Noticing Neighbors Courtney Germany
They say that if you are following your path, you will make it with every step you take. Courtney Germany is one of those souls who follows what she’s passionate about into accomplishment. By starting to dance at the age of 3 years old, she takes every opportunity to maximize her technique through choreography, performing, and co-inspiring her dance students. This upcoming weekend, Courtney stars in performances of the musical ‘Stevie,’ a live show that celebrates the life and genius of Stevie Wonder. The show is put on through Music Theater Heritage, on the third floor of Crown Center. Courtney sat down with me to share all about her dance career.
Hayley: I was introduced to you through the Theatre Community Fund, how did you connect with their spotlight series?
Yes, so I was actually nominated by a friend of mine to the Theater Community Fund of Kansas City. They wanted to use their platform to spotlight black talent for Black History Month, and so I just uploaded my bio, and they were amazing enough to put it on their profile so that people could see the talent in the area. Hayley: I’m so glad you did, and it’s so nice to meet you. Can you talk a little bit about your art, and how you got started?
Courtney: As far as my art, I am a dancer first. I've danced since I was a little girl. You probably hear that from a lot of performers who start off dancing about three years old, but I've just been doing it since then.
My mom tells me stories about how I used to be extremely shy, like bashful to a fault. She just had to put me in something that would help me express myself more. I hated it the first three to five years, but after that, I fell in love with it. I started to compete, and I did competition dance all the way through high school and College.
I danced at KU and was a Rock Chalk Dancer. Hayley: Wow. Courtney: I was introduced to the theater community through Starlight Theater.
Hayley: How did you start out, there?
Courtney: Through the Vincent Legacy Scholarship Fund. The donors, Greg and Rebecca Reid, developed this scholarship fund for kids who lived in lower income parts of the city who are interested in the arts but don't have the means per se to pay for classes.
So that's how I got my start. And honestly, it's what I'm passionate about. I can't think of anything else that means more to me. When you think about things that set your soul on fire—dance, performing for audiences and telling stories, choreography—yeah, that’s it for me. All of those things just put me in a place where I feel like I'm living my truth.
Hayley: That is so interesting that you connect it to storytelling because it is such an emotive art.
Do you use any techniques to connect to the emotion of the story when you're dancing?
Courtney: That's a good question. I would say that naturally, I am a pretty in my head type of person, and I don't always feel comfortable speaking to express myself—but dancing just comes from a really deep place. I have had very specific things that have happened in my life that I can draw from. But honestly, I can say that the emotion comes from just simply the passion for dancing. It's been an emotion that I've been able to draw from since I was a little girl. As I've grown, learning from different teachers, different genres, watching other performers, and being inspired by Alvin Ailey—it has always been an extremely deep body practice that I've always felt is so beautiful and expressive.
The same thing with watching ballet growing up, and taking jazz classes at the Kansas City Ballet. I just kind of, like, mimic it and internalize it. That's the best way that I can describe it.
Hayley: I love, too, that you mention the inspiration from around you and how you're integrating that into what you do. I wonder—you started dancing so little, what was it like when you got to dance at Starlight? That just sounds like an incredible experience. What was that like?
Growing up being introduced to Starlight through the Vincent Legacy Scholarship, I eventually moved into being an assistant teacher at their education camp. So I would facilitate bathroom breaks and make sure that they were behaving during class and all of that. Eventually, I got to be the teaching artist, where I was actually teaching creative movement, improvisation and choreographing camp shows.
They have galas every year where they ask donors to come. They talk about Starlight and the impact that it has on the community, and they ask them to donate to the education and outreach program. So they'd have us all on stage, and we would do a performance for the gala. And that is how it slowly started, because they would ask me back every year.
Eventually I got old enough to audition for what was my first show, Grease, in 2016. I was casted in the ensemble of that show, and it was extremely full circle because it's where I got my start. My life has always been filled with those “thrown into the workforce” type stories. I went to college for two years and then came back because I was spending a ton of money, and didn't really know what I wanted to do. But after that, I was consistently being thrown into these situations with all of these great people and dancers in the city.
Well, it sounds like you have a real strength for being out of your comfort zone and growing into a space. It's almost like you're promoted to a level that you have to step up to, right? What skills have you learned that have helped you be able to do that?
Adaptability. It is definitely one of the most important skills that I've learned. As a young person, you want to be extremely grateful that you're in these rooms with all of these amazing actors and producers and people who have done not only amazing things locally in the city, but have done things on Broadway and touring the world. So just kind of trying to download as much as I can, and being able to learn quickly—I would go to as many classes as I could when I was young, just to build the muscle of learning dances fast.
What an important skill. Courtney:
I would also say, just having just a handful of people who were my mentors. Christina Burton, she's a performer and choreographer in the city. Jerry Jay Cranford, all of these people who I was introduced to when I was young in these gala environments. They knew my talent from a young age, and once they had opportunities to pull me in, they would bring me in as their assistant choreographer or teaching artist. I would have a pencil and a pad, just taking notes on how they went about their own processes as choreographers and directors. I would learn so I could save that knowledge for later.
You're really soaking it all up.
You've had such a cool experience in getting to know so many parts of the dance community locally. What goodness have you seen through this journey that you've had?
Number one would be the full circle experience of being thrown into the theater community when I was young, and then to see myself grow into it.
I was in middle school when I initially earned the scholarship, and remembering back to what that felt like, it was meaningful to see the development from being the kid performing to becoming the teacher. It means a lot to me to be able to share the passion that I have for what I do with young people who also share the passion. I've been able to choreograph for Stage Right Performing Arts—their shows Hairspray, Addams Family, and Grease. For Winnetonka High School, I choreographed Shrek and Seussical. I’ve also done a lot of shows for kids camps with ages 4 to 14.
With Starlight, I also help out to boost our Starlight Star programs. Any opportunity that I have to teach and share what I love, while also learning from young people as well, shows them that it can be an exchange that is meaningful. It can hopefully inspire them to continue performing, and maybe teach eventually, just to keep the theater alive. To keep performance alive, and live performance alive.
I am curious what your answer to this would be: What do you love about dancing? You've done it for so long. What keeps you loving it?
I think just the feeling that it gives me, the confidence that it helps me to have. I love this different person that I turn into, and this control I have over everything I’m choosing to do—and at any point, I can look out and see everyone.
You're impacting a lot of people at once. Courtney: Exactly. It’s the impact in being able to tell stories, and then see the reactions in the audience. I will always love to share stories, feelings, and emotions.
Tickets are available for her upcoming performances this weekend on the Music Theater Heritage website.
All media provided in courtesy by Courtney Germany and published via her online platforms.