I first saw Brian Young in a dark high school theatre at a dance recital back when my 3 boys were all still dancing. I’d had just about enough of the 3yr old tapping sunflowers – when the finale lights came up & a mighty might of a man exploded into the air! From a crouched position, center stage he leapt 6′ straight up! Now, I’ve seen a respectable amount of dance in my day but this guy…. I’d never seen anyone jump like him! Absolutely captivating! And I had to wonder, “Why is he HERE?” I mean this was a kids’ recital for a strip-mall dance studio. Brian’s answer to that question, THIS time is to pay it forward, to do for younger dancer what was so generously given to him during his training and career.
Many of you may know my oldest son, Barton Cowperthwaite, is a professional dancer & Brian was one of the most significant influences in Barton’s growth as a young performer. Now Brian & his partner, Branden Collette have opened a fantastic facility in the Santa Fe Art District, The Sweatshop, an audition-only, pre-professional dance academy.
LA: I’m excited to learn more about you, the man who had a powerful positive influence on my big kid and so many other young Denver dancers. Tell me, how did you come into dance & who encouraged you in your early days?
BRIAN: I grew up I Pueblo and was kind of thrown into class when I was 7 or 8. I’d be at the studio waiting for my sister to get out of class & one day the teacher, Carolyn Comi, asked me to join in. I hated it at first but committed to a 3-month trial. At some point things clicked & I was hooked. Carolyn made me her little star. She was the first to take a mentor role in my life. I’ve been really blessed to have several mentors help & guide me over the years. That’s why I wanted my own studio so I could pass that along to the next generation and believe me, Denver is a gold mine of talent!
LA: You went to University of Navada, Las Vegas(UNLV) for your dance degree right?
BRIAN: No, actually I wanted to be a singer. I was offered scholarships from both departments; vocal & dance. I chose the vocal department.
LA: So how’d you come out a dancer then?
BRIAN: My roommate at UNLV was a dancer & I was eating up everything Vegas had to offer. The dance department chair happened to be friends with Marvin Hamlisch. So one day my roommate comes home saying that there’s a performer coming in for a one-night gig over the holidays and they need 3 back-up dancers. I took the gig. We rehearsed for a couple of weeks, still not knowing who the headliner was. Then a couple of days before the show they take us into a rehearsal studio & told us … We were performing withBarbara Streisand-the show she did at the MGM Grand for the Millenium.
LA: Holy Sh*#! I remember that show. Tickets were like $2500 & she so rarely performs live. So wait… dancing with Streisand made you switch from the vocal dept to dance?
BRIAN: No, but I really loved being in Vegas & I took full advantage of what the city offered by dancing everyday at Backstage Studio where the professionals trained. My teacher there, Pattie Obey, one day asked, “Why are you here? You’re really good!” So she, as an original member of Gus Giordano Jazz, made some calls and got me an Artist in Residency with Giordano in Chicago for the summer and I ended up joining the company. I danced with Giordano for about a year and a half & was seriously needing to move on when Patty called again about a new company out of New Orleans so I danced with that company for a couple of years but it folded. Then I auditioned for American Idol.
LA: Cool! What was that like?
BRIAN: It was alright but i didn’t make it into the top 20 and I’d begun to wonder what was next. So I ended up back in Denver and joining Off-Broadway where we met. For a long time I’d been dreaming of opening my own studio and after several years leading Colorado Ballet‘s Youth Company things just seemed to come together.
LA: Yes, I’m dying to hear about how you found your space and what’s on the docket for Sweatshop Dance. At present you’ve got like 6000 sq ft of space, divided into 3 studios and are opening a retail dance ware shop in a month or so, right?
BRIAN: Yes. Finding the building was just a fluke. I drove by the building everyday on my way to Colorado Ballet and one day I just decided to call the number on the sign. We were able to cut a deal just me and the building owners and we haven’t stopped since. We’ve done all of the renovation ourselves. When I’m not teaching I’m swinging a hammer or painting or tearing out walls or laying flooring. We are currently ordering the inventory for the retail store & hope to be open with that by the end of November. We are also busy preparing for our next show. We’ll be performing at the Lakewood Cultural Center January 11 & 12. Tickets go on sale Nov15 via the LCC’s box office and we sell out in the first week.
LA: Brian, thank you for everything you’ve done to help Barton grow into such an amazing dancer, for taking the time to chat with me and for being so generous with the new dancers you are training. You and Branden (Branden Collette, Sweatshop Business Manager) have created something truly amazing!