A Conversation with Choreographer Tara Nicole Hughes
Our own Robyn Hussa caught up with choreographer Tara Nicole Hughes to get the details on her career, life and what inspires her most.
RH: Please tell us about yourself and what you do?
TNH: I am a dancer/choreographer. I started dancing at age 9 at a local studio in Orlando, Florida. I walked in the door, hearing and feeling the vibration of music and seeing bodies in motion and I never walked out. I trained under an AMAZING woman named Cathy Gillaspie, who guided me, mentored me and inspired me. I went on to a full dance scholarship at Loyola Marymount Manhattan College in NYC and eventually moved to Los Angeles to fulfill my dream to work as a dancer and choreographer in film, television, commercials and stage. I’ve had an extraordinary career working alongside the most inspired artists including Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta Jones and Madonna among others.
RH: Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming shows that you are working on?
TNH: I choreographed a series of commercials for Faith Hill earlier this year and have an Al Pacino film called Imagined that will be released in 2014, that I choreographed. He was lovely to work with and I had a ball! I’m also really enjoying choreographing for a new show called Trophy Wife with Malin Akerman and Marcia Gay Harden that begins airing this September on ABC. It’s a very funny show that I am proud to be a part of. I’ve also been dancing, completing work on The Neighbors, Grey’s Anatomy and a really cool commercial for Samsung on The Voice.
RH: Do you find the pressures of being performer / artist significant with regard to feeling the need to have a “perfect” body? If so, how do you navigate through that terrain? How do you “not” judge yourself when others (critics, audience members, producers, etc.) “judge” you based on outward measures?
TNH: Well, I have chosen a career where image and body is at the forefront. I wish that we could all just dance, act, sing and express ourselves artfully without the scrutiny of how we look, but unfortunately it is the whole package that we are auditioning for and selling, ultimately. Being at the top of my game means that I am well trained and bring my talent to the room, but it also means that I am able to help facilitate the vision of the director, writers, ad agencies, etc. When I walk into an audition room, it’s not about me anymore, which I know sounds counter-intuitive.
Starting to choreograph and being on the other side of the audition table has helped me with this immensely!!! Mostly it’s just NOT a personal thing. Sometimes casting just needs one blonde, one brunette and a redhead or they are looking for someone with a specific quality or essence that gels well with an actor. This revelation was HUGE for me. I’ve learned, all I can do as a performer is my best, including dancing with everything I’ve got, having my head shots up to date, wearing the appropriate clothes, being in tune with what hair and make-up works best for me and most importantly, being authentically me in the room. After that, it is out of my hands.
There will be feedback and messages along the way that will inform me and if I’m smart I will make adjustments but thankfully I’ve come to this . . . who I am at my core, my value, my worth, my beauty, my true SELF is separate and independent of the needs of a project and those who are hiring me and critiquing me.
I can’t say it’s always easy for me but being gentle and kind with myself is helpful when disappointments and feelings of rejection come up, when you want something so badly and it doesn’t work out. Letting the sad, angry, jealous, disappointing emotions out is the first way for me to move through it. Then I can look at the bigger picture and trust that I am ok and supported and loved. And then sometimes I just have to put on the music, and dance . . .
RH: Who were the role models in your life (choose 2 or 3 main women)
TNH: Primarily my dance teacher Cathy who I mentioned earlier. She was an extraordinary woman who was in touch with her own inner beauty and light. Her positive leadership came in the form of inspirational talks, informing us about feeding our bodies with healthy foods, dancing from our heart and soul, sharing our gifts with others and those in need and a real essence of love.
She was inspired and she new how to inspire the goodness and the altruistic qualities in me and I believe in my dance friends. Never did she focus on weight or body image. It was only about the love of dance, working hard and the camaraderie of our company of dancers. I am forever thankful for her and know, without a doubt, she helped shape who I am in a large and positive way during that oh so influential and vulnerable time in my life; she helped me focus my mind on my inner experience and so whatever outer work happened, it was an extension of the love and passion for my craft.
I know this is a gift because I’ve seen other studios, other shows, other experiences and it is not that.
RH: What do you define as beautiful?
TNH: What is authentically true. When I see and experience others share their authentic selves, I see that as beautiful and I feel most beautiful when I am in a place of acceptance and love.
RH: How do you define inner beauty?
TNH: The inner world is such a private and beautiful oasis. What a gift to have the convening of self, that place that is so expansive where anything is possible. Inner beauty is that gentleness with oneself. That place deep inside where you become the comfort, where you have the chance to align to your higher purpose.
RH: What is happiness?
TNH: Happiness is what you choose it to be. Is the glass half full or is it half empty? Is this an opportunity or are you victim to your circumstances? Do you have the courage to step fully into yourself?
RH: How do you manage your stress levels in daily life? Do you use music / art / dance, etc. as a coping tool? Are there other things that you do to live mindfully?
TNH: Things that bring me the most peace are being in nature, meditating and surrounding myself with beautiful things like paintings, music and art. I love color, design and composition. I think it’s important for each of us to find what speaks to our soul and go to that for comfort and inspiration.
Music is an incredible vehicle for me for feeling inspired and getting me in touch with my emotional life. I also have this thing that I’ve been doing for a long time and it ALWAYS frees me, ALWAYS takes me to a place of self empowerment. If I feel nervous or stressed about an audition, work scenario or any life situation, I set a very clear intention about how I’d like to experience myself within that particular situation. I
don’t worry about the steps to get there, I only focus on the intention and I let the Universe take care of the rest. It’s kind of like that Albert Einstein quote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. I have to trust in the larger picture and my larger self, the part of me that is completely open, fluid, receptive, wise, expansive and all knowing. I know this probably sounds so new age and lofty, but there is real power there; I experience it daily!
RH: How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional — what are keys to balance?
TNH: To be honest, it is a challenge for me. I want to be a present, available, loving mommy, an amazing partner, a successful career woman, and a whole, happy individual. Each of those spokes of my life takes patience, love, clarity of direction, time and commitment. Luckily I have an amazing man in my life. He is a beautiful artist and supports my work completely and understands the limitations of balancing it all. It is a lot of work and we are still learning. What has helped is asking for help and choosing to be present with whatever task is at hand. Putting the work away when we’re with the kids.
Finding time to dive fully into the work when it is time. Sometimes our house is complete chaos and other times it is just magical with Rob at the piano, dancing happening and a lot of laughter. I’m still learning to relax and find the play and joy, even in the midst of the juggling circus act. The one thing I do know is the importance of “me” time and “us” time. I think those are great lessons to teach our daughters.
RH: Other thoughts / reflections?
TNH: I reflect often on how blessed I feel for the group of amazing, inspiring friends around me. I call them my “tribe” and they have become my family. I feel lifted, supported, seen and understood by them. I am constantly inspired and moved by their courage and faith and artistry. If one can surround themselves with those that bring light and positivity, thinking outside the box in an empowering way, it is a gift. That support system makes life a little sweeter . . . and certainly more fun!
BIO: Classically-trained, Broadway-honed and the premier protégé of the legendary Rob Marshall, Tara Nicole Hughes has emerged as Hollywood’s go-to choreographer and movement coach for film, TV and commercials. Hughes has worked on every major musical film over the last decade including Chicago, Rent, The Terminal, Nine, Rock of Ages and Burlesque. Her latest is as choreographer for the Al Pacino film Imagined.
As warm, patient and inspiring as she is talented, Hughes has a particular gift for creating a safe and energizing work environment for actors who may be intimidated by movement. As a result she’s worked with some of the most brilliant of our time including Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Tobey Maguire, Catherine Zeta Jones and Kate Hudson as well as with major music stars including Cher, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Idina Menzel. She recently worked with Faith Hill on a series of NBC Sunday Night Football promo commercials.
Her television credits include choreographing for Trophy Wife, Raising Hope and The Middle. As a dancer, she’s performed on everything from The Academy Awards and Glee to Grey’s Anatomy, The Neighbors and Ally McBeal among others. Find out more online at www.taranicolehughes.com