1997 Butler University alum Christian Vincent has an extensive resume post-graduation, such as his recent Emmy nomination. Photo courtesy of Christian Vincent.
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Members of the Butler community are achieving extraordinary things, both on and off campus. From first-years to alumni to administrators and back, each Bulldog has a story to tell. Read on to discover the next of our Bulldogs of Butler through a Q&A style interview.
Just glancing at his resume, one would be in awe of the achievements and opportunities Christian Vincent has accomplished. After graduating cum laude from Butler University in 1997 in dance performance, Vincent set out to make his mark on the dance floor. After years of serving on the Emmy for Outstanding Choreography’s judge’s panel, this year his choreography on the Canadian television show “The Porter” finally awarded him his own Emmy.
The Butler Collegian: As a Butler graduate, share with us your journey to Butler. What brought you here, what made you stay and how do you remember your time here?
Christian Vincent: When I was in high school, I got scholarships for sciences, and I was not sure what I wanted to do. For my first year, I stayed [in my hometown] and went to the University of Windsor. At the last minute, while knowing that all the university scholarships applied for science, I switched to visual arts.
A visual arts professor Dennis Knight said, “You’re talented, Christian. What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to dance.” He reminded me to always inundate myself; surround myself with whatever I want to do. I knew I wanted to continue dancing, so I should find a school that will continue my education. I have to preface this by saying there was a point in time when I thought you don’t go to school for dance. I had been traveling to L.A. and doing workshops throughout my teenage years and competing, and got scholarships to train in L.A. I thought a university wouldn’t be able to give me anything that I don’t already know. Wrong.
Cut back to my first year [at the University of Windsor], doing the Nutcracker with my home studio in Michigan. I asked the dancers that were [at the Nutcracker with me], “What are good dance schools?” Thaddeus Davis, who had just graduated from Butler at the time, told me Butler [is a great dance school]. I told my mom, and we looked into Butler. I auditioned at Butler, [made it in], then headed to Butler for my second year.
[Before studying at Butler] I was different from the average Butler dance student because I wasn’t coming from exclusively a ballet background. I was coming from a commercial dance background: jazz, tap and ballet, plus a competitive background. My inspirations were Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. I wanted to go to L.A. and do music videos, whereas the majority of the other Butler dancers were geared toward concert work. I was coming [to Butler] to get the classical training to make me an even stronger dancer so that I could go in a different direction.
TBC: Tell us about your dance experience.
CV: I started dancing at five. My mom put me in a tap class, and I didn’t like it, so I didn’t stay in [dance] long. I went back [to dance] at 12. It was an old studio called Nancy Patterson’s, which had dance classes after school in my grade school’s locker room. From my first dance convention at 12, I fell in love because all the teachers at the time were working in music videos, Janet Jackson’s dancers or Paula Abdul’s dancers. I told my mother after that weekend, I want to be a dancer; [my parents] were fearful but supportive.
When I won my first scholarship at 13 to go to L.A., my parents made sure I got there — then again at 16 and 19. I had an idea of L.A.’s realm and criteria from watching TV, music videos or award shows because this was the era of Michael [Jackson] and Madonna. As it was all about music videos and big tours, that’s what I was gearing myself to be.
At 16, I took a class at Nancy Patterson’s [near my hometown], and then my parents started taking my brother and I across the border to Michigan [for a different dance studio]. It was an hour and a half [from my home], three times a week to study ballet, and I did that till I graduated. Then [as mentioned earlier] I decided to find a [dance] school, found Butler and the rest is history.
TBC: What is one of your favorite Butler memories, either academically or with Butler dance?
CV: What I love now in retrospect was the meticulousness of the training I received from professors like Michelle Jarvis, Rosanna Ruffo, Cynthia Pratt and [Harry] “Bud” Kerwin. I also liked the rigor; I remember waking up every day, and every morning and my shins would hurt.
Then favorite performances — I remember ”The Nutcracker” was always such a special thing. I remember the first time I did five or six pirouettes on stage, right on the music. My family was watching, and it was an exhilarating moment. Some other memories are from seeing shows at Clowes Hall, dancing at Clowes and being the Prince in “The Nutcracker.”
There are memories with my friends; we would make late-night Meijer runs or go to Applebee’s in Broad Ripple. Plus the shared experiences of doing the Nutcracker and MidWinter performances. It’s an experience that we [as dancers] have that nobody else will. I really valued my Butler friendships and are still some of the strongest friendships and my biggest supporters.
TBC: How did the skills you learned, whether with Butler dance or in the classroom, benefit you during your professional dance career?
CV: [My time at Butler] gave me my roots, my grounded classical training, which has sustained me to this day. I say my four years at Butler gave me 40 more years of my career. If you know how to use your degree, and you get good training, then it prepares you for longevity in this career field. I would not be where I am today without the training that I received at Butler.
The faculty [at Butler] was and still is supportive. I feel the love from the ones that are still there. In my successes, it’s an extension in a sense of them. I wasn’t the ideal Butler dancer because [in regard to] classical ballet, I did not have the facility nor all the attributes. [However], what I did have was a great work ethic and tenacity. I used everything that I gained from [Butler] to continue my trajectory. Butler gave strong roots in education, dance and practical skills. [My Butler training] allowed me to eventually get my master’s from [the University of California Irine], a different experience, but made me understand the strength of Butler’s training.
My education was the reason why I got the “Madam CJ Walker” and “The Porter” [featured television series choreography] jobs. Each one had an interview and they wanted to know what I knew about dance in the 1920s. I never would have been able to answer that question if I had not studied professionally. There are things that I know now that I didn’t know when I was 18, and it was because of my higher education. [During my interviews] talking about the history of jazz, tap and the Africanist aesthetic helped me land those jobs.
TBC: Share a little more about your extensive resume and what have you done professionally post-Butler.
CV: Two weeks after I graduated from Butler, I moved to L.A. My first job was with “Baywatch” then I got a job dancing for Prince. From then on, I worked with artists such as Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin. Then I wanted to start choreographing, so I started assisting choreographer Michael Rooney — Mickey Rooney’s son. I started acting and teaching at dance conventions as well.
I started moving into teaching, choreographing and acting. I got a lead on a show called “Noah’s Ark” on Logo TV — the same network RuPaul Drag Race started on. That led to me getting other acting jobs on “Smallville” and “Continuum,” and then I was one of the first Black leads in a Hallmark movie in 2018 — “A Majestic Christmas.”
Choreography wasn’t the main focus [then], but in recent years, I started to choreograph more. I got to [choreograph the] “Salt-N-Peppa” movie on Lifetime. I choreographed “The Christmas Dance” last year with Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman from “High School Musical”.
TBC: For those unaware of your most recent accomplishment, please tell us what it was and how you got there.
CV: Most recently, I worked on a show called “The Porter.” Being Canadian American this show was impactful for me. It was about Black Canadians and Americans, set in Canada, about their struggle to unionize. It’s about the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the 1920s — a story that hadn’t been told before, and by doing this, it was a Canadian heritage moment.
I’m a person that believes in manifestation. I’ve been part of the Television Academy choreography peer group, where we can judge for the Emmys. I’ve been part of that group for the past three years. Since last year, I have been thinking, “I really want to be nominated for an Emmy, I want to create work that would be eligible to be nominated.” It was no easy feat, because when you’re a choreographer, getting [eligible] work on the screen is not easy. I was lucky to have directors that were collaborative and would listen to my vision and a production company that wanted to keep the dance in the show.
The choreography in the show ultimately resulted in an Emmy nomination. It was the only Emmy nomination for the show. [“The Porter”] was up against shows such as “Euphoria” — which won — “Goliath” and “Schmigadoon!”, big network shows.
TBC: What has been your favorite project or career achievement?
CV: It’s different for different stages of my life. For years, it was my first movie, “She’s All That.” One of my favorite jobs that I will always say is when I did the “Don’t Tell Me” music video for Madonna. That was the job that everybody wanted, and I was one of four guys that got it. Then traveling the world [on tour with Madonna] as a dance captain was a huge highlight.
I was a professor at [University of Southern California], one of the biggest dance institutions there is in the United States. When I was there, I took a sabbatical to see what would happen as I was not sure if teaching now was the right thing. Then God brings me, out of nowhere, as I didn’t even audition, a Hallmark movie. I was like, whoah, that was a career achievement.
Then of course I found out about my Emmy nomination. I was driving from a dance convention. My phone was in view and I saw this text come up and all I saw was, “Congratulations, Emmy.” I pulled over and it was a friend [who texted] and said, “Congratulations, Emmy-nominated choreographer,” and my hands immediately went to my head. I couldn’t believe it.
TBC: What’s next for you?
CV: There are two projects that I have going on right now, both acting projects. I’m proud of [the projects] because I like the diversity of my career. I just finished filming a part for an Amazon show, then I move on to another movie in which I’m acting but also choreographing.
TBC: What advice do you give current and future Bulldogs looking to pursue their lifelong dreams?
CV: I’m a big advocate for preparing and educating yourself, whatever that means to you. Now, education may be different for everyone. It may not be higher education, but at least learn about the craft that you want to go into so you’re prepared to go into it. It sounds corny, but you have to have a strong belief in yourself, especially for those that are going into the arts because it’s not easy. You have to have something to keep your thought process moving forward and positive for times when it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Find a way to maintain your sanity and love for yourself; find something that inspires you.