Dance Icon David Winters Show Us What Happens When Tough Guys Dance

One of the things I love most about The Working Dancer is the community we’ve created of dancers who openly share their stories to help the next generation of movers.  These stories are always so rich in insight that leaves our readers inspired and recharged for the journey ahead.

Dance icon, David Winters, just became the most recent #workingdancer to share his journey with our community.  Mr. Winters has written a book called “Tough Guys Do Dance”, in which he details his incredible career working in productions like West Side Story and with artists such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Elvis Presley, just to name a few.

Before we jump into some of the pearls of wisdom Mr. Winters shared in his interview with us, check out a few highlights from his remarkable career.


Note: Video is courtesy of Andrew Choreographer.


My favorite place to start is always at the beginning, and Mr. Winters’ beginning is definitely an interesting one. He had several near death experiences, starting at the age of about 18 months. At 7, he was introduced to live stage productions by his grandparents who were Opera fanatics. From that point, Mr. Winters knew he wanted to be an entertainer. “It’s something I always wanted,” he shared. “I was so enthralled with the stage and the people and the lighting. I decided then that’s what I wanted to do with my life, and I never veered away from that.”

Having a mother who was also a dancer gave Mr. Winters a natural disposition for movement. He added to that an investment into acting, and began working in entertainment during his childhood. He’s done 150 television productions in NYC as an actor, and by age 16, he was cast in the broadway production, Shinebone Alley featuring Earth Kitt. It was this performance that opened doors for Mr. Winters to become one of the most inspiring male dancers of his generation.

From Shinebone Alley, major choreographer Jerome Robbins saw Mr. Winters and sent him a personal invitation to audition for West Side Story. The Broadway production of West Side Story made way for him to be cast in the film production, which led to wide spread recognition from entertainers like Henry Winkler, Michael Jackson, and many more, all of which Mr. Winter shares in his book.

In addition to sharing his journey through entertainment, including details of his encounters with major celebrities, Mr. Winters hopes to do more with his book than share a few behind-the-scenes stories. “There’s always been a stigma for male dancers,” he noted. “That’s the reason I’ve written my book. I’m hoping I can inspire young boys so we can have more male dancers.”

Well, Mr. Winters is inspiring more than male dancers with his memoir. His journey offers insight that we can all use. Here are a few key takeaways about how Mr. Winters built such an amazing career.

1. He always stayed true to himself - which likely helped him thrive as a performer.

Mr. Winters started as a tap dancer, and then moved into jazz. While he was open to ballet classes for rehearsal, he didn’t force himself to become like other technically trained dancers. “I didn’t like it honestly, “ he said of barre work. “I always wanted to do what was fun” - which we see has paid off for him.

2. He planted himself in the dance community - which led to priceless networking.

Mr. Winters taught a jazz class that caught the attention of some well connected artists. One of the assistants from West Side Story invited Ann-Margaret, star of Bye Bye Birdie, who fell in love with his class and movement. She later referred him to become the choreographer for Viva Las Vegas, which he booked and then went on to work on 5 films with Ann-Margaret and 4 films with Elvis Presley…all because he stayed in class. “No matter what I accomplish in my life, I will always be just a dancer,” he said.

3. He diversified his skills - which allowed him to build a sustainable career.

As you’ve already seen, Mr. Winters was trained in several styles of dance, he taught, and he acted as well. He has also directed and produced over 80 feature films and over 200 television shows. When I asked him what his biggest tip for others who follow in his footsteps, he said, quite perfectly might I add, “Dream, dream, dream. Never stop dreaming. If it’s in your heart, it’s real.”

For more inspiration and remarkable stories about some of the greatest entertainers of all time, get your copy of “Tough Guys Do Dance.”


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