The first thing that came to mind when I met Ali backstage after seeing Gigi was “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” (Shakespeare). She is overflowing with shining, positive energy and making her mark in NYC both as a performer and an associate choreographer. I was so inspired by her interview to see how she has persevered and turned so many negative situations positive by simply staying true to herself and keeping her heart open which makes Ali Fit For Broadway!
BIOGRAPHY: Hi! My name is Alison (Ali) Solomon and I’m currently the Associate Choreographer for Beautiful – The Carole King Musical and Gigi on Broadway. I grew up about 70 miles east of Manhattan in a small town on Long Island. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine my life without it! I don’t come from a family of performers, but we’re all lovers of Broadway. We often went against the stereotype of Jews eating Chinese takeout on Christmas and celebrated by seeing Broadway shows instead. I’m a die-hard Yankees fan; my dad had us collecting baseball cards and going to games from the moment we learned to talk. I was even a “celebrity bat girl” for a game and sat in the dugout with Don Mattingly, Jim Abbott, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and the rest of the team. Sadly the t-shirt still fits me (20+ years later) and I wear it to almost every game! Visit my website for more info: www.alisolomon.com
Q: Ali, so wonderful to have you on Fit for Broadway! You mentioned having an extensive background in gymnastics. How did that segue into a career in Musical Theatre?
A: My parents started my sisters and I in both gymnastics and dance at 3 years old. I think it was initially just an activity to keep us busy. We don’t come from a family of performers and I imagine no one ever thought I’d spend a lifetime pursuing a career in the arts, but I grew up loving Broadway. The older I got, the more intense my training got. My parents spent every day shuttling us between the dance studio and the gym. I really loved both, but as I entered high school I felt like I had to choose between the two. It was becoming more and more difficult to balance the schedules. There were several factors that led to me choosing to focus on dance. Though I did very well in gymnastics, I knew that I wasn’t headed down the road to the Olympics. Also, my gym was about to close which meant finding a new coach and I was suddenly developing a fear of the more difficult skills that I had to perfect. Though neither path is easy, I felt like I had more of a chance at pursuing dance as a career, than gymnastics. Luckily I trained at a studio that was well connected to the New York dance scene and I participated in several summer ballet and theater programs. I didn’t perform in school musicals like many performers’ backgrounds suggest, because my schedule was so consumed by company class, etc. It’s a pretty long story, but essentially I convinced my parents that I wanted to work on Broadway and started commuting to NYC to audition whenever possible…and the rest is history! Hahaha.
Q: What lessons do you still apply to your work that you learned from your background in gymnastics/fitness?
A: I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from gymnastics was discipline. I took my training very seriously and was always 100% committed to what I was doing. When you worked hard, you saw results. From the fitness standpoint it’s a bit tricky because as a gymnast I was probably in peak condition health wise, but mentally it could be quite taxing. Imagine the potential body image issues that can occur as a gymnast and a ballet dancer! I grew up in a household that ate pretty well (healthy) and exercised regularly. My mom is a marathon runner and has always been active. I remember having a jazzercise birthday party one year after years of watching her take classes. I guess a healthy lifestyle has always been engrained in me.Q: How does fitness compliment your work as a performer and now as a choreographer?
A: I think it’s extremely important to have a well-rounded fitness regimen. Personally, my body responds well when I’m complementing dance with other types of exercise. I went through a really tough period after I quit gymnastics. My body completely transformed and I didn’t handle it well. Basically, I went through puberty (finally and very late) and no longer had the gymnast body that I was used to. So suddenly I had to find supplemental workouts to add to my dancing in order to stay in shape. I’ve always had to work hard to maintain my weight. I’m not one of the lucky ones who are blessed with good genes!
I’ve been training at Mark Fisher Fitness for a few years now and it was probably one of the best fitness decisions that I’ve made. I often worked out in gyms, but I had a fear of lifting heavy weights. Like many women, I was afraid of getting “bulky” and I just wanted to be skinny. I knew Mark for a while through the theater world, and finally my best friend and I marched into MFF and signed up. I went all out with classes and semi-private training sessions and I quickly became obsessed. There are so many reasons why, but here are a few:
- I’ve discovered that I really like having someone tell me what to do when it comes to my workouts. As a dance captain and associate choreographer, I spend so much time being responsible for other people. It was a relief to be in an environment where I could let someone take care of me.
- I really felt like my programs were catered to me. We talked about my goals, my insecurities, and my body image issues.
- It’s fun! If you don’t know about MFF, visit their website and you’ll know what I mean. Working out there is not at all like any other gym you’ve been to.
- I’ve been dealing with a foot injury for quite some time and the team at MFF has been there for me through it all. They help me stay strong in spite of the injury. It’s about so much more than just lifting weights. They are the most educated trainers you’ll ever meet.
- They’ve helped me become more accepting of my body than I’ve ever been. It’s a work in process and will be forever, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Fitness complements my performing and choreography careers by maintaining my stamina and keeping me strong. You never know what will be asked of you as a dancer. If I know that I’m taking care of myself, I’m more likely to be able to do what a show is demanding of me.
Q: Do you think dancers benefit from being active outside of a dance studio?
A: Absolutely! I really like mixing it up. One of my best friends, Mario Martinez, is a teacher at Flywheel, so I try to get to his class whenever possible. It may be one of the hardest spin classes I’ve ever taken. He really kicks you’re a$$!!! But he’s got great energy and fun music and you leave feeling like you can conquer the world. I also enjoy yoga and pilates. I often need that kind calming and focused energy in my life! Because what we ask of our bodies as dancers is a bit unnatural (hello turnout), I think it’s important to counter that movement with other things. I want to be well rounded so I find ways of working every muscle group as well as physical therapy type exercises and breathing exercises to keep me grounded and healthy.Q: Do you follow a specific diet?
A: This is a tough one. I’m a vegetarian and have been for about 10 years. I don’t necessarily have a specific diet, because I’ve found that’s not good for me. Counting calories and things of that nature can put me dangerously close to eating disorder land. However, I focus on eating healthy and getting enough protein. I don’t keep sweets or unhealthy snacks in my apartment. My diet usually includes things like veggies, quinoa, tofu, and lots of water! I often make my own protein shakes/smoothies at home. I love breakfast and can eat an egg white and veggie omelet at any time of day. I try to be reasonable with myself. Nothing is strictly off limits but if I’m going to splurge on something “bad” I do so in moderation. I find that when I do go outside of my normal range, I feel pretty bad, so keeping a healthy diet actually feels good to me.
I recently started doing some research about anti-inflammatory diets as I’m dealing with this foot injury. It’s easy to get lost in searching the Internet but I have a few friends who are extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and the folks at MFF have their experts too. I’m going to pick their brains and see how that might switch things up for me.
Q: What is your favorite energy-boosting snack/meal?
A: Hmmm…I love a good organic juice and some raw almonds. I often have protein bars stashed in my bag in case I’m running around with no time to eat. I am also slightly obsessed with a protein cookie recipe that I got from a fellow MFF ninja. It feels like I’m giving myself a treat, but they’re actually pretty healthy with only 4 ingredients (no sugar or flour). I’m often on the hunt for healthy snacks that I can stash in my bag though – suggestions are welcomed!Q: You have an incredibly busy schedule! Any tips & tricks for finding the time to stay healthy and fit?
A: Yes, it’s been exceptionally crazy lately, but in some ways I thrive off of being busy. It’s the nature of our business I think. I’m trying to heed my own advice and get more sleep. Sleep is as important as your diet and your workouts. I like to schedule my workouts in advance and actually put them in my calendar. It holds me accountable. I know that I always feel better after a workout so having time set aside in my calendar assures me that I’ll get there. I’ve also discovered that I do best with morning workouts. My days can be pretty long and it’s hard to get motivated after a marathon rehearsal day. If I work out first thing in the morning though, as soon as I’m done with my workday, I’m really done. Plus a morning workout starts my day on the right foot and gives me an energy boost as well.
Q: What is your best advice for stage confidence?
A: So many things! I think what fueled my fire for many years at the beginning of my career was all of the people who told me I couldn’t do it. A former teacher of mine was not so supportive of me following my dreams. Luckily, instead of letting her words beat me down, a fire started inside of me. I decided I would prove to her that I was capable and now, years later, I know that in some way, each success that I have had is inspired by her words of discouragement and my own faith in myself.
There are too many people to single out so I’m going to focus on the amazing women in my life that inspire me daily. One of them is my older sister. A few years ago she suffered a brain aneurysm while she was four and a half months pregnant. She spent 14 days in the ICU undergoing multiple procedures and tests. Several of the procedures that her surgeon tried did not in fact work, but each time he went back in to examine her brain, she was getting better and essentially healing herself. I have never met a stronger more fearless woman in my life. My sister was determined, hopeful, and optimistic. She was fighting, and though I know she was so scared every day, she continually exuded bravery. It was a very long and scary journey for all of us, but today my sister and my beautiful niece are healthy and doing well. They are miracles and they are proof to me that no matter what obstacles come your way, you can overcome anything. My younger sister is equally inspiring and has overcome a lot in her own life. She’s one of my biggest supporters and I’m proud of the woman she has become. And then you have my mom, a marathon runner (at 60+ years old). I don’t know how she does it. Lastly is my dear friend Elizabeth Maria Walsh. Unfortunately she lost her battle with cancer, but she was the most determined fighter that I know. In the midst of undergoing treatment, she was always thinking of others and giving back in her own way. She started a non-profit organization (http://www.dancerswithcancer.org/) whose mission is to help heal those afflicted with cancer and other debilitating diseases through the art of dance therapy, as well as supporting orphan cancer research and serve underprivileged children with cancer. She was a gorgeous dancer and an incredible friend. She inspires me to live each day to the fullest, because that is exactly what she did.
Q: What is your advice for those trying to perform on Broadway?
A: You have to really love what you do. This is a tough and highly competitive business, so if you don’t love it, you probably won’t have the drive that is necessary to succeed. Also, the training never stops. There’s always room to grow and to learn. I think it’s important to be diverse. Continue to take class and hone your skills and don’t let go of your passion for your art.