Former USA Olympics coach, Broadway performer and renowned director and choreographer Bruce Brown is teaming up with Soul Expressions Dance Studio in Mt. Pleasant to get the dancers to the next level.
Brown began coaching dancers at Soul Expressions during the summer of 2018, agreeing to work with the owner of the studio, Sherilyn Alden, for at least a year to assist her in building her program.
“Sherilyn has a good school, but she wants to get it to the next level and that’s what I’m here for,” Brown said. “It’s not the talent kids have, it’s the fire they have. If I see fire, if they have the desire, I’ll train them.”
Brown and Alden were introduced to each other several years ago by a mutual friend in Muscatine who wanted them to perform the tango together. While it didn’t pan out, when Alden reconnected with Brown this past year asking him to join her studio. He couldn’t say no.
Alden opened Soul Expressions in Mt. Pleasant 41 years ago. She currently has about 140 students and six instructors at her studio. She brought on Brown as a teacher to give her students training they haven’t had before.
“Bruce can bring something to the table I’ve never had the opportunity to offer my students, and I can learn from that also,” Alden said. “I feel very fortunate for a small town to have somebody of Bruce’s caliber.”
Brown grew up in North Platte, Neb. He was a USA Olympics coach for gymnastics from 1975 to 1984, and coached Mary Lou Retton, who won a gold medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif.
While performing at the Tropicana Motel in Las Vegas, Nev., Brown acted in a scene for The Godfather Part 2 — even getting a line in the movie. After shooting for three days and making a lot of money, the entire scene was cut from the movie, Brown said.
“That’s show biz, baby,” Brown said.
Brown eventually moved to New York City where he got a job in the Broadway musical Cats. He’s also performed in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Fiddler on the Roof, worked with the Metropolitan Opera, and performed in and directed West Side Story numerous times.
Brown said that he has been “unbelievably lucky” three times in his life.
“I had a huge crowd calling my name for my performance,” Brown said.
Fifteen years ago, Brown decided to take a little break from show business and visit his brother in Muscatine. There, he ended up opening a studio before deciding to head out west to pursue another opportunity. That’s when Alden called, and Brown ended up in Mt. Pleasant.
Students Brown has taught have gone on to do great things. One of his students will be in the live musical Rent on Fox on Jan. 27. Another has a major role as a dancer in the New York City Ballet.
While it may seem that a small town has nothing to offer a successful dancer, choreographer and director like Brown, he said that young athletes in small towns are underestimated.
“Any kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Danville to even smaller can have the fire,” Brown said. “The hard part is where do you get the training?”
Brown believes there are three “P”’s to being a good performer: practice, patience and persistence.
“What usually happens is somewhere along the way, one of those is dropped,” Brown said. “You’ve got to be willing to stay there. Most people don’t because it’s too hard or they get lost along the way ... I truly believe if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to pay the price, you’ll get it.”
Brown said the students who make it through his system will be the best. He will work on their weaknesses and help them improve their strengths, but it’s all up to the kids, he said.
Shelli Hendricks said her daughter Kira Hendricks, a student at Soul Expressions, went from taking two classes a week to six classes and comes in to work with Brown on the weekends.
“She has completely done a 180. In one class, she learned to samba. I never knew she could move like that,” Hendricks said. “(Brown) has brought so much talent out of her.
Kira Hendricks, 11, said she jumps higher now that Brown has the dancers doing strength training exercises.
“He pushes people to their full extent,” Kira said.
Helen Drish, 15, said she learns a lot from every teacher at Soul Expressions, but with Brown, she has grown in confidence.
“It’s like drinking an energy drink,” Drish said. “I have renewed passion for dance every time I walk into his class.”