Joey Dowling has consistently been my greatest mentor in dance and in life. She is the daughter of Sheryl Dowling, the owner of my hometown studio The Dance Club in Orem, Utah. Every year, Joey would return home from her life of professional success in New York City [she was a Rockette, a backup dancer for Mariah Carey, and associate choreographer for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical, In the Heights, and more] to choreograph our competition numbers.
When I was 9, Joey choreographed my first-ever contemporary solo, and from then on, she set my solo every year until I graduated. It was in these rehearsals that our bond was forged and Joey became invested in guiding me through my dance training and career.
One of the ways Joey used her influence to benefit me was by giving me opportunities to assist her as she taught at Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center, on tour with New York City Dance Alliance (NYCDA) and in studios around the country. When I was 11 years old, she flew me out to assist her in New York the same week In the Heights was opening on Broadway. She gave me the chance to attend the show’s premiere, and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever. It’s these experiences that showed me what a professional dance career could be like. Joey introduced snippets of the industry that fueled my love for dance.
If you’ve never taken Joey’s class before, it’s very likely you’ll be intimidated the first time you do. She’s intense, very specific and demands a lot from her students. She will push you to your limit because she knows you are capable of it. I continue to assist her at NYCDA, and find it’s not uncommon for her to stop class, ask the kids why they are dancing and be moved to tears over how passionately she wants them to succeed. She cares so much.
Style and musicality are really what drive Joey’s choreography. She often says that musicality drives technique, and she expects us to put ourselves into the movement. Once, she set a piece on my team to “Rich Man’s Frug,” and she really worked with us on capturing the true technique of the Fosse style. She gave us the historical background of the work, and had us watch the touring company of Sweet Charity perform. Joey wanted us to be educated on the details of the style rather than just set movement on us and leave.
The biggest lesson Joey taught me was to be well rounded. She encouraged me from a young age to be in voice lessons, to stay on top of every genre and to maintain my gymnastics training. She shared how when she came to New York, she wasn’t a vocalist, and that it was uncomfortable for her to practice singing with her roommate in the next room. She wished she had started earlier, and shared that life lesson with me so I didn’t have to learn it the hard way.
I can truly credit the application of this lesson for many of the opportunities I’ve had in my career. I’ve been in auditions where I was one of only a few people who could tap, tumble or dance on pointe, and that made all the difference. In fact, I just booked a job dancing on the Gold Over America Tour starring Simone Biles. After the jazz portion of the audition, the second cut was tumbling, and I’m so grateful to Joey for encouraging me to maintain that skill so that when this opportunity came, I was ready.
Beyond being well rounded, I could reasonably relate everything I do as a professional to Joey. As her assistant, I watched her set choreography, and she allowed me to give my own input. This helped me develop confidence in my own voice as an artist. I believe that everyone’s choreography is a mixture of what we have learned from others, plus our own individual taste, and I can certainly see Joey’s influence in my own work. On the road, I learned how to cut and edit music from observing Joey do it so many times. And I also learned how to be professional on the job, and how to effectively assist a choreographer.
The thing about Joey is that she is more than just a career mentor to me. At different times of my life, she has acted as both a second mother and a dear friend. I was a little stressed as a young dancer, and Joey recommended I see a sports psychologist to help me through it. It completely changed my mental approach to dance.
Joey saw me as a complete individual with emotional needs and strived to help me support them. I talk to her all the time, even to this day. I call to ask her advice, but I also care about how she’s doing in her personal life too. We have found a way to keep our lives connected, and it means so much to me. Joey really is one of my favorite people ever.
Alexia Meyer is a commercial dancer in Los Angeles whose credits include “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12 and Royal Flux.