When Megan Fernandez was asked whether she ever considered becoming anything other than a dancer at any time in her life, her answer is a decisive, unhesitant “No.”
Just last year, for the second time, she made it to the semifinals on the national hit series “America’s Got Talent.” She has danced since she was six, majored in dance in college, moved immediately to Manhattan after graduation, and landed her first professional job three months later. Since then, she has performed internationally, created her own dance company in Union City known as Tap Olé, and started a free dance program for Union City children with her equally artistic husband Lucio (who is Union City’s Commissioner of Public Affairs).
So what’s her secret?
“People give up so easily,” Fernandez said. “There are many struggles: the constant auditioning, the critiques, the day-to-day living; but if you get really good training and it’s really what you want to do, as long as you don’t give up, you can do it.”
What it takes to make it
“I went through stages of loving tap, loving ballet, loving musical theatre,” Fernandez said last week, remembering how she spent her youth sashaying, tapping, and jazz-handing her heart out in classes and performances. “I ended up loving them all.”
She went on to attend Towson University in Baltimore on scholarship and majored in dance.
In her first job in New York, she was chosen as a dancer and then a dance captain of a small performance group that traveled to Japan twice for three months at a time. They performed “revue” shows – or variety shows that include dance, performance, and acting. She even learned to speak a little Japanese.
Upon returning to Manhattan, Fernandez landed a one-year contract at what used to be the Ibis Supper Club (now Birdland) on 44th Street and Eighth Avenue. She danced, sang, and performed in magic acts in the show known as the “Magic Carpet Revue.”
It wasn’t all so simple for Fernandez, and she watched her colleagues and former college mates come and go.
“I took whatever I could get to keep in the running [for dance jobs],” she explained, which included many commercials and small film roles.
Once she even did an on-stage hair show at the Javitz Center where they cut her hair in front of a large audience. “It was a means to an end,” she said.
“As long as you don’t give up, you can do it.” –Megan Fernandez
In 2005, Fernandez decided to take her expertise and industry connections and begin her own performance group called Tap Olé. “It was a gift to be able to control all aspects of the performance, from style to venue to dancers to music,” she said.
Tap Olé has a core of regular dancers, and Fernandez holds auditions from time to time to fill in. She described the group’s style as a “little bit of everything:” a fusion of tango, tap, flamenco, and whatever the moment calls for.
While most of Tap Olé’s performances are held in New York City, she and her group have performed at Union City’s Performing Arts Center at Union City’s high school for many years, including during the theatre’s inaugural performance and several of the Christmas shows.
One of Fernandez’ favorite things is to perform with her husband. “I know it may sound sappy, but I love performing with Lucio,” she said. “Not only do I get to design the show from scratch, but I get to travel and make art with my husband; not also to mention we get paid for it!”
Lucio Fernandez is an artist in his own right. He has performed in many Broadway shows and sings, dances, acts, and writes poetry.
In 2000, Fernandez and Lucio began the Grace Theatre Program that offered free art and performance classes to Union City children aged 8 to 17. They began at the Grace Episcopal Church on Park Avenue but quickly outgrew the space. In 2003, they moved to Jose Martí Freshman Academy.
They now have around 200 students and a 12-member board of advisors, and all of their teachers are professionals in various performance industries.
“It’s important for me to give back,” Fernandez said. “I want young people to know that if they love performing and don’t give up, they can make it too.”
For more information on Fernandez’ group Tap Olé, visit www.tapOlédancecompany.com. For more information on classes for kids, visit www.gracetheatre.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com.