers in as well as teachers from all over, actually all over the world, actually. That's wonderful. To either do set choreography on them or either do teaching.

That's cool.

So how many students do you have that take classes from your organization?

Well, because we started during the pandemic, it fluctuated. We, everybody was looking for a place to dance at that time. And we were the only thing that was open. So we got it probably around 60 kids. That's wonderful.


And then, you know, it kind of fluctuates. And now that everything is open, like this past year, we had about 30. But that's still a nice number. Yes, because they're there, they're there, they're focused, there's not a whole lot of running around and trying to get from class to class to class to class. The teachers are more focused and able to really dive into the kids and really give them the information that they need. So it's a little family. Right, and you're planting the seeds.

What I love is they're planting the seeds because going to IABD is huge. Yes. Going to IABD, it's because you get to see the other black dance companies from around the nation. Right. All in you know I love when they come to your city because you get an amazing show. Mm-hmm. When they come to your city, when they come to your

town because you you might not get to Houston or Dallas. Well and you know I

came from I mean Philadelphia and Joe Myers Brown was actually the founder of it. And so I was going to IABD at a very very young age, so I actually introduced a lot of Miss Marsha From West Las Vegas Yanni and Jewel to the IBD organization. I was like you really need to come

And you really need to see this yes, you really need to see this I wish they would put Las Vegas back on the map I wish they would just come here one one good time so that we can see no you have to because I went to a show That they had in DC mm-hmm, and it was absolute they were at the Kennedy Center. Okay. So they performed at the Kennedy Center and I'm sitting there and I'm just like, oh my god, who knew this whole world of black dancers. And they actually did the piece that you. They did. That you saw. They did. And then it was so funny because I was in a Uber in Dallas, no Houston. I was in Houston who started Dallas black was the one thing I am Williams and when I was in a uber with her and didn't even know it Wow I was when she started I was like she said I am miss Williams I said oh we're gonna over with greatness but just knowing that dance world because it's a whole different world mm-hmm it's a whole different world again I want to thank you for coming on the show please please get us the information how people can purchase tickets for your upcoming event.

Please go to our website. It's very easy to learn.

0:28:13 So we're going to add that on our list of events, especially starting in September. We are. So Las Vegas, you've been listening to the founder and artistic director, Mr. Bernard Gattis. And we are so happy to talk to him today about the Contemporary West Dance Theater. It's my first time meeting him. I've been following that organization for years, especially during the pandemic, because they did a lot of shows virtually, and you could sit at home and watch them and you have to support them to keep things going. And so I'm very happy to meet him today for the first time, because I know some other people part of the organization, but I had never met him. And you know, dance is so near and dear to my heart. You know, I just love it. And I didn't realize I missed it until I was doing something earlier this year that reminded me that I missed it. So I understand you said earlier there are going to be some classes for adults. So I'm going to be wanting more information about that.

Yes, yes, yes. You know, yeah. And that really, really quickly. Yes, the city, we're partnering with them so that we can create programming. Okay. And so this year we're going to be doing a senior and adult dance fit classes that are going to be at the Charleston Heights as well. Well let me know when they start because I'm going to sign up. All right and so until next

time y'all. Y'all been listening to Let's Talk with Leah and Rhonda. I am Leah Crawford. I am Rhonda Norton. All right we will see you next week. Thank you Bernard for coming on today. Of course. Thank you. I'm honored. All right. Bye. Bye. today. Of course. Thank you. I'm honored. All right. Bye. Bye. you

Transcribed with Cockatoo

From Philly to Vegas: A Dance Journey with Bernard H. Gaddis
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