Meet Daniel Celebre, a dancer at the Grandstand Show who has worked with Michael Jackson
By Derek Neumeier
Imagine being at a prison in the Philippines, surrounded by 2,000 high-risk inmates. And your job is to teach these men dance moves to Michael Jackson songs.
While this might sound like the concept for a music video, it’s just another day in the life of Ontario dancer Daniel Celebre.
But for Celebre, 25, his most memorable experience was being hand-picked by Michael Jackson to be a principal dancer in his This Is It concert tour, cancelled after Jackson’s untimely death.
And now, he will bring the energy he gained from working with the King of Pop centre stage as part of a MJ tribute with the Young Canadians (a local performing arts group) at this year’s Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show.
Bill Avery, producer and director of the nightly show that includes dirt bike stunts, gymnasts and fireworks, says that the Grandstand’s main purpose is to entertain, making the MJ tribute a perfect fit.
“Michael has become very prominent with his passing, and is someone who has always inspired everyone in the performing arts,” he says. “He also fits very well within our overall theme this year, which is World Party.”
For Celebre, the thrill of performing at the Stampede (which he’s never been to) was only a secondary reason for accepting: more than anything, he wanted to influence his younger peers the same way that Jackson influenced him. “The Young Canadians, that’s what drew me to it most, knowing that there’s this program for kids to come together as a family and learn dance.”
Celebre, who goes by the stage name Da FunkyMystic, has been dancing since the age of four. After some mainstream success, appearing in Honey and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, he grew discouraged with the industry’s commercialization and lack of genuine artistry. So he backed away from professional dancing and took a job at his father’s deli. “I told my agent that I wouldn’t dance for anybody, unless it was Michael Jackson or Prince,” he recalls. “Nobody else appealed to me as an artist on the dance level.”
After a few weeks of making sandwiches, his agent called. Jackson was looking for dancers for his upcoming concert tour and wanted Celebre to audition, having heard through Celebre’s agent that the two shared a similar dancing style.
Amazingly enough, Celebre nearly let the opportunity pass him by. “When I got the call I almost turned it down. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Celebre’s dancing style, electric boogaloo (a fluid, leg-oriented style combined with popping), hit home with Jackson, as both men had received training from the dance group that pioneered it. Celebre was one of six men chosen to join the tour, and spent the next twelve weeks training with the pop legend.
“Knowing [Michael] and seeing how he lived, he was such a positive entity. The aura that he carried was magic, really magic.”
He remembers one instance in particular that defined who Jackson was.
“I’ll never forget the one day in rehearsals. All of a sudden, [Michael] jumped in the room like a superhero. The scarf that was on his face was now blowing in the wind. I don’t know where the wind was coming from! It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen because the guy’s not performing, he’s not on stage, and he comes in like Superman. Every day was a new experience that was out of this world.”
Celebre now wants to pass that same positivity onto others.
“Through these experiences I have the ability to help youth to find their direction, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m doing the Calgary Stampede,” he says.
According to Celebre, to call his experiences a dream come true wouldn’t do them justice.
“The fantasy became a reality,” he says, “It’s unreal. I’ve been floating this whole time.”
Where to see him: The Grandstand Show is a nightly performance after the chuckwagon races at the Grandstand. Tickets are $15 – $92.50, go to calgarystampede.com.