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Dance: Coach Spotlight with … Canby’s James Healey

The Cougar Dancers coach talks dancing professionally in New York, what led him to the school, and taking chances

April 23, 2021 by Danielle Schneider, OSAAtoday

[Author’s note: “Coach Spotlight” is a miniseries offering a quick look at some of Oregon’s dance team coaches. Today, we are getting to know Canby choreographer and assistant coach James Healey. Healey’s choreography has propelled the Cougar Dancers to five back-to-back OSAA state titles in the Show Division. We provided Healey with a series of questions to answer. His responses are below.]

James Healey’s choreography has propelled the Cougar Dancers to five consecutive state titles in the Show Division.

In 2009, Healey started coaching and choreographing for Canby Cougar Dance Team. He was living in New York City and working for a professional dance company. During his occasional time off from the dance company, he would make his way to Canby. During those short visits, he would throw together dance routines and teach contemporary or modern dance classes. In 2013, he relocated to Oregon and started coaching, teaching, and choreographing for Canby Dance Team on more of a regular basis. The 20-21 season, marks his 12th year with Canby.

OSAAtoday: How did you get into coaching? What is your dance background?

James Healey: In high school I was a member of the Grants Pass Royals and Royalettes Dance Team. This is where I got my start dancing.

For about 15 years after high school and college, I danced professionally in Las Vegas, San Diego, and New York City. In New York, I was a founding member, rehearsal director, and lead dancer for the internationally touring modern dance company, Shen Wei Dance Arts. My role as rehearsal director involved leading rehearsals and teaching new dancers all the work we performed, so it was good training for becoming a dance team coach. For various personal and professional reasons, my time in NYC was coming to an end, and at about the same time, I became connected to Canby. Slowly, I started to build a relationship with the team and community. The idea of being involved in dance education and mentorship has always been an interest of mine, so coaching became a natural progression from professional dance performance to dance education.

OSAAtoday: What’s your best dance tip for a male student wishing to get into dance or to continue dance after high school?

Healey: Go to class, go to auditions, keep learning, and keep engaging. Universities offer dance all over the world, and especially as a male dancer, scholarships are available. If college isn’t in the cards, in most bigger cities, there are studios, workshops, festivals, dance schools, and more that offer adult classes. Dance comes in many, many forms, so if the drive is there, the dance will be there as well. Most importantly, in order to keep dancing, the dancer must train regularly, stay open to possibilities, be willing to explore new ideas, and continue exposing themselves to what is out there. I found most of my jobs by being in the right place at the right time with the right choreographer, and I was willing to say “yes.”

OSAAtoday: As you look back at your coaching career what is your greatest success to date?

Healey: I feel like there are too many little things that take a lot of people beyond me alone, that lead to most major successes. I am proud, inspired, and surprised, however, at how the very personal and unique creative voice that I reluctantly shared with my team, at first, has become a look and feel that is quintessentially “Canby Dance Team.” Furthermore, that my dancers grow to know me, trust me, and understand me enough to complete my choreographic sentences as we create dances together.

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