I come from a long line of dancers. My grandfather, Matt Mattox, was a Broadway legend, both my parents were performers, and my mom had her own studio in New Hampshire called Keri Productions for 17 years. I was practically destined to be a dancer and began my training when I was just 2 1/2 years old. By the time I was 15, my mom closed her studio, and I moved to Jeannette Neill Dance Studio, where I joined the pre-professional program Boston Youth Moves. (It’s basically the Broadway Dance Center of Boston.) There, I met the ballet teacher who would ultimately set me up for professional success: Chris Alloways-Ramsey.
Up until Boston Youth Moves, I saw ballet as something I needed to do to help my lines, but I never actually loved (or even wanted) to do it. When I made the studio transition, I got my butt handed to me in my new ballet classes, and realized I needed to put a greater emphasis on my classical training. Enter Chris, a wonderful, caring and endearing educator who genuinely wanted to help me improve. He was a no-nonsense teacher—if he gave you a correction, you were expected to apply it—yet he never made his students feel intimidated. I was never afraid I would get in trouble or be yelled at because he had a softness to him.
In fact, the word “softness” encapsulates a lot of what I took from my two years training with Chris. I came to him as a hard-hitting Jazz dancer who always gave 100 percent. I thought I needed to accent everything, but in the end, I just looked rigid. I needed more fluidity and softness, so Chris began meeting with me periodically an hour before my regular classes to work on that. For weeks, he tirelessly adjusted my port de bras to be softer, so I could use the quality of my movement to tell a story. It was a correction that changed the game for me. I use it every day in my career as a theater dancer.
As an educator, one of Chris’ greatest teaching tools was his own physicality as a performer. He danced professionally with Boston Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet and Ballet West, and his technique was insane—I will never get over the way he articulates his feet. I would categorize my learning style as mimicry (I see something and I try to mimic it, which leads to proper musculature), and watching Chris demonstrate was super-helpful. But what really took Chris’ teaching to the next level was his belief in his students. I could see that he thought I could achieve my goals, and that made me want to work even harder. During my last year there, we did some Sleeping Beauty repertoire, and Chris could tell that I was passionate about rising to the challenge. He told me, “You know if you want to do this, you really could pursue a career in ballet. You’re starting a bit late, but if you wanted to, you could do it.” Suddenly I thought, Am I a ballet dancer? Is this possible? Chris wanted me to improve my ballet training, so he took me to audition for an intensive at Boston Ballet. In the end, I don’t think I was advanced enough in my pointework, but it was so meaningful to me that Chris believed I might be. The best part? I wasn’t even his star student. He worked with every student this way, which speaks volumes about him as an educator.
The classical foundation Chris gave me has been essential to my professional career. Musical theater dancers often get pigeonholed into being less technical than those in other genres, which leads to them being looked over for shows with ballet work. Casting often looks to the strictly classical world instead. It really bothers me. Thankfully, when I was hired as an understudy for Ivy Smith in On the Town, I was able to overcome that stereotype and tap back into my training with Chris at Boston Youth Dancers. As much as you want to punch things with Leonard Bernstein and his exuberant music, there is a softness you need to utilize. I honestly don’t think I would have been hired as an understudy if I hadn’t worked with Chris.
I am so grateful for Chris. I can’t thank him enough. I don’t know if he realizes the impact he had on my life in those two years we worked together, but I carry his lessons with me through my dancing.
Skye Mattox was in West Side Story on Broadway, as well as Steven Spielberg’s 2021 film and the show’s national/international tours. Most recently, she completed a run of Chase Brock’s Big Shot at Theatre Row in New York City. She is in rehearsals for Hercules at the Papermill Playhouse.