I met Michael on my first cruise ship back in 2010. He did a quick replacement contract on the tail end of our Alaska run. Michael came aboard with sparkling eyes and calves to die for. I nicknamed him 'Rugby' on a whim because of the high socks he wore over those calves. He wowed our cast with his effortless dance technique and ease of rehearsal. His attention to detail was unparalleled even then, at the relative start of his career. We bonded on the Lido deck over book obsessions. I admired his proficiency in both sea and land life, and I liked that he chose outdoor excursions and knitting over getting sloppy in the crew bar most days. We shared an EPIC 8 mile, 3 hour hike in Skagway, AK that left us exhausted and bruised. We had no idea what we were getting into (it's still without a doubt the hardest hike I've ever done), and we considered turning back so many times. It was Michael who pushed us to keep going, and his intuition was sound: the view at the top was unbelievable. I went back and did that hike again on another ship run--I had to channel Rugby's spirit to convince my new cohorts to go up all the way.
I got to hang out with Rugby again when we were on separate gigs in Myrtle Beach, SC. I was in shows at the Palace Theater. He was rehearsing in a giant warehouse for the RadioCity Christmas Spectacular (a show he ended up doing in NYC and on tour, 10 years in a row).
I was intimidated by him--so gorgeous and put together and just a little catty. I loved his unapologetic Jersey accent and ability to stay classy, cocktail after cocktail. He never once took a sub-par photo. I checked more recently--he never did.
When I moved back to New York, Rugby and I had heart to hearts over coffee and bagels in Queens. We took our first gymnastics class at Chelsea Piers together--he figured out an aerial after a few tries, which was amazing to witness.
Soon after, he booked a recurring spot in the ensemble of Smash, and originated the swing role in Newsies at Papermill Playhouse, before it went to Broadway. He was the first dancer I personally knew to get his SAG card. I remember having tea in his 6th floor walk-up in Harlem to welcome him to the neighborhood. I wish I remember more of what we talked about. All I can recall is: it was sunny, colorful, and zen, and all the stairs left me breathless.
Michael passed away on May 1. I hadn't seen him in easily 7 years. I had gotten used to passively liking his Facebook posts and seeing him around on TV being fierce as f**k. But we amicably lost touch around the time my whole life fell apart, I got divorced, and moved to LA. I'm waiting for more details on where to send my condolences, but I can't help clicking around and sitting in complete shock at the notion of him just being gone. He was one of the most talented, levelheaded, professional human beings and dancers I ever met. There was nothing he couldn't do, but he never seemed to have a big ego about it. He just worked really hard and respected everyone in the room. He knew himself and knew what he wanted to achieve. A mutual friend posted a showbiz industry podcast recorded last year with Michael as the guest. The podcast is called E.A.S.E (Entertainment And Showbiz Experiences), and it is truly wonderful. Michael's episode is thoughtful, concise, and well spoken--just like anyone who knew him would expect. I learned he had become a Verdon Fosse Legacy Protegé, which is a massive deal. I learned that he valued his education and experience equally. I got some valuable advice about educating yourself on the dance-history-makers who came before us. And I just... really enjoyed hearing his voice, talking about what he loves most.
I understand truly nothing about Michael's passing. He was in better shape than most people I know, physically and mentally. I can't even begin to wonder how his family is faring. My only option is to sit and remember him, and know nothing about why he's suddenly no longer here. Fresh, reverent gratitude washes over me, for knowing him, and for having the life that I have when others are not so lucky.
Rest in Peace, Rugby. I loved every interaction I ever had with you.