Lisa Condit spoke with Chloé Arnold about the Syncopated Ladies, her career, her mentor Debbie Allen and more. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Lisa: Morning, and thank you all for listening today! This is Lisa Condit with Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. We have a complete treat for everybody listening today because I’ve got Chloé Arnold from Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies live with me! We’re going to talk all about her, her adventure, getting to this place, the movie that she filmed in Worcester, how Ryan Reynolds calls her a “tap God” and of course, the show coming to The Hanover Theatre on Thursday, February 17. Welcome, Chloé!
Chloé: Hi! I’m so excited to be here, thank you!
Lisa: Absolutely. All of my dance enthusiast friends, and those who have really liked STOMP and some of the other shows we’ve had, are waiting with bated breath for you and your team of fabulous ladies to take our stage. It’s been quite the journey for you! We did have Dorrance Dance at The Hanover Theatre earlier in the year and I know that you have special ties, right?
Chloé: I sure do! I thought that was so fantastic. Worcester had become a hub now for tap dance and I love that so much. Michelle Dorrance is one of my best friends, we’ve been friends for over 20 years, and it just brings me so much pleasure to see that she was thriving over there with you all and it’s super special.
Lisa: It’s funny you mention your best friend from dance because a personal piece of trivia about me is that my childhood best friend, who is still really my best friend, I met her in dance class when we were eight years old. I went to a different studio and went back when I was 12, I picked her out and was like, “Hi!” And she was going to be my friend for the rest of our lives, and really is! Dance is just one of those universal things, isn’t it? Whether you’re just starting out as a child or starting out as an adult, especially tap, there’s really a piece that everybody can enjoy. Let’s start at the beginning, Chloé! Tell us a little bit about yourself and about your journey to get here because it’s amazing.
Chloé: Thank you so much! I’m originally from Washington D.C. and I grew up tap dancing like everyone else, anyone who takes dance does ballet, tap and jazz. My mom recognized that I had a strong sense of rhythm so she started to seek out more opportunities for me. At that time, the movie “Tap” had just come out — I was nine years old — and shortly thereafter, Gregory Hines came to Washington D.C. to perform and do outreach.
I was so fortunate to get to see Gregory Hines and meet him, and that was the pivotal catalyst for me knowing what I wanted to do with my life and seeing it in real life, seeing how good it felt and how phenomenal the art is.Chloé Arnold
Chloé: Shortly thereafter, I joined the Youth Tap Company and I saw the major opportunity to take workshop from greats like Nicholas Brothers, Buster Brown, Eddie Brown and Dianne Walker. Dianne Walker is actually living in Boston and she has become our Lady Di, she is a tap legend right in Boston! Dianne was a Broadway choreographer and was also in the movie “Tap.” All of these professionals came to give back to the youth and I was so fortunate to be able to grow and learn. As a teenager, Debbie Allen came to D.C. and she, too, was doing community work and getting young people involved. I got to audition for a big show of hers, “Kennedy Center,” and doing that show was truly the massive launching point for me to understand that all of this is possible, for my hope to be ignited and my skills to be expanded because she’s just a force of nature. Then, she became my mentor and really gave me so much education, inspiration and advice as I then navigated New York as a student at Columbia University and trained and cultivated my skillset, while also studying film and knowing that one day, I wanted to put tap dance in movies the way I had seen in the movie “Tap.”
Lisa: That’s amazing! We talked about this a little bit and you know we have a Conservatory and a large performing arts student population. What were some of the words of wisdom and things that Debbie Allen said to you as a mentor that you might be able to share with our listeners and our students?
Chloé: The main thing that she was always saying was, “Honey, you have to do it all. You can’t be limited!” I was coming to her with this huge passion for tap dancing which has always been my first love, but what she was saying was that art expands our opportunities to communicate. The more you understand the variety of artistic form, the better you can communicate.
She meant, ‘Learn all the styles of dance that you can. Learn how to sing. Learn how to act. Learn how to write, produce and direct.’ Ultimately, all of those things work in tandem to bring your voice to life.Chloé Arnold
Chloé: The other thing she used to tell me was always about empowering our voices. She really would not allow us to not stand tall, speak confidently and assert our dreams. Debbie Allen doesn’t let you sit in your fears, she’s constantly challenging you to get out of your comfort zone and take a chance, and I’m really thankful for that. When I met her, I was shy and reserved and she saw a light in me that I didn’t even know was in there.
Lisa: That is so beautiful, honestly. Do you have something to add to that that you would tell people today?
Chloé: Yes! Primarily, believe in yourself. You have to believe in yourself and not just today or tomorrow. It has to be so concrete that you love yourself and believe in yourself so that nothing breaks you down. This is a field where critique is ever-present, people will be judging you, you’ll go to auditions and you might get [the part] or you might not, but ultimately, if you know who you are and you know your purpose, you will always rise above any obstacle. You have to believe that so deep within you that nothing can stop you, otherwise something will stop you because this is not an easy field. This applies for any field, if you’re going to become a doctor, lawyer or entrepreneur, they’ll all be met with obstacles. Knowing your self-worth is the key to being successful and being happy.
Lisa: That is sage advice, not just for dance and the performing arts, but no matter what we’re doing in life. That’s one of the universal lessons that we’re learning here. We’re thrilled, by the way, to be kicking off your tour of Syncopated Ladies which, again, will be on February 17. Talk to us a little bit about how you got the idea and what the key points along the way were, and then we’ll talk about the show itself.
Chloé: When I was studying in New York, I was dreaming of being on stage. What I started to realize, though, was there was not jobs that complimented my skillset, meaning there were no Broadway shows that had leading female tap dancers. So, if you wanted to be in a show, you would be in the chorus, which is not a problem but it wasn’t my dream. I wanted to be able to be in a position to tell my story and feel like my skillset was being appropriately expressed on stage. I always thought, “One day I’m going to make my own show!” So, along with the help of my sister and our Syncopated Ladies, we invested our own money years ago into creating a show. That was so rewarding, we ended up selling that show out, and we had slot dates and tour dates where we would sell those out and it was amazing.
The next dream was to have an ongoing tour that is the first of its kind and is expressing the voices of African American women in tap dance in an empowered way, both in the content of our stories and the art.Chloé Arnold
Chloé: This was really exciting to kick it off because we envisioned our show as being a show that could last for decades so that other young girls have the opportunity to also be on stage, tell their story and tap their hearts out.
Lisa: Absolutely! Talk to us a little bit about the story and what we can expect from the show. You probably have some favorite numbers as well, I’d love to hear all about it, Chloé.
Chloé: In the show, you get the full experience, with the voices of these five incredibly unique African American women who have had amazing life experiences. You’re going to feel what it feels like to have a dream, face some obstacles, find the joy within you to overcome those obstacles, heal from that which knocks you down and ultimately, stand together with unity to find yourself — that’s the story of our show. It’s told through an incredible array of beautiful music that you’ll know from many of our viral videos, but also incorporated into our stories so that you understand why we’re dancing to that song in that moment. For example, we’ll be performing to Adele, and you can imagine the emotional journey that that is telling. Then, we’ll be dancing to Beyoncé and you can imagine how empowered and “girl power” we’re going to feel during these songs.
Chloé: We have some hip hop for those who love that, we have Justin Timberlake and Chance the Rapper, there’s something for everyone. I’ll tell you, even though it’s a story with women and it’s about empowerment, we find that guys love it the same. Empowerment is just a story of anyone surpassing the obstacles and achieving their dreams, and that’s universal for any age and any demographic. That’s the point – while we’re telling our story, we want the audience to be participatory in being able to look inside themselves and being able to identify that. We want you to watch out of the show with an affirmation about how you’re going to go for it in your own lives. Our mission is to activate the audience to feel the way that we’re feeling, which is totally empowered and embracing self-belief as a way of life.
Lisa: We still have some fantastic seats left for Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies on February 17. Please visit TheHanoverTheatre.org or call the box office at 877.571.SHOW (7469) for more information.