From ‘West Side Story’ to ‘Nutcracker’ Mouse King, embracing a world of dance
Steven Montalvo has been around the world as a professional dancer. Now he’s happy to be back in his hometown of Kerman, where he runs his own dance studio. He’s also excited to be able to take the stage again in the Lively Arts Foundation production of “The Nutcracker,” in which he plays the Mouse King and Arabian lead.
The production will be performed 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23.
Montalvo took the time to share his story from small-town dancer to the world’s largest entertainment capitals — and back again to the Saroyan Theatre.
Q: You were a kid growing up in Kerman. Set the scene for us.
A: It’s a small town with a big appetite for athletes. I grew up playing baseball and soccer. My dad was coaching my brother at the time and would drag me along. We as children weren’t allowed to stay in doors watching TV and were always told to go play outside. While getting ready for church, cooking for a family get together or getting ready for dinner my mother would play music. Most of the time she would yell out to me and in the kitchen she would teach me how to dance. It went from partnering, the skate, the mash potato, or even the jerk.
Q: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a dancer?
A: At the age of 11, in 1995, I begged my parents to let me dance. As we were leaving a baseball tournament, there was a flyer for a dance studio, Kerman Performing Arts, run by Toni and Dina Baptista. It seemed that God was hearing my prayers. I asked my dad to let me go. He made a deal with me. If I took a karate class I could take a dance class. I happily agreed. We walked into the studio later that week and they were doing the play “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” They only had six dwarfs at the time. They asked if I would be a part of the cast. I asked my parents and they said it would be fine. We started rehearsal and at that point they saw something in me that they found special.
I never did take that karate class and began dancing five days a week. I would come home from school, do a little homework, eat and head to dance from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. That schedule stayed with me all through high school. However, after four years of dancing there, I changed studios and started dancing in Visalia and Tulare. My mother would drive me as soon as school was out an hour away to get me to class before starting at 4 and ending at 10 p.m. I would do my homework and eat in the car. I LOVED every minute of it. My dad finally saw a performance I had done, and said he saw how serious I was. He thought I was great at it.
I sat my parents down and said this will be my career. I told them I would like to graduate high school to move to New York and get there while I was young. I was told I had to ask the school board. They said if I could, then they would help me out as much as possible. I took AP classes and was in Academic Decathlon, graduating in three years with a 3.8 GPA.
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Growing up dancing was tough. Everything was about sports, sports, sports, and that dance was no way to make a life. It also was considered a female hobby. I pushed through, being picked on, being called names and at one point bullied and choked against the all. I would give speeches to hear the whole gym calling me names and laughing at me. It was tough. In my heart i knew that if I could just get through these years of school, I could start a new life with people who understood me.
Q: What came after high school? How did you end up in New York?
At the age of 17, after graduating I was booked as a dancer for Holland America Cruise lines. I was so excited to be dancing, traveling and treated like a king with room and board. The hard part was saying goodbye to my family. Duty had called. So I traveled on board cruise ships for almost 10 years on and off, becoming one of the highest paid male dancers, and working with amazing choreographers and directors. On and off I did some back-up dancing, I danced in hotels in Atlantic City, and started booking Broadway national and world tours.
Q: What is the show you’re most proud to have been in?
A: The 50th anniversary European tour of “West Side Story” in 2007. That job changed my life. I work with Joey McKneely and Arthur Laurents himself, as well as a star-studded cast. The acting was superb and the music genius. The choreography was brilliant and what it did to my soul made me the artist I have become.
After that, I moved to New York City. I felt like if I were going to be on Broadway I had to plant my feet and stop traveling. I became an Actors Equity union member and hit the pavement auditioning again. It was tough!
Q: When did you come back to Kerman? Did you have any reservations about returning?
A: I had been away from my family for so long only seeing them every three years or so and was living on my own starting to feel a little restless. About three years ago, I got a phone call from my brother saying it was time to come home. My dad was dealing with kidney failure and my mom’s back, knees and arthritis were putting her in a wheelchair. My grandfather passed away and my aunt was on her deathbed. I took the signs and moved back home to Kerman.
I couldn’t just stop what I was doing, so together my dad and I found a space and I opened up a dance studio, Studio 22 at Montalvo School of Performing Arts. My family means the world to me, and so I thought i would bring them honor by having our last name in the title.
Kerman found out I was back, and most of the students who used to pick on me are now adults (and with children). They remembered I dance and was amazed to hear about the journey I was on. Kerman High School asked me to coach the cheer team, Pop Warner asked me to choreograph and help win a national championship, all while teaching dance and Zumba at my studio and church every Sunday.
Q: What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?
A: Strong, emotional and resilient.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: I am thankful for the Central California Ballet and Lively Arts Foundation for keeping professional theater thriving in Fresno County.