Brandon Cournay

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What are you currently working on?

I am currently dancing with KEIGWIN + COMPANY.

Where are you based out of?

New York City. The Big Apple. Da Concrete Jungle.

When did you start your training?

I started training at a dance studio in my hometown of Walled Lake, Michigan. I was really into jazz, tap, and musical theatre. We did a ton of dance competitions and conventions. Then, I continued my training at The Juilliard School, where I got my BFA.

When did you decide you wanted to be a dancer?

I honestly don’t think I ever decided I wanted to be a dancer. I think dance and the arts were just always apart of me. I tried tons of sports and activities as a kid. I remember crying my way through Tee-Ball. Dance was seriously the only thing that made me happy. I was lucky enough to have cool parents that let me stick with it. After that, it just snowballed and I just kept doing more and more and I haven’t stopped. I don’t want to! This path was inevitable.

What was your first professional job as a dancer?

My first professional job as a dancer was when I was 14 years old. I was Grover from Sesame Street in America’s (Detroit’s) Thanksgiving Day Parade. We waved and danced in the parade. After the parade, Elmo, Oscar, Big Bird, and myself danced at a fundraiser/dinner event in Detroit. Kick line and all.

Who were your mentors and what roles did they play in your growth as an artist?

Two people just immediately came to my mind.

The first is, Risa Steinberg who was one of my teachers and mentors at Juilliard. She had such a substantial impact on my development, not only as a dancer, but also as a person. She taught me how to not be afraid. Risa is intimidating in the best way possible, loving, and demanding. She allowed me to take chances, and most importantly, gave me the confidence to do so. Without her past and continued support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

The second is, Elizabeth Parkinson. First of all, she really helped me transition into the “real world” after graduating from Juilliard. She understands and appreciates both commercial and concert dance. She offered a lot of insight to me, and continues to do so now. Most importantly though, she taught me humility. Elizabeth and I met when I was assisting for West Coast Dance Explosion. During the tour, we were the only two people traveling from NYC, so we got to spend a lot of time together. Not gonna lie, I was SO intimidated to be traveling alone with the Joffrey principle, Broadway veteran, Tony Award Nominee, and one of my dance idols. Elizabeth is as legit as they come. She is also THE most humble, warm, kind, hilarious, and down to earth person I have every met. She taught me to be generous and appreciative. She taught me that your “successes” don’t make you better than anyone. She taught me that no matter what you do, you can do it by being a real and honest person.

What’s your favorite memory on stage?

This may not be my favorite memory (haha), but it is definitely the most memorable. I was dancing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and during the Nutcracker scene all of the dancers are costumed in these ridiculously heavy and claustrophobic bear suits. We all wore bandanas to keep the sweat out of our eyes. Well… one show, my bandana fell down over my face inside my bear head after doing a series of jumps and turns, I had no idea which was I was facing. What went from Clara’s dream, quickly turned into her (and my) worst nightmare. I was now a 7 foot tall, blind, panicking Russian bear…

“ABORT, S.O.S., Bear Down!!”

My worst fear was walking offstage into the audience. So, I waited for other bears to start hitting me so I knew where the wings were, and gracefully (?) chassed my way offstage.

What is your favorite place you have ever performed?

The Kennedy Center Opera House.

What has been your greatest triumph to date?

My greatest triumph is that I get to share these unreal experiences and memories with some my best friends, who have become my family. I go into rehearsal with KEIGWIN + COMPANY and when it’s over, I want to hang out with everyone afterward. I’m honored to be dancing in a company where I feel comfortable, safe, creative, and happy. I think it is rare to have all of those in one place at one time, which I think is a huge testament to Larry.

Was there a particular performance that changed your life or changed you as a dancer?

Sir Issacs Apples choreographed by Eliot Feld at Juilliard. This was the first “concert dance piece” I ever saw. I had absolutely no modern training when I came to Juilliard. I mean, my audition solo was to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” … the techno remix. WHAT?! I was excited and honored to get in, but I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. Unfortunately, in Detroit, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to a dance company. I remember sitting with the rest of my freshman class watching the rest of the dance department slide down this 40 foot ramp for over an hour and just crying. It was beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen before. I knew I had come to a fork in the road, and I was absolutely on the right path.

Do you have a pre-show ritual or superstition?

I’d say my pre-show ritual is warming up. I love a solid warm up. I put my headphones in and just get my body ready and organized. Right before the show, I like to connect and share good vibes with the group.

What inspires you to keep going?

As a dancer, I’m inspired by a challenge and by doing things I have never done before. I have such a bucket list of things I want to do.

Where do you see yourself in 15 years? Will you still be dancing?

I’ve recently made a pact with myself to stop always planning for the future, for what’s next. I’m totally living in the now. I have no idea where I’ll end up. That’s terrifying, but also exhilarating.

What are your goals outside of dance?

My goals are to live a balanced and happy life outside of the studio. I love getting inspired by things outside of dance. Experiencing life is rich.

Do you have any advice to give to other dancers whether they are just starting or in the thick of it?

My advice would be… just be you. Live in the now.

What music are you listening to right now?

Imagine Dragons. Fun. Animal Collective. Maroon 5. Jason Mraz. One Direction.

List five inspirations.

1) My ridiculously talented friends

2) The Perks of Being a Wallflower (book AND movie)

3) All kinds of music

4) Pop culture

5) The next generation of artists

Brandon Cournay is originally from Detroit, Michigan and has had an exciting journey performing in both commercial and concert dance. Brandon has performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, can be seen in TV commercials/industrials for Puma, Sesame Street and Target and is featured in the dance film, Musical Chairs. Brandon has performed with the New York Theatre Ballet, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Morphoses and is currently dancing with KEIGWIN + COMPANY.

Twitter: @Brandon_Cournay

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Photo credit: Both photos by Eddie Hobson

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