When “Good Morning America” anchor Lara Spencer made a snide comment about boys and ballet, it was the proverbial shot fired at dancers around the world, including Michael Callahan, dance captain on the national tour of Aladdin.
“I think what worried me the most about that comment is that it was trying to normalize that it’s okay to make fun of a kid for doing something different,” says Callahan. “For me, young men should feel comfortable having the opportunity to explore whatever it is that interests them and, you know, whether it’s football or dance, I think they should be respected by all people the same way.”
“It ended up being a beautiful moment because all a sudden all of the male dancers, and the dance community in general, you know, just went up in arms,” he adds. “It was beautiful to see everyone and be like, ‘We’re not taking this anymore, our young men and our young women will not be bullied for being dancers. It’s done.'”
Fortunately for Callahan, who began dancing around 11-years old, his family was very supportive of him dancing.
“My parents were both athletes, so their deal with us as we had to try like every sport and every after-school activity to figure out which one was ours,” he says. “So, we did that, we tried every single one, and they were very, very surprised, but I took a dance class and c’est la vie.”
Callahan took classes and even went to a performing arts high school in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. But he says it wasn’t until a school theater trip overseas that he realized what he wanted to do with his life.
“I saw the original cast of Billy Elliot in London, and I just remember crying for like two hours,” he says. “I left and was like, ‘That’s it, we’re good, this is what I’m doing.’ That was the moment that I really knew.”
Callahan attended Elon University where he says he trained to do exactly what he is doing now.
“I always laugh with people that I was training to become a dance captain without knowing it because I was in this class of 17 unbelievably talented kids of my year, and we all specialized in something different,” he says. “I obviously was the dance specialist, so when we would have dance finals, I would be the one quizzing people, helping them get ready.”
“I was very proud to say that that ended up kind of being what I did, what I do, for a living,” he adds. “I teach people dance. I get them ready to be performers in this show or elsewhere.”
Now Callahan, who says he was always a fan of Disney parks and movies growing up, is living his Disney childhood dream touring around the country with Aladdin. He is not only the show’s dance captain and a swing but also the understudy for Aladdin and Iago, something he says gives him a chance to flex his funny bone.
“I never imagined like when I was in college even that I would be understudying like the funny guys, that’s not where I saw myself going, but it’s actually become like a through-line in my career since I graduated,” he says. ”It’s a blast to get to work that part of my ability as well, you know.”
“I’m dancing so much and teaching so much, and in the ensemble when needed, it’s nice to be able to go out and work that muscle that otherwise I would have to find elsewhere.”
Callahan says he is grateful to be part of what he calls a monster of a tour, certainly one of the largest national tours ever, and a cast of beautifully, ethnically diverse people. And while the show is steeped in nostalgia for many people coming to see it, Callahan hopes that now more than ever its moral message isn’t lost on the kids.
“Our show has a very strong voice about like being who you are and doing what’s right over what’s easy.”
“I hope that they [the kids] leave feeling like they’re capable of anything and that they don’t need to be someone else to achieve anything. They just need to be themselves.”
Aladdin opens at the Durham Performing Arts Center on October 2nd. DPAC is hosting a Kids’ Night on Broadway on October 16th. For more information, visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/aladdin.