Today’s blog post is a very special one! Now that Shuffles has celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary we want to take a look back at our most recent May show, “MEET ME AT THE PLAZA” and share some thoughts from our Founding Director, Gail Crutchfield.
Shuffles Blog: Gail – 25 Years!!! Wow! How do you feel?
Gail: First, I want to thank all the parents for being such wonderful supporters of their kids and SHUFFLES. And I want to thank my incredible teachers and students. Your hard work was so appreciated and very inspiring! I also want to thank Studio Maestro and The Kaye Playhouse for always giving SHUFFLES such professional spaces to practice, perform and call our home. Grateful! Blessed!
Shuffles Blog: Where do you find inspiration for your year-end shows?
Gail: My inspiration comes from many different places…I look to what’s happening in fashion, movies, songs and shows. My goal is to always keep things fresh and current, and of course, I always try to inject some humor, drama and poignant moments into every show. There is so much talent in our Shuffles family; when I’m designing the theme for the final show, I am always looking for new ways to highlight the many gifts that my dancers have to share. My favorite inspiration came from a bumper sticker I saw while driving – it read “Camp Tapawingo”. I loved the name and tap step reference. “Camp Wewannatapaway”, the theme of our show in 2017, came from that bumper sticker and blossomed into a whole narrative based on the theme of summer camp. I even tried to incorporate revised versions of actual summer camp songs and activities that some of our teachers, students, and parents shared with me!
Shuffles blog: How many students are at Shuffles?
Gail: SHUFFLES has 300+ students. When I think back to how we started with 10 students that first year (my daughter, Abigail, was one of them), I’m really proud to see how far we’ve come! We’ve been around so long that some of my former students are now teaching at Shuffles.
Shuffles blog: We loved seeing the new, youngest generation of tappers on stage at the recital. Can you tell us about the new Baby Broadway program and how you see that younger generation fitting into the overall mission of Shuffles?
Gail: Baby Broadway was such a joy and delight this year. It was amazing to see the progress these young tappers made in just two, six week sessions. It was so precious to watch their proud, sweet faces, full of wonder as they performed with me and Jessica (another Baby Broadway teacher) onstage at the Danny Kaye Playhouse. Many years ago, I started with this age group of toddler tappers; I get so excited when I think about how great they are going to be having started at this young age!
Shuffles blog: Can you tell us more about how you started dancing? What was your favorite role?
Gail: I began dancing at the age of 2 with my sisters’ school in our basement in Kansas City. Instead of having a babysitter I would sit and watch their classes and I was so eager to join in! I danced my first solo when I was just 2 1/2 years old. My family then moved to Dallas, Texas when I was 3 where I continued my dancing doing both tap and ballet. My first professional job was in The Sound of Music playing Gretl at the Dallas Summer Musicals with Ann Blythe as Maria. My favorite role was playing Liesl in The Sound of Music when I was 18; my now husband, Buddy, played Rolf!
Shuffles blog: We know you love to travel; it’s summer and lots of Shuffles students seems to be exploring the world far and wide – any favorite destinations of yours?
Gail: I love traveling but it’s is too difficult to choose a favorite spot. I do LOVE visiting my daughter and son in law in D.C. as much as I can!
Shuffles blog: This year’s recital was really innovative in terms of highlighting the myriad talents of your students (violin, piccolo, etc) – what’s your philosophy for shining a light on this in performances throughout the year?
Gail: My favorite thing to do is to see what is special about each student and figure out how I can highlight this on stage. I love to combine these talents in a creative way for the productions that we do at SHUFFLES. We have used instruments, tumbling, etc. One of my favorite memories of Molly Model was when she auditioned for Peter Pantomime accompanying herself with a ukulele. We cast her as Tiger Lily and gave her the French song “La Mer” to sing, tap, and play on her ukulele. This song has been in Peter Pantomime ever since and has inspired other aspiring students to learn to play the UKE!
Shuffles blog: Can you tell us more about “Shuffle it Forward”, your philanthropic program?
Gail: Buddy and I have always wanted to give back. We both feel very blessed and fortunate in our lives and are grateful for the many people and mentors that helped us throughout the years. SHUFFLES has a philanthropic arm called “Shuffle It Forward” which has given us a platform to share our teaching, our performances and our blessings with others. Every year we give free tickets to our holiday show, Peter Pantomine, and facilitate donations to NYC charities lIke Groove With Me, East Harlem Tutorial Program, Jericho Project, Women’s Prison Association, and The Sanctuary. The show brings a live theatrical experience to these families; for some, it’s the first time they’ve seen a live performance. It’s wonderful to spread the joy of the holidays as a family, and rewarding for the cast to feel a bigger sense of purpose in their performance. When they look out and see the audience is packed with mesmerized, excited children engrossed in the show, it has deep meaning for them. We have a talk back each year with the cast and the families and invariably one of the young children asks “How did they fly?” Tap dancing becomes flight for these children who want to believe that everything and anything is possible! We are thrilled to provide them that magical moment of inspiration!
SHUFFLES also works with A Broader Way. Our pre- professional musical theater group, Studio, hosts them every year for a workshop in musical theater. We have worked with Chicken Shed, an organization bringing inclusive theater to children of all abilities, and we work with Donate to Dance, a wonderful platform to donate all dance shoes, costumes and supplies to dance schools in need. Donate to Dance was started by two SHUFFLES students, sisters Ava and Sophia Paley who were inspired to give back from all the shoes and costumes they had used at SHUFFLES. I am so proud of them!!
Shuffles blog: Anything you can tell us about the Shuffles summer stock programs?
Gail: SHUFFLES summer stock was quite special this year! I wanted to give students the education and experience of what I did as a young professional doing 6 or 7 shows per summer. This summer at SHUFFLES, we put on 4 shows in 4 weeks giving students a chance to do different roles and styles, and the opportunity to learn a lot of material quickly, and then get out there and trust you can do it. I loved the growth in confidence, skill, and ensemble work that happened each week. For next year, you’ll just have to wait and see what we come up with!
Shuffles blog: How early in the year do you start planning so that each dance is incorporated into the theme?
Gail: SHUFFLES students have a semester of technique in the fall and in the spring they continue to work on technique but we then combine it with working on a number that will thematically fit into the show. I have such a talented staff that we can create the magic pretty fast!
Shuffles blog: So, you’re standing in the wings every May at the Danny Kaye Playhouse watching your kids do their thing in the footlights – what are you feeling?
Gail: I am overwhelmed with the kids every year. I stand there seeing each face and memories of each child flood my mind. Their growth, their setbacks, their hard work and passion..how they have grown in so many ways.. I feel a bit overwhelmed even talking about it..
Shuffles blog: Costume mishaps, a tap shoe kicked off on stage – you’ve seen it all. What’s your advice to a performer other than “the show must go on”?
Gail: Be smart. Be professional. The audience either doesn’t know or loves it…depending on what has happened. We also train the kids to work as an ensemble and to help each other – stay in character and react as your character would – and try and move that tap shoe out of the way if you can!
Shuffles blog: Ok, we need to know – also legendary is the positive, warm, supportive vibe at Shuffles – how do you “keep it kind” while also maintaining such a high degree of performance and skill?
Gail: Our mission at Shuffles is “that all students leave Shuffles with joy and confidence each day”. There is NOTHING more important. I actually find it incredibly easy to keep SHUFFLES kind because our kids, parents, and teachers are very warm, supportive and generous, and most have been in our family for years.
Shuffles blog: Your costume choices for each class are legendary!!!! – is it difficult to keep finding great ones??
Gail: I love costuming each show and know how important it is to the overall performance and the kids. Every January, I make the Costume book for the May show. Presenting the costume book to everyone is a happy day that all look forward to with squeals and excitement no matter what the age! Feathers, fringe, sparkles and sequins never disappoint!
Shuffles blog: Describe the creative partnership you have with your husband, Buddy Crutchfield, as director?
Gail: Buddy and I have been working together since college in summer stock, acting classes, and even on Broadway. We have raised 2 kids in NYC and understand that component. We don’t always agree on small things but always on the big things we are in sync! I trust him completely as a director with his expertise, eye and judgement.
Shuffles blog: As we mentioned before, your students have gone on to star on stage and screen. What’s that like for you?
Gail: I am honestly so proud of all my students. SHUFFLES kids go to incredible colleges, work on Broadway, ballet companies, work in film and TV, and win kudos like the Jimmy Award, which our student Marla Louissaint won in 2015 with her stellar performance from “Caroline, or Change”. The common thread that I see In these students is confidence, hard work, leadership, and kindness (as well as talent). I see respect for their teachers, parents, and peers and an excitement to mentor younger students. They know how to work, and are easy to work with in these professional situations. I feel like a very proud Momma!