The lobby of Backstage Dance Studio reverberates with the laughter, chatter and sighs of exhausted but contented dancers, euphoric after stretching, jumping and twirling for 90 minutes.
The group includes dance professionals of all ages, as well as newcomers to dance and to Las Vegas.
Today’s class attendees include former dancers from Siegfried & Roy, Lido de Paris, Casino de Paris, Vive Les Girls, EFX, Spamalot, Mama Mia, Legends In Concert, Starlight Express, Rockettes, and Broadway Cabaret; current performers from Mystere, Love, and Zumanity ; former and current Jubilee! and Les Folies Bergere showgirls; professional ballroom dancers, college students, dance teachers, students from LV Academy for Arts, two first-time dance students and even a former professional dancer with his teenage dancer daughter. Age range: 12-82. All have been welcomed with open arms and a wide smile by the legendary and renowned instructor, Angelo Moio.
Moio has taught hundreds of Sin City’s best dancers for the past 19 years, many of whom were already in shows or went on to perform in shows around the world, including on Broadway. Yet, he is also known as the ‘go-to’ instructor for dance beginners.
Why? Because of his attention to technique and his compassionate teaching approach.
“Anyone can learn to dance,” says Moio. “A positive environment is the best way to learn. I try to make all my students feel welcome. Dance can be intimidating to newcomers, so I try to help them take that risk, and feel good about themselves.”
Moio sees dance as more than a way to exercise or make a living. Over the years, he has witnessed students of all levels get through life events and transitions with the help of dance training. “I’ve seen people get through all kinds of tough times, such as emotional crises, pregnancies and workplace stress when they come to the studio and simply dance,” he says. “In dance class, you can let go of everything, move to the music and escape your problems. It gives you energy to go back out and face the world.”
His students agree. “Dance keeps the inner fire burning,” insists Mark Moschello, a student for 14 years, and a singer and dancer who performed in Starlight Express and The Rockettes. “It keeps me young, and class has saved my life many times.”
Erika Romeo has taken Moio’s class for two years. “I got hooked,” she says of Moio’s class. “It’s challenging, but fun. He makes you do everything at your pace, and if you want help, he’ll help you. He’s very kind and generous and he’s very sweet. And he puts a smile on everybody’s face.”
Terry Ritter, a former Les Folies Bergere dancer, has been studying dance at Backstage Dance Studio for 35 years. “My biggest inspiration has been Angelo, because I came back to dancing again later in life and it felt like I had a home to come to,” says Ritter.
Ritter says that Moio’s class helped her get back to normal after serious medical problems. “I had cancer and they [Moio and Backstage Dance Studio staff] supported me through the whole thing. Coming to Angelo’s dance class is my therapy. Angelo is inspirational; everything he does is with love and positivity. His class is fabulous.”
Joey Cardel, who performed in Jubilee! and Winds of the Gods, started studying with Moio in 1993. “I was dancing professionally at the time, and had just gone to an audition at Backstage Dance Studio that was hip hop and freestyle, and it sucked, I hated dancing like that,” says Cardel. “I left the audition and went to Angelo’s class and had a great time and started liking dancing more and enjoying it more, you know – not being so stressed out over it.”
When asked what keeps him coming to class, Cardel explains, “I keep coming to class because what Angelo does in class is very much like what cruise lines and convention work requires. It‘s the type of dancing I love. It’s very versatile in style – one week Latin, one week lyrical, all different types of styles – so it keeps you balanced.”
And varied styles it is – a different one each week. Lyrical, 40’s swing, Latin jazz, classic jazz, funk, world beat, musical theatre jazz, disco, 50’s jitterbug, 60’s style jazz, and blues. Last week was lyrical blues (to a Christina Aguilera song). The week before was Fosse. The week before was…well, nothing. No class, because Moio was out of town for a month guest-choreographing at the Musical Theater Conservatory, a summer program at UCLA .
That’s right: after 32 years in the business, Moio is more in demand than ever for dance conventions, musicals and workshops. His thorough knowledge of musical theater, and his vast experience performing and choreographing everything from Fosse to cabaret shows, is sought by studios, theaters and conventions around the country.
Those out-of-town bookings keep him quite busy, but he is always happy to come back to Las Vegas. “I moved to Las Vegas in 1987 to take classes and find work, and I’ve never left,” he says. “The first job I got was Legends in Concert.”
Moio worked at Siegfried and Roy for many years as the dance captain. He says his favorite job ever was as a back-up dancer for Juliet Prowse. “Her show had terrific choreography by David Chavez, whose style was like Jack Cole’s, and the show was a nightclub act structured like a movie musical.”
Commenting on the current Las Vegas performing arts scene, he muses “I would love to see the old-style cabaret show make a come-back. Those cabaret-revue shows had small casts, low production costs and low ticket costs, and employed lots of local talent, of which there is a tremendous amount, even now.”
“I don’t see how small cabaret can make a come-back because it takes a visionary with a large budget to mount a show like that, since all the rooms are four-walled, now,” he laments. “Everything is so corporate now, I don’t think we can ever get back to that. One exception however is Vegas, The Show. It has that vintage Vegas revue feel, and it has fantastic choreography and dancers and singers.”
While Las Vegas used to be a haven for such dance jobs, Moio reflects sadly that now there are almost none. “I think most of the jobs for dancers are on cruise ships, nowadays.”
Not to worry, though — Moio prepares all of his students to audition and work on cruise lines, as well as other production shows. “I emphasize basic jazz technique and picking up combos [learning dance choreography] quickly, and that serves everyone well no matter where they want to perform,” he explains. In fact, students of Moio’s have gone on to dance in Las Vegas shows including Jubilee!, Les Folies Bergere, many Broadway shows in New York and on tour, as well as cruise ship shows.
And when they are done performing, they come back to Moio’s class to stay in shape, reconnect with old friends, and keep the dance fire alive.
Disclosure: This blogger has attended Moio’s dance class for 13 years, and seriously loves her some lyrical.