Dance competitions may be fun to watch on television but they don’t put the emphasis where it belongs, says Eric John Campros, an instructor and performer for more than 25 years.
“They focus on tricks…and dance is not about tricks,” he says. Too often young dancers see specific moves on TV and try to duplicate them. “They wonder why they can’t learn them in a class. But they’ll hurt themselves and could break their legs.”
This weekend, Campros will be part of a faculty teaching and adjudicating at the Mainstage Dance Competition at the Orpheum Theatre. He’ll share his experiences and help young dancers “discover their possibilities.”
A dancer at an early age, Campros took 14 classes a week when he was in the eighth grade. His family encouraged him and helped him win a ballet scholarship in New York. “I had 23 ballet classes a week. After six months, I was hit with a harsh reality. A ballet teacher said, ‘You’re never going to be good enough. You’re awkward to look at and nobody is going to watch you. Take up tennis. There’s no place for you in this business.”
Crushed – but undaunted – he pressed on and made his Broadway debut in “Grease,” danced in the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing and backed up everyone from the Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears. Additionally, Campros has created dance curricula for Heibei Art College and Shandong University in China and taught around the world. Currently, he’s on the faculty of the Broadway Dance Center in New York.
That brutal teacher is still around, he says, and, yes, he has taken classes from her in recent years.
What he learned was he had to “dream differently. I started taking voice lessons and musical theater classes and that’s how I got ‘Grease.’”
Teaching has been a way to extend his dance life. “I approach movement differently than I did before,” the 43-year-old says. “But I don’t physically have to do it to teach it or do choreography. The rewards of what I do aren’t financial. But dance brings me so much love.”
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Ballet dancers, he says, usually see their careers ending around age 30. “When I was 29, I figured, ‘I’m done.’ I didn’t want to continue auditioning. You can only have so much rejection. But I didn’t want to do anything else. And there was a natural transition from performer to teacher.”
In Russia and China, Campros says, dancers revere their teachers. “They’ll stand up and clap for them. In the states, they cross their arms and look at you.”
Often, he’ll enter a workshop or seminar with the idea that class work “is about making mistakes. It’s about growth.”
Campros still dances regular, still auditions to get choreography jobs and still hurts when he gets rejected. “It’s not an easy life. I can’t want it more for my students than they want it themselves. Ninety-five percent don’t pursue it as a career.
“But after my first dance class, I told my mom, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”
Since then, he hasn’t veered.
Even in those moments of excitement, there’s someone willing to temper the enthusiasm.
When he got the role in “Grease,” Campros thought he’d tell the woman who said he should take up tennis instead. Her response? “That’s not real dancing,” he recalls.