The first time Courtney Schwartz assisted choreographer Talia Favia at a dance convention, Favia didn’t even want her onstage, according to Schwartz. Favia was convinced she didn’t need an assistant that week, and had told Artists Simply Human convention staff that Schwartz was welcome to take class from the floor.
Somehow, the message wasn’t relayed to Schwartz, who stepped onstage at the top of class and was met with a sharp look from the choreographer. Puzzled, she soldiered on in her standard assistant role, learning the combo for the first time with the class. Then, she heard Favia announce to the students that they should turn their attention to the stage to watch Schwartz do a run-through to the music.
“My heart sank,” Schwartz says. “I had never heard the music before; I had just learned the counts with them; I didn’t know Talia. I was so stressed but told myself I just had to do it.” So, she did, and to her surprise, Favia’s response was a rave review. “She was so happy, and from that moment on I knew this was the style I wanted to train in, and the person I wanted to learn from.”
Up until that point, Schwartz had spent two seasons with the Utah-based Odyssey Dance Theatre, worked for Disney at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood (she danced live preshow performances as Mike Wazowski and a magician’s assistant for Maleficent, and had a range of other commercial opportunities. She was on track for a successful career in the L.A. dance scene, a natural path following her training at Studio 19 Dance Complex (a competition studio in Mars, Pennsylvania), and one semester at Point Park University.
After her introduction to Favia, though, all of her plans shifted. When Favia participated in the Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she invited Schwartz to join. When Favia’s number won the competition, choreographic opportunities for Favia started exploding, and she requested Schwartz join her as a full-time assistant. “She told me that if I wanted, she could take me with her and we could do all of this together,” Schwartz says. “She said she had big plans for me, and I immediately told her I was all in.”
In 2015, RADIX Dance Convention was sold on the combination of their work and hired both of them. “From then on I was doing RADIX on the weekends, and assisting Talia in setting choreography at studios on the weekdays,” Schwartz says. Schwartz has also assisted Favia with setting choreography on five seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance,” several episodes of “Dancing With the Stars” and more. “Assisting is a full-time job,” Schwartz says. “And I count it as one of my biggest blessings to be able to make a life out of endless training.”
On creating a career out of assisting:
“When I made the decision to assist Talia, I knew what I was giving up. Doing the commercial stuff was fun, and I’m glad I experienced it, but it never fulfilled me the way that training and assisting has. Through this career path, I am constantly pushed, and my dancing constantly evolves. There’s a lot of pressure, and it’s a hard job, but I’m in love with it. I’ve never looked back.”
On her unique working relationship with Favia:
“Choreographers often go through assistants quickly. While Talia brings other dancers in to give them experience, we’ve made it clear that we’re each other’s No. 1. We’re there for each other.”
On life lessons she’s learned from working with Favia:
“She’s taught me to stay present in each environment we’re in—even each move we’re doing. I tend to think ahead, and I’m someone who’s in my own head. If I know there’s a hard part coming up, I get nervous and freak myself out, and she tells me to stay present in what I’m doing right then. I’ve applied that in my real life, too.”
What she believes makes for a good assistant:
“Hard work, dedication and being a good human. Always being ready for anything, and having an open approach to choreography is essential!”