Angelo Moio: Legendary Dance Instructor

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.

Angelo Moio teaching class
Angelo Moio teaching class

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 .

Angelo Moio performing with the Nevada Festival Ballet
Angleo Moio performing with the Nevada Festival Ballet

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.”

Angelo Moio and Mark Moschello in "Siegfried & Roy"
Angelo Moio and Mark Moschello in "Siegfried & Roy"

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. 


Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Cedar City, UT

July 2011

Escaping the heat and heading up to cooler Utah for some great theater is a summer ritual for Las Vegans, and one I look forward to every year.

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary Season, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is offering a full menu of traditional Shakespeare and non-bard plays.

Last year, I attended The Merchant of Venice in the outdoor theater, which rekindled my fascination with Shakespeare.

This year, I chose a modern play, Noises Off.  Not being familiar with the concept or background of this play or playwriting/theatrical acting in general, I experienced it with naiveté and open anticipation.

Noises Off turned out to be a play about a play– a farce poking fun at the process of putting together a theatrical performance.  It showed how the personality flaws and human needs and interactions of the cast and crew can complicate this artistic endeavor, to uproarious results.

"Noises Off"
"Noises Off" at Utah Shakespeare Festival

Each actor embodied an archetype, such as a gossip, a vacant bimbo, a vocabulary-challenged himbo, an insecure overthinker, an alcoholic, a harried stage hand, a patient director, a overworked-but-naïve stage manager.  Each character played into and against each other’s drama in hilarious ways until the play became a riotous scene of chaos.

"Noises Off"
"Noises Off" at Utah Shakespeare Festival

The physical comedy employed by all was surprisingly intense and very effective.  The comedic timing was excellent.   The audience roared with laughter during all three scenes.

It was a delightful experience and one that many people will appreciate.  How lucky Las Vegans are to have a festival like this so close to us!

Rating: A+

Audience: All Ages.

Kelly Roth, A Modern Dance Leader in Las Vegas

At the helm of the dance program at College of Southern Nevada (CSN) since 1995, Kelly Roth has introduced the community college crowd to New-York style performance, and welcomed new dancers of all backgrounds to his classes and performances.  Here are excerpts of a conversation we had recently.

Kelly Roth and CSN dancers
Kelly Roth and CSN dancers

Andrea: What are the greatest changes you’ve seen or made happen since you took charge of the dance program at CSN [formerly Community College of Southern Nevada]?

Kelly Roth:  Our enrollment in the program has gone from 125 students to 600.  We’ve added an annual festival concert, “Dance in the Desert”.  We’ve introduced more formal training classes in ballet and modern dance technique.  The emphasis of the program has been changed to teaching dance as an art form, instead of as a form of exercise.  When you study dance as an art form, there are a lot of ancillary subjects that contribute to your understanding of what art is.  I feel that this results in a more well-rounded education for students, as it exposes them to a broader array of topics.

The dance program offerings have also been modified in the last 15 years to offer multiple levels of technique in ballet and modern, and we added a dance performance class which anyone could take, anyone who wanted to perform.  We added Concert Dance Company, which people had to audition for, and that enabled us to have a consistent group of people to work with.  Some of those people stayed in the company for 8 years. We’ve had a consistent core of male dancers in the Company for a long time, which makes us the envy of every small company in the valley.

We focus on the Alwin Nikolais/Murray Louis technique more than other Las Vegas dance programs do.  It teaches elements of time, motion, shape, space, and dynamics – the degree of release of energy.  Those are things you can apply to any form of dance because all forms of dance are composed of those elements.  So that’s a unique emphasis that we have here [at CSN].

The “Dance in the Desert” (DitD) festival is unique to our academic program because UNLV doesn’t have a dance festival.  At CSN, we can do large, expansive works, since we have fewer choreographers to accommodate on a single program, due to our smaller faculty.  We could even do evening-length works, if we wanted to, or three different works with two intermissions.  This would be more like the New York dance scene, instead of the 2-3 minute pieces that many other concerts are doing these days.  Longer programs help students learn that dance is an art, like opera, and not just a passing image or short segment, like dance in videos and on competitive TV shows is, so often.

CSN Dancers in "Dance in the Desert" Festival
CSN student dancers in the "Dance in the Desert" Festival

DitD is also unique to us in that it brings out-of-state companies here, which is great for the audience and for our CSN dancers, who can then see the trends that are out there and experience different choreographers.

A: Do you see growth or contraction in the recent Las Vegas performing arts scene?

KR:  I don’t see growth.  With the death of the Choreographer’s Showcase at Charleston Heights Arts Center, we lost a focal point, a good mix of genres, and the intermingling of professionals with college students.  It went for 25 years, and then it ended.  The management there said they were going to focus on single-company events, instead, but that never really happened, and now there’s no high-level dance performance there.  And no real community-wide dance event for serious, original works at all in the city.  At least, not one where college dancers and professionals from the Las Vegas Strip shows are on the same stage.

The Reed Whipple center used to host dance concerts, but not anymore.

The Smith Center is not going to have a small proscenium theater, either, that local companies could have used for performances. This is disappointing to small dance companies in town.

The other sign of decline is recent massive increases in the [Clark County] library theaters’ rental fees.  When I first got to town, I was amazed that libraries had these great little theaters that were available to the public at very affordable prices for non-profits.  It was really terrific.  But now that they’ve hiked their fees considerably [due to the state’s and county’s economic woes] it leaves most independent small companies without a real theater to perform in.  Companies like Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, Las Vegas Ballet Company, and Marko Westwood have no place to go now.

The most affordable venue may be CSN’s Horn Theater.  It’s a terrific space.  It’s a 524-seat proscenium theater with full lighting and sound systems.  It has kept its rates down and is available to the public.  It may soon be hard to get a booking there, since the schedule is filling up.

A: What is the mission of the CSN dance program?

KR:  The short version of the mission statement of the CSN dance program is that we see dance as one of the many art forms that humanizes our society and that plays a very strong role in education.

A: How has the state legislative session of 2011 affected CSN’s Dance program?

KR:  Well, it’s hard to really understand what’s going on sometimes.  The figures are constantly changing.  So far, there’s a 2.5% cut in salaries, and there may be an additional 2.5% cut next year, which affects all faculty.  The performance budget is always up in the air.

I’ve produced dance concerts in all kinds of economic circumstances.  It’s been said that after a nuclear holocaust, the roaches and the dancers will be the only ones crawling out from under the rubble; that’s how tenacious dancers are when they want to perform.  So, I’m used to doing what I can with what I have.  The Fine Arts Department has been really generous with us so far, and that’s really helped us out. Friends of the Horn is a group that gives us a lot of support.   DitD Festival sincerely appreciates the consistent support provided by the Nevada Arts Council, which has made an important difference throughout the years.

For some of our grants, we have to find matching funds, so private donors have been a saving grace for us.  Sometimes this doesn’t come through, though, and we’ve had to cancel some guest artists due to budget shortfalls.