From Central Ohio to Broadway: Life Brings It On for OSU Dancer Author | Que Jones
The lights come up on a dark stage, the audience roars, an eerie calm settles on a 23 year-old dancer as he makes his Broadway debut. While this would be only a dream to most, it has been a reality for Pickaway County native A.J. Blankenship. The OSU varsity cheerleader and dance major took a year off from college to join the professional theater touring company of Bring It On: The Musical, which quickly led to a budding Broadway career. I recently sat down with A.J. to discuss his experiences.
Q- Tell me a little bit about your journey.
A- Well, I have a huge background in gymnastics, but I started dancing in high school. It felt good and was something I felt really passionate about. When I got to OSU and started taking all those dance minor classes I really started getting to the grit of what dance was all about; you know? The theory and the practice really intrigued me, and now when I dance, it’s completely different…dance has become a huge part of my life. When I’m walking down the street with headphones in, I am always thinking of new choreography. Dance never leaves my body.
Q- What is your favorite dance medium?
A- I love modern dance. Right now I am in a West-African dance class. The movement is rugged, dirty, and very athletic. I like how modern dance is not constricted by ballet forms and is only limited by how your body can move.
Q- You were blessed with great opportunities early on. Tell me about your experience on Broadway.
A- Last February I was called by the touring cast of this little show called Bring It On: The Musical, so I left school to join the company in Texas. We received a call to be on Broadway so we all moved to New York immediately and started rehearsing. We opened on August 1st and ran until December 30th at the St. James Theater in the middle of Times Square. I remember going out on stage with those lights hitting you and the audience packed, and I realized I accomplished a dream.
Before the Broadway opening (after the tour) we had 12-hour rehearsal days from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. We would have vocal sessions where we rehearsed with our orchestrator, Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire, and then our director, Andy Blankenbuehler. Then we had hours of rehearsing, costume changes, makeup, and hair. It was amazing watching an original Broadway show come to life.
Q- As a cheerleader and a gay male, what kind of experiences did you have growing up in a rural area?
A- Going to school at Teays Valley High School in Ashville, OH was hard. I was bullied a lot in school until I came out my sophomore year. It seemed the moment I came out all the bullying stopped. I think its because when I came out my confidence was very visible. I didn’t care anymore and people didn’t care to say anything. Then coming to OSU there are people from all over; I have never felt negativity from anybody here. I think the confidence I gained from coming out so early and from the experience of life as a gay man in rural America, I got all that negativity out early. I learned to brush it off. That part of my life is not what defines me.
Q- As a college student who has already had professional success in their field, what words of advice do you have to aspiring artists, musicians, dancers and performers?
A- Never ever, ever, ever give up! Never let anyone tell you no. Don’t ever tell yourself no. Always say yes and be open to every piece of knowledge you can grasp and make your own. And fight for your dream. (I know that sounds super corny, but the clichés are true).