Michelle West took a chance and followed her heart when deciding to study dance at Temple University. It's a chance that's paid off. West now tours the country as a principal dancer in Jim Henson's "Sid the Science Kid Live."
When Michelle West was a senior at Middletown High School in 2009, she won her class’s Triple Threat Award, a homage to her singing, dancing and acting abilities. By that time, she had already decided, with the certainty and optimism that accompanies that time in a person’s life, that she wanted to pursue dance in college.
“At first, my parents were very apprehensive about me studying dance and pursuing a dance career,” West said, explaining that her mom is an accountant and her dad in an engineer. “They both have these stable careers so the idea that I would pursue something that didn’t offer any kind of guarantee about a steady job was worrisome to them.”
The idea to be a dancer may have been compounded by the fact that until West officially decided on a career in the arts, she was set on becoming a doctor.
“I thought I was going to be a dance teacher on the side,” she said. “But, dance is my calling. It’s my passion.
Five years removed from high school and now a fresh-faced Temple University graduate, West’s mop of curls, fast grin and laid-back personality belies the determination she possesses. But, there’s something else—She’s also optimistic. It’s never occurred to her that her dreams wouldn’t work out. Towards the end of college, she began routinely hopping a bus to New York for auditions. Alone.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. They don’t teach you this in college. Some programs do but mine did not. So, yes, it was hard and I heard ‘no’ a lot. Or, worse, I just heard nothing,” she explained of the rigorous, daily audition grind. “But, I’m glad now that I figured it out on my own. It forced me to grow up in a lot of ways. It forced me to figure things out.”
She figured things out quickly, landing an unexpected role in Jim Henson’s “Sid the Science Kid Live.” The role requires her to travel the country and no one who sees the show ever sees her face. She loves it, though.
“I saw myself dancing in a company even though my program at Temple really emphasizes that,” West said. “So, this is probably not the norm or what most dancers dream of. But, I’m so thankful for it. It’s going to lead to other work. People will see that I worked with the Tony Award-winning director John Tartaglia. They’ll see I worked with his co-director Michael Lewis and the choreographer Shannon Lewis.”
Prospective employers will also see that she has added assistant stage manager to her resume since the cast is required to set up and break down the sets.
Two or three months is a typical contract for a dancer but West’s “Sid” contract has been for six. There’s a possibility of signing back on with the show but she’s also auditioned for other shows, including one with Busch Gardens. She’s not worried. Plus, she’s got more going on in her personal life as well. It’s time to plan a wedding. West is engaged to her high school sweetheart Tajuan Taylor, who’s currently in the Navy. She said the two are hoping for an East Coast commission that will allow West the opportunity to be close enough to New York for regular auditions, in case Broadway comes calling.
“I just want to be happy and to dance,” West said of her ultimate career goals. “I would love to be on Broadway but it’s not the only kind of work out there. Plus, I’m not looking for fame. I’m looking to grow, to be better at what I do.”
With success at her feet and her professional career as a dancer underway, West is reticent to give advice, even when asked.
“The best thing I know to say is the obvious. You have to work hard. You have to follow your dreams,” she said. “Be honest with yourself about what you really want to do and go for what you see yourself doing, not what other people see you doing. Because at the end of the day, your career is for you. It’s not for anyone else.”