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The Dancing-Director

From Michael Jackson to ReelAbilities Film Festival

Summer of  1978, another hot afternoon with no air conditioning, no internet nor instagram to check.  My parents fighting again, “Brian go outside and play and take your sister” my mom yelled. It’s a typical day at my house in a little town Zilwaukee located in Michigan.  (that’s in Michigan so ya know “hon”)

So off to the front porch we went.  Now we didn’t have a regular front porch; for me, it was a “magical” front porch the size of Radio City.  It had white metal railings that reached to the balcony of hundreds of screaming people awaiting my big performance, a broken wooden mailbox that had the power to transfer us to any universe and lastly green & beat up bushes!  The shrubs hid my battery operated tape recorder so we could put on a show. And that we did. I hired my best friend Dawn Brady to rehearse relentlessly for our big performance, “The Donny and Marie Show.”  We had no audience so I made my grandpa sit on the sidewalk with my little screaming sister in the stroller and Dawn’s younger sister Tisha to watch.  The porch was about 3×3 so not much space, but once I hit that button and the bright orange maxell cassette tape started to roll, it was on. Dawn and I performed flawlessly just as I imagined when I was taping it holding the mic to the tv the night before.  Hence, the budding start of my career in entertainment.

I was always a bit different, annoying is the word most people use.  Not sure why but I always love challenging people. I think overall I just  want people to be happy. I, like any other person, had adversity growing up.  I was very feminine, scared of everything and I got picked on a lot. So, I decided to create my own world and use the world of entertainment as a means to escape my day to day struggle growing up. 

 How I started Dance

At 8 years old my Grandma Brown asked me if I wanted to join TaeKwonDo, I was petrified, but decided to do it only  if my older sister Karen will do it with me. Everyone knows I did nothing without her…still true today. The training  stuck, I received my black belt at 11, second degree in my teens. We went to tournaments every weekend and that built my confidence. 

My older sister and I

I was about 18 when I got bit by the dance bug.  Michael Jackson my hero, Janet, Madonna, MTV! Then I saw Paula Abdul in her music video Straight Up….I was DONE!  My obsession with dance took over my body and emotions. It felt like dance chose me and I had no other options but to embrace it.  

In a tragic series of events, my parents divorcing , my older sister moving away, my family finding out that I was gay yet had someone pregnant….(pause) and lastly my father committing suicide after his long struggle with PTSD as a result of being in Vietnam War.  All these tragic events enough for people to lose control of themselves…and I did for years.

A few years later in one of my therapy sessions (which I highly recommend for everyone)  my therapist asked me what I love to do in my spare time. I didn’t know what to say? I remember saying “I love helping people, maybe I’ll be an O.T, they make good money.” .  She asked again, “No, what do you LOVE?  What makes you happy for no reason?”  and I immediately said “DANCE!”  (cue music) a light bulb went off, I had nothing to lose.  Being the Aries that I am, I decided to move to New York City two weeks after that session with no real dance training, $900 in my pocket and my belief  that one day I was going to be on stage with my idol, Michael Jackson.  

Yes, I will admit that I do have the  “flare for the dramatics” as my friend Amy Jordan would say, I “believed” that I had as much of a chance as anyone else.  In TaeKwonDo you compete against yourself becoming the best you can be, respecting the competition.  I brought that philosophy into my dance training. I trained with teachers that had the same standards and philosophy like  Cecilia Marta & A.C. Ciulla. 

In 1995, I booked a gig for MTV music awards dancing beside Michael Jackson one of his greatest  performances “Dangerous” choreographed by the amazing Travis Payne & Lavelle Smith. Fast forward to 2001 after touring, teaching and choreographing I was asked to choreograph not only for a CBS event with multiple celebrities but for MJ as well.  The 30th Anniversary Special 2001 was one of the most watched television events in history. 2001 marked as one of my best experiences in dance, choreography, and teaching, then, it was time to move into something new. (an Aries trait, i guess).

Dancing with my idol Michael Jackson

Remember the “ Donny and Marie”  show?  I knew I was a natural director and  I live for drama. The TaeKwonDo training mentality is still there.  I then enrolled in classes at the School of Visual Arts from 2009-2017 taking as many classes as I can about lighting, photography, directing, editing and more.  The classes were long & difficult but rewarding. At that time, music videos and short films were my “thang,”  but after taking a documentary course with the great Fred Rendina, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.  This meant the focus was not on me, but the camera will be towards the subject telling the truth. No drama, no glamorous retouched shots….JUST THE TRUTH.

One day, I got a call to take photos of Amy Jordan for her dance company.  She showed up and I knew something was a little off. She had a short dress on but under I noticed her leg was mangled and deformed.  Her sight seemed a little off as well. So I asked, “Girl…what happened?” She informed me in a humorous way, “I got run over by a NYC Transit Bus.”  I was like, “HUH…could you run that by me again? “  Well, finally,  someone that had more drama than me.  I was so obsessed in telling her story and that gave birth to my feature documentary debut entitled “Amy’s Victory Dance.”    

My feature film directorial debut Amy’s Victory Dance

Amy’s Victory Dance is a documentary about Amy Jordan a New York City based former professional dancer who on the beautiful day of May 1, 2009 crossed  the street and was hit and ran over by a 15 ton NYC Express bus pinning her under the wheel, knocking her unconscious and completely crushing her right leg. As she regains consciousness and while experiencing total loss of sensation on the right side of her body, her immediate thought was, “ Am I ever going to dance again?” Her second thought was, “ If I survive the night there will be a Victory Dance! “

The journey of an artist is not an easy one and a lot of times not as lucrative (still trying to change that mindset).  But at the end of each day, I am so grateful by choosing this profession and following my gut instinct.  My head said, “be an Occupational Therapist it pays a lot….my heart was telling something different. “ (cue “Billie Jean” music).  Annoying and Dramatic…YES!!  FULFILLED, PROUD and JOYFUL…YES!! I believe that everyone should take the time to really listen and follow your gut instinct, your intuition. Each and every one of us are here for a reason so  FIND OUT WHAT YOUR REASON IS , YOU WILL KNOW BECAUSE YOU WILL BE HAPPY FOR NO REASON. 

Amy’s Victory Dance is Brian Thomas’ feature film directorial debut and  is an official selection to ReelAbilitiesFilmFest NY. It will be having its premiere virtual screening on SUNDAY APR 5 | 7:30 PM |.For more information on how to get your tickets, please check on the link https://reelabilities.org/newyork/film/amys-victory-dance/

Author: Brian Thomas


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