CHRYSSIE WHITEHEAD

"It’s my therapy. My soul food. It’s why I breathe..."

Former Overall Talent Winner, Chryssie competed in 3 fields at SHINE: dancing, acting, and modeling. Chryssie has used all three and has even added singing to her skills. Chryssie has been AMTC’s most famous dancer. After AMTC, Chryssie won a spot with the New York City Rockettes, moved on to Broadway, television and film.

 Why dance? What drew you to it?

Wow. It’s my therapy. My soul food. It’s why I breathe. I’ve been doing it since I was three and has been the most joyful thing that I do. It is still the most joyful thing I do.

I’ve seen that in many of your online interviews. Tell me about it.

Some people have a different experience with dance. But I had a great teacher when I was 3. It was just joyful. I don’t have one bad memory of it. And then I started to develop a love for it and it had nothing to do with my parents or my mom… it was just me. I was lucky enough to have the support. It just kept growing and growing and I went to NY when I was 12 and thought, "I want to do this" I went head-on. I knew I wanted to be in this crazy business! And I’ve been in this business since I was 18.

What inspires you? Where does your passion for dance come from?

I don’t think you can really explain that. I think it comes from within. I think everybody has some sort of gift whether it be artistic or organizational or medicine or scientific. I think we all have a gift. we’re all special and unique. I was lucky to discover that in dance.

I feel like I’m in heaven when I dance or have a taste of heaven… when I really get lost in the movement. But that’s when I take class. Taking class is something different. It used to be just dreaming of performing, but now that I have been performing it’s different. When I take class, I go back to childhood and fall in love with dance again.

Do you still take classes now?

I take as many as I can. Especially from the teacher out here in Los Angeles that I’ve been studying with off and on. I don’t have a specific schedule that I stick with except for my teaching schedule and if I’m performing.

Lyrical dancing is my favorite which is what I did when I competed at AMTC. So , when I find a teacher who teaches that type of dance: lyrical jazz dancing, I take it. Lyrical dancing is a combination of ballet and jazz and it’s an emotional storytelling – a liquidy, graceful, soft movement, passionate dance. It’s similar to what now is called contemporary dance, but, in my opinion, that is more athletic more modern and not as flowy.

And you teach dance now. What specifically?

I teach everything. I’m at four different schools right now. One is a non-profit and that’s fun because we’re not teaching them to be professional dancers, we’re teaching them dance moves and other tools. I teach all styles: theater dance and jazz, ballet, lyrical, choreography as well. My background is pretty eclectic and rounded. Teaching ballet to actors has been really fun. I do all kinds of ranges of stuff.

Earlier in your career you branched out into acting. How does it fit and compare with dancing?

I’m always auditioning. I just booked a recurring role for a show called Warehouse 13 on the sci-fi channel. I’ll be in 3 episodes of that and it’ll be airing next summer.

What brought me to acting was the storytelling part of dancing. I was 22 and I had several people say to me, "Why don’t you try acting— you don’t just dance from the neck down." I’m fully embodying it. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work in television for some years. It’s been a journey. It’s been challenging to switch over from dance to acting. Now I’m seeing the fruits of that labor. You never stop learning your craft. I’m taking voice lessons as well.

Did you ever have negativity when you first said you wanted to act?

It was more shock. I was a professional dancer. I was a Rockette at 18. But I wanted to try. They said I was crazy that I went to LA after just a year and a half of acting training.

My mom was a little shocked but she was always a big supporter in my life. She passed away in January, so it’s been a very rough year. She was amazing in my life and in my career. I mean she used to say, “I would be the best street sweeper if I wanted to be a street sweeper.”

I’m so sorry. Personal tragedy is tough. What about overcoming stories in your career?

Yeah — it’s not been easy. It took me up to 26 to get on Broadway. And then I thought, after I got some recognition from that show, I would make it. But the downfall was the trap that you can fall into: When you get a little bit of success you think it’s going to be the catapult into breaking into your career. I kind of think that’s a facade. It happens sometime, but gone are the days of great movie stars. If you can have a career and work then that’s the success.

See, I thought I was going to be a success in LA after being in NY on Broadway and nail it. I got accolades in New York. So, the story is that I came back to L.A. and immediately booked Grey’s Anatomy as a guest star. I was like “Woohoo! look at me! Oh, this is so exciting!” I was just going to guest star from that moment, but, from that moment, I had 200 auditions—in two years. And in 200 auditions, I only booked 1. My manager said I was “banking the auditions.”

How did you deal? Did you go into depression?

It was very hard. My mom was a prayer warrior. She would always pray for me when I was going through these hard times. And we’d pray together. It was incredibly difficult. I thought, I’m a dancer first and foremost and I can always go back to New York. So, by New Year’s of 2010 I said I will go back to New York if I go through another 100 auditions and don’t book anything. I gave it a good old try. I did it for 3 years, but I said, I’ve got to make a living! I was doing everything I could to stay and I was saying no to a lot of dancing opportunities.

Well, that year, doors opened, I got The Revenge of the Bridesmaids, three or four guest stars that year, so I said, I guess I am going in the right direction. Things opened up a bit and since then it’s been pretty consistent in working in film, tv and theatre.

How do you stay true to your goal?

It’s challenging and you have to overcome things and you have to keep checking in and asking if it’s really what you want to do. Acting and dancing and teaching is to me the core of why I’m here. It gives me joy and I get an enjoyment of watching people dance.

Back to AMTC. You were 15 at the time. Tell me what you remember.

Chryssie: It was a great experience. I went there through my modeling agent, not my dancing agent, but I participated in three divisions: modeling, dancing and acting. What I thought was really cool was that I had the chance to do all kinds of fields, which is what I ended going into. I met up with a casting agent from LA who said whenever I’m in LA to call her up and I did that. The networking tool is very valuable. I really enjoyed the whole realm that you could enjoy so many opportunities. The scholarships and programs for more training were also great. To give opportunities to kids to realize their dreams is wonderful. I was very happy to be a part of that experience when I was a kid.

What advice would you give to future performers who want to make a positive impact in this industry and for God?

I think using your arts in a way in order to give back. My mom always taught me the reason why we’re here is to give back. So if any artist has a way to give back to their community, do it. Giving your time and expertise. Finding time to give a free dance class. When you start to make money in the business, I think it’s extremely important to reach out to the next generation and to realize that it’s not just your gift, it’s that we’re all in this together. We need to help each other in this very tough business that is filled with no’s and filled with rejection and that it’s up to you to continue to hold on and that you have something to offer that you work hard at it.

I care if you’re being a good person out there in the world. Accountability and integrity are huge in this business. If you can be that in the world nowadays you’re on the right track.