After 22 years and 44 Rep Shows, dancer Anne Marie Cuozzo calls the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio “the best find ever”
There are not many dancers at the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio who can claim to have performed in more than 40 of the studio’s twice yearly Repertory Concerts—Not! The Nutcracker! in December and the Spring Repertory Concert each May. Aside from faculty, there probably aren’t any at all, come to think of it. But at 44 shows and counting, longtime student and performer Anne Marie Cuozzo likely holds the title of longest-running rep performer. She has danced a variety of styles in that time, but is probably most recognizable as a core member of Jim Viera’s jazz group that rehearses on Friday nights during rep season.
We asked Cuozzo to share some of her thoughts about the studio and what it’s like to perform in a rep show, in honor of JNDS’ upcoming 35th Anniversary Concert, to be held May 23 and 24 at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center. She recalls some of her favorite theater dance performances and some classic pieces from Not!The Nutcraker!
Cuozzo’s insights offer a look at something that is much more than a performance for the serious students that call JNDS their dance home.
JNDS: How many JNDS Repertory Concerts have you participated in?
Anne Marie Cuozzo: I came to Jeannette’s quite by accident. I had never danced at a studio before—disco clubs back in the ‘70s and ‘80s were fabulous though, loved to dance. A friend of mine wanted to start taking classes at Jeannette’s so she asked me to go to the rep show with her so she could check out the choreographers. Then she asked me to go try a class with her. I figured what the heck, give it a try. She hurt her back and didn’t show up, but 22 years and 44 rep shows later, I am still dancing and thankfully going strong! I love to dance, and as a beginner Jeannette’s studio was so welcoming. I always felt so encouraged to keep trying and learn more.
JNDS: What years, seasons, and choreographers have you performed with?
Cuozzo: My first class at the studio was in 1992 with a very pregnant Andy Taylor. She was a fantastic teacher, but once she had the baby I had to find another class. A friend suggested Jimmy [Jim Viera]; she said I’d love it. I took Jimmy’s jazz class and six months later I was signing up for the rep show. And I have been performing ever since. Once Jimmy started teaching musical theater, I HAD to do those reps, too. I tried other classes and reps, including Billy McLaughlin, Jeannette, and Sue Casey—all amazing. The rep shows are so much fun and always challenging. Everyone is welcome, encouraged to do their best and to just have fun. That’s what I love about the studio; everyone can be a part of this great show.
JNDS: Do you have a favorite year, season, choreographer?
Cuozzo: Oh, that’s hard. There have been so many. I absolutely loved the 15th Anniversary show. It was amazing, and so long it took two tapes (yes, tapes) to record the show. Jimmy did a jazz piece where we were all dressed up to go to a cocktail party, pink champagne glasses and all. Well, on Friday night that pink champagne glass popped right out of my hand and landed somewhere on stage. The audience laughed, and luckily someone kicked if off stage. I hung on to it for dear life on Saturday night.
Jimmy’s musical theater reps were always a treat, especially when [JNDS faculty members] Tommy Coye and Michelle Chasse were part of it. There was a rep where we even had to sing and one where we were nurses operating on teacher Lil Carter. Musical theater reps were always so creative and loved by the audience.
I forget which Not! the Nutcracker it was, but Jeannette did a piece to a Christmas song called “Santa Baby” with pink wigs and all! She needs to reprise that piece. OMG, I don’t want to give away the ending but I will: those wigs lit up with Christmas lights! And at the end of many a Not the Nutcracker, we loved when Jeannette came out dressed as a Christmas tree, red pointe shoes and all!
JNDS: What brings you back to perform year after year? Is it the process, the performance, or something else?
Cuozzo: It is the process, the performance, and so much more. I have had the chance to work with so many amazing people and have made the most incredible friendships through the years. The dancers are from all different ages, backgrounds and stages in life, but the thread that pulls us all together is dance. Through performance, Jeannette has given us a chance to learn more about ourselves and bond with fellow dancers. The teachers and choreographers are amazing; they challenge us to be our best, to make mistakes and shake them off, to get on stage and forget about the steps and just perform and have fun. The best compliments I have heard after performing are, “you all look like you are having so much fun.” And we are.
JNDS: How would you describe the show itself, in terms of professionalism and the quality of the choreography and dancing?
Cuozzo: Through the years, I have invited people to the show and have heard them say, “Oh, you have a dance recital.” I usually nod and just tell them they will enjoy it. After the show I always hear, “that was amazing!” People love the show because of its professionalism, the quality of the choreography, dancing, lighting and staging.
JNDS: What about the level of commitment involved in the show. How much time should a dancer expect to give to the process?
Cuozzo: It is a commitment, but if you love to dance it doesn’t feel like a commitment at all. It is the joy of just getting to dance more, getting deeper into the heart of a song and exploring the choreography that the teacher has asked you to bring to life. It’s just a couple of hours more a week. The week of the show is a bit more intense, but it’s the excitement leading up to the show: getting on stage to mark the piece, then rehearsing with lights, then the show! Everyone is excited downstairs in the dressing rooms knowing there is a packed house. Dancers run around getting dressed, putting on make-up, practicing in the hallways and then hearing “places everyone!” Your heart skips a beat as you wait in the wings to go on, but you look at your fellow dancers and without any words you know you are all ready, the audience is going to love it.
JNDS: What advice would you give to a dancer who’s thinking about joining his or her first Rep cast?
Cuozzo: If you love to dance, RUN to sign up!
JNDS: This year is the 35th anniversary show. How do you feel about that?
Cuozzo: Wow, I am so honored to be a part of it. I just have to say to Jeannette, Jimmy, Allen and Tommy—I know it hasn’t been easy, but you have given so many people a chance to dance and be happy. That can never be captured in a simple thank you, but THANK YOU!
JNDS: Do you have a fun fact about yourself that you would like to share with others?
Cuozzo: Oh gosh, I didn’t start dancing at the studio until I was 35 years old and it was the best find ever! Shh, don’t tell anyone how old I am.
More information on the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio’s Repertory Concerts is available on the JNDS website.