Kim Hale Unleashed | Inside Dance
September Cover Spotlight!
Reminiscing, Reflecting & Looking Forward!
At the 2022 Industry Dance Awards the incomparable Kim Hale graced the stage as the recipient of the Dance Role Model Award. It was a full circle moment and one that left Hale visibly emotional and grateful to say the very least.
Celebrated and introduced by her dear friend, choreographer Dexter Carr, and dressed in vibrant hot pink, Hale told a crowd of her peers and so many she has both mentored and admired throughout her dynamic career, “Thank you Dexter, thank you for believing in me. For seeing me and unleashing the Kim Hale that I tried to hide not only from others, but from myself as well. Feeling seen and heard, isn’t that what we all want?
“I’m a dancer just like all of you, how cool is that? Although we may look different, we share a genuine passion for movement that transcends time, space, age, ethnicity, body-type, ability, gender and personal identity. We dance because we have to and because we were chosen to be a light in this world.”
Feeling seen and heard – it’s become Hale’s mantra as she continuously transforms herself and grows. It was this speech in particular that spoke to me for over a year, and put us down a path to make her our next cover star. Her words of wisdom never cease to resonate and her incredible love for dance lights up every room she enters. Life and experiences have taught her so much and the energy she beautifully bestowes inside the dance studio week after week, year after year, is a lesson for all of us. Feeling seen and heard? For sure.
From early beginnings in ballet, to LA, to a job on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean that docked in New York, and through countless auditions, roles won and lost, a pandemic, and life-altering health challenges, Hale continues to strive for her dreams no matter the setbacks or circumstances. Driven now as much as ever, she’s in constant awe reflecting on how much her mentors like Debbie Allen have brought to her life and how the life lessons she’s risen above continue to push her to try new things.
These days you’ll often find her at Playground LA, across TikTok and social media (check out her recent go as the fictional Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada on Instagram), taking class, or just hanging out being low key and waiting for what’s next. It’s a balancing act she’s had to work at maintaining.
Speaking with Hale, it was incredibly clear to me how passionate she remains about her craft and how grounded she is in the journey she has taken. Reminiscing, reflecting and looking forward, more than once I found myself absorbing her refreshingly candid responses, yet positive outlook, which kept us chatting well over an hour. Hers is a story so worth telling not only because of the path she’s traveled but also because she’s far from done. Here, in her own words, is Kim Hale Unleashed!
See the full feature and interview below!
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Let’s start with winning the Dance Role Model Award in 2022! Take us inside that moment and describe the emotions you felt standing in front of your peers…
When I got the word that I was going to receive the 2022 Dance Role Model Award at the Dancers Against Cancer event, it was a shock, to be honest. They had gone through my agent Jim Keith at the time, and I was in pure shock. It meant so much on so many different levels, because one part of the impetus behind me starting to dance again was that I had a pretty severe case of skin cancer and had gone through Mohs surgery that left me with multiple scars on my face. And, a lot of people don’t know it also left me with a neurological disorder, Trigeminal Neuralgia, where I get these attacks in my face. I don’t talk about it a lot, so that was a piece of it.
Just to be seen, to feel seen as a white- haired dancer was just – it sounds funny to say ‘a white-haired dancer’ – but in this world, it means a lot. [It’s] the representation for my peers and expanding what diversity means. I spoke a little bit about that in my speech – that it transcends race, gender, personal identity, all of those things, and to include age as well, and that the love of dance that we share is universal. It does transcend all of those labels that people put on us and what we’re capable of. So it was a beautiful moment to have some of my closest friends there. It meant a lot.
At the event, you spoke about unleashing the Kim Hale that was always meant to be, that was always there. Tell me a little bit more about the journey you’ve been on from the start…
From the time I was very young, I was very driven to the point my parents were uncomfortable with it. I was the person who was in the kitchen practicing on my pointe shoes, and my mom would tell me, ‘You have to take them off. It’s time to take them off.’ I always had this love and this vision of myself as a dancer first, as a ballet dancer. I let that go. It wasn’t in my destiny, but it was always how I saw myself in the world. When I was 12, dance was taken away from me. I had gotten in trouble at school. Nothing catastrophic compared to things that you see today, but my mother had said, ‘If you get in trouble one more time, that’s it with dance.’ I remember going on vacation and being told that I wasn’t going to be dancing anymore. It was such a defining moment in my life as a human being and as a dancer, because it set me up on this path of figuring out how I would do that and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to get back. The whole time in high school, I was not dancing. I ran track, I did cross country, I was on the soccer team. And I was successful at all of those. I actually had an offer to go to school for track, to college, and I passed on it. I went to community college and studied dance there.
What was it about dance that spoke to you so much? I think a lot of times for younger dancers or anyone pursuing an art or a sport, there’s a divide – ‘Do I love it for what it is, or am I doing it because I’m driven to be the best at it and win?’ Which was it for you?
It’s a combination of both, I won’t lie. I think that if you find anything you love and you have a propensity towards it, you want to see where that can take you. I had some little gift, maybe, but there’s a lot of things I had to work for. I wasn’t flexible. I had a lot of things working against me. I was a figure skater very young, so I had a competitive spirit. At age 11, my parents took skating away from me. There was a really eccentric dance teacher at the skating rink, and so I convinced them to let me stay and train with her. It was one room. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw this studio that I grew up in!
I have a competitive spirit. I have a love of dance. I just always had and of course, like every dancer I’m sure that you’ve ever spoken to, [it’s] the idea of being able to express yourself without words. I always knew that dance was what I wanted to do. No matter how many times I tried to step away or take myself away from it, dance was always there. Whether I was working as an agent, working with dancers, working as a publicist, working with Debbie Allen at her school, first as a teacher and then in the marketing department and social media. So everything always stayed with dance.
When you turned 18, how did you restart your career, so to speak?
At 18, you’re already the underdog, right? The first thing I started when I decided to come back to dance was ballet, and then I decided I wanted to do jazz. I took a few jazz classes at Dupree Dance Academy in Los Angeles. I auditioned for their scholarship program, and I really, really wanted that, and I got in. That was a pretty big commitment and a life-changing moment for me! We took 25 classes a week. Kids don’t even know what that’s like. 25 classes a week, and you had to go up to every teacher afterwards and have them sign off on your class. You had to talk to every teacher. That commitment and going through that process, it had some pressure to it, it was hard.
When I look back at the people that were in my class of people, they all went on to work. I still take class from Bill Prudich, who was one of the owners of The Edge. He was my jazz teacher when I was 18. I went back to studying with him last year, and he still treats me as a student, which I love, because he’ll give me a correction, he’ll give me a note, and it shows to me that even at my age, I’m still worthy of a note and a correction.
What were some of the moments in your career where you thought, ‘I can’t believe I just did that!’?
A big moment was when I was working in Las Vegas and I really wanted to move to New York and I was trying to figure out how I could do that. I took a job on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, did all of that, and got off in New York City! I didn’t know one person!
I moved into a residential hotel on the Upper West Side and lived there for a few years and spent a lot of time auditioning. I wanted to do musical theater, even though I had never been in a musical in my life. So that’s kind of how crazy I was! I took Ann Reinking’s class at Steps on Broadway and she came up to me after class and asked me if I would be interested in working with her on the skeleton crew for the revival of Chicago. I actually played Velma in that first workshop. That was an incredible moment. I always talk about feeling seen. That’s a common thread for me. Was I ready? I don’t know. Later Ann hired me for the National Tour of Applause starring Stefanie Powers. My first job in New York.
More recently, booking the HomeGoods commercial was huge for me because I was passed on for the self tape as a dancer. It was Marguerite Derricks who said to me, “I think you should reach out to the choreographer directly.” I reached out to the choreographer, Jemel McWilliams, and he said, “Yes, I will get you in to audition.” I did the self tape. I got in. I went to two in-person auditions and I booked it as a principal. I booked the print campaign. I was on the billboard in Times Square, and I’m in the commercial. So again, I had to push to get seen – that extra push to step into your own and say, ‘No, this one’s for me.’
You said you really were able to use the pandemic to your advantage in the sense that you reinvented yourself… You started posting on TikTok! Talk about your mindset behind sharing so much on social media…
Right before the pandemic, I lost my second parent. Then I had the skin cancer diagnosis. Soon after that, I got Bell’s Palsy. I was literally laid out on the couch, and a voice inside me said, ‘it’s time to get back to dance.’ At the time, my hair was out like two inches, white roots, and I thought, ‘okay, I’ll give it a shot.’ I saw some people doing dances online and I thought, ‘I can do that choreography.’ It literally started off as organic as that. I put one video up, and people were kind of engaged. And then I did a few of them.
I don’t remember exactly when I just decided, ‘okay, well, let me go on TikTok.’ I started sharing videos from Dexter Carr’s hip hop class but to be honest, I didn’t go in with the intention of documenting my return to dance. I didn’t know at the time where it would lead. I think the beauty of it is I just kind of was looking to find some joy in my life. The easiest way that I knew and the way that always worked for me in the past was to dance. There’s a lot of things that I do that I don’t show on social media because I like the balance of things where there’s cameras in the room and where there’s not.
Do you feel like it’s made you more adventurous or maybe a little bolder or braver?
I think I’ve been that way and now it’s like I continue to evolve and so people either stay with you or they don’t. I think the important part of all of that is and what I would want to share is that as you get older, as a dancer, speaking for myself, you let it go. Because you can’t stand to see that image and that reflection of yourself in the mirror. All you see is who you once were. So you stop. You give up on what you love the most. I denied myself what I love because I was like, ‘Well, I can’t kick my face. I can’t do this.’
When I came back to dance, it was hip hop that I chose. Looking back, I see on some subconscious level, I chose hip hop because I had no expectations of what I would look like or how I would do. That then led me back to other styles. I think for young people, it’s knowing that you have to reimagine yourself as a dancer all the time. How you are at 16 may not be how you are at 18 or 20 or 21. That’s the fun of it – reimagining who you are and continuing to do that!
That’s such a great message, because there’s no rulebook. A lot of professional dancers retire in their late 20s, early 30s, some into their 40s… You’re showing everyone there’s so much more out there after your traditional career, or the one you imagined for yourself, might end…
My biggest opportunities have actually come now more than when I was in the best shape of my life. I think I’m more in my skin than I was. I mean, I’m still on a journey. I’m not there, but I’m more comfortable with who I am. I watched an interesting interview on YouTube and a choreographer was saying, ‘You’re not competing with anybody else. Everybody comes with their own vibe, their own energy. Yes, we have technique. I’m looking for someone who’s comfortable in their own skin.’ I thought that was so great because technique is technique, but not every job is going to be for you. But, there’s going to be one that is for you, that fits on you and needs what you bring.
Is there a typical day for Kim Hale?
I’ve enjoyed being a student. A typical day for me can be taking class in the morning, prepping stuff, working on songs, memorizing lines, things like that. I do a lot of self care. I’m a person that needs a lot of time, rest time. I take a lot of classes. So, tonight for example, I’ll go to my musical theater performance class where they bring in different directors, choreographers, and performers to come in and work on song interpretation.
I take an acting class as well, twice a week. I’m navigating emails like everybody and shooting content for different projects that I have coming up and hoping for auditions like everybody. It’s a pretty simple life. I work hard, I really do. I don’t believe that there’s a magic fairy that’s coming down and going to grant your goals and dreams. You have to do the work and be ready when the opportunity comes.
If you were giving advice to young dancers who want to go to New York or LA to make it big, what would you say?
You’ve got to keep training. I don’t think you just get out of your home dance studio and just pop up in a city like LA or New York. That’s a big lesson I had to learn. I put in so much time as a dancer and I’m like, ‘am I putting in that equal amount of time in my singing and acting?’ I say I want to be on Broadway, but am I investing in those things as well? So training would be one, and the other piece of advice is: trust YOUR journey. Recently I did a post on my Instagram and it was a print ad I had done from HomeGoods and I think what I put on the caption was ‘dreams can still come true after 50.’ At the time I was in New York for Broadway Bares and Tony Award winning director/ choreographer Jerry Mitchell commented and said, “Dreams have no deadline.” Those words hit me so deeply. Wow! Talk about feeling seen.
We all mature, we all grow, we all own who we are at different times in our lives. Because what I always want to say, and I try to reiterate it whenever I can, for me, the goal is to be on Broadway. It’s an unrequited dream I’ve had forever. I always have to tell myself that the accomplishment of that goal is not going to mean happiness in my life. It just means I can check that off. But it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be a happy person. You have to be happy on the way.
I think that’s the biggest thing that young people have to understand, going in, moving to a big city like New York, everybody’s talented. Every girl in the room has a leg. Everybody’s got all of that. Is everybody interesting to watch? No, they’re not. So it’s like, what else do you have? So those would probably be my biggest things, training, keeping the dream alive, trusting the process and the journey, and knowing discovering who you are takes time.
Any upcoming projects that you want to talk about or spotlight right now?
For me, what’s important is expanding the narrative of what’s possible at every age. What does it mean to be a dancer at any age? What does that mean? What does that look like? We have to keep evolving. The world is slowly evolving and expanding and letting go of some of the stereotypes and things that were around when I was coming up. But they’re still there. And that’s kind of just a passion of mine now, to just keep chipping away. I want to see a number in a movie, a television show, or on Broadway where there’s mature dancers hitting it. I’m talking triple turns, leaps, jumps. I want to see it and I want to be in it. I’m constantly curious about what’s possible, and that’s the space I want to live in and be in. And if I’m right for somebody’s project, I’ll be right for it.
There’s got to be a certain amount of peace and freedom having that mindset…
There is. I have to check myself all the time. Last year, I went to an audition for mature dancers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I was devastated that I didn’t book it. But it ended up being a huge gift. One, I got to audition for Marguerite Derricks, which was amazing. I loved the process, the way the room was handled. I mean, I did the best that I could. Not getting it was a gift because it really fueled the fire in me to step up my game. To be honest, now, a year later, I’m a way better dancer than I was then. I just have improved and grown because of that.
I know there’s a very special place in your heart when it comes to Debbie Allen…
Debbie Allen was the person who encouraged me to let my hair go white. She saw me with it. So that’s a key point in my story. Just her work ethic – I think you never say you’re tired around Debbie Allen, because there’s nobody that’s doing more things and juggling more balls in the air. To see somebody who went from a dancer to executive producer on a show is just so inspiring. I owe a world of gratitude to her, for pushing me, for scolding me, for calling me out when I needed it, and for inspiring me, because she truly is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned when it comes to being in this industry.
You have to stand tall to be in her presence. When I started with her in 2010 to where I am now, I totally transformed as a person due to her example. Probably the most valuable thing I learned from Debbie Allen is to never take no for an answer. Anybody that’s been in her world would say that she is always pushing the envelope, she always finds a way to make things happen and that she values quality dance training. You see so many of her students go on to do big things in and outside of dance. She always says, “The discipline of dance will take you many places.” I believe that wholeheartedly. She’s an incredible person. And the fact that our paths crossed, I consider that a huge gift. In our most recent conversation she said, “I’m rooting for you.” And that just meant the world to me.
“I’ve known Kim for over 30 years and it is exciting to see how much she has grown. Coming into her success as a mature dancer should be encouraging to everyone. She is fearless and still works incredibly hard to improve her craft. Coming into her success as a mature dancer is noteworthy, and I appreciate that she enthusiastically encourages others to follow suit. So very proud of her.” – BILL PRUDICH
Connect with Kim! @mskimhale
Lead Photo by Heather Booysen
Cover Photo by Michael Higgins Photography