Dancer takes all-around approach to her profession

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Rebekah Gudim, a Burnsville native and associate director of Youth Dance Ensemble and School in Burnsville, and Jackson Grove are “swing” members of the dance ensemble in the production of “42nd Street” now playing at the Ordway in St. Paul.

The starting lineup of the reimagined Broadway musical “42nd Street” playing at the Ordway in St. Paul includes seven women in the tap-dancing ensemble.

That left seven parts for Rebekah Gudim to master, not one. The 2009 Burnsville High School graduate is the ensemble’s female “swing,” or understudy.

“It’s kind of a tricky line to walk because I don’t anyone to be injured, and I would love to perform,” Gudim said.

A dancer since age 5, the daughter of Bill and Nancy Gudim of Burnsville isn’t tethered to performance alone. Her talents include teaching, directing and choreography, a portfolio that enabled her to survive three and a half years in New York.

Gudim returned home last year, still eager to perform but settling into her new role as associate director of the Youth Dance Ensemble and School in Burnsville, where she trained under and now works for artistic director Dixie Rairamo.

“This is the career,” Gudim said. “This is where the trajectory is headed.”

But first, an audition. Gudim tried out in December for director Michael Heitzman’s contemporary version of “42nd Street,” which has a jazz-funk sound and tap dancing that’s been described as “jaw-dropping.”

Roughly half the cast members in the production — which features 24 performances from July 23 through Aug. 11 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts — are from the Twin Cities, Gudim said. The rest are from New York and Chicago, where the musical has been staged.

“It’s a pretty different style than the original,” a 1933 Hollywood film first staged live in 1980, Gudim said. “Our choreographer, Jared Grimes, is one of my favorite tap-dancers. I saw him on Broadway in ‘After Midnight’ quite a few years ago. I was like, ‘He’s so incredible’ — and now I get to do a show with him, which is so fun. It’s rhythm tap, which is very grounded and in the floor. I think in the old musicals, all the women were in heels.”

Gudim got her start at Youth Dance Ensemble and School.

“Bekah was the kind of student that if you had to put her in a category, she would be the perfect dance student,” said Rairamo, who has taught dance in Burnsville since 1981. “Joyful, loved the art of ballet, really all genres of dance. She was very musical — a dancer that you could depend on.”

The school is a nonprofit that emphasizes outreach programs such the Modern Dance Project, a partnership with School District 191 Community Education and the Burnsville Youth Collaborative. Gudim was always up for outreach projects and public performances, Rairamo said.

At Burnsville High School she performed in musicals under former director Randy Day and was part of Burnsville Swing.

“It is still going,” Gudim said of the swing dance troupe. “I’m at the schools every once in awhile and I see them rehearsing — still on Mondays.”

Gudim earned a four-year degree in dance performance from Oklahoma City University, a top performing arts school that gave her an academic scholarship.

“And I was back here for a few years, and then I decided I had to go to New York,” she said. “It’s just a thing that a lot of performers have to do at some point. I wasn’t planning on staying very long — I was just going to go and train and audition and see what happened, but I ended up loving it. I ended up staying for three and a half years.”

Gudim learned that Broadway isn’t the only thing happening in New York.

“I was working at a performing arts studio directing and choreographing kids,” she said. “And I also directed and produced cabaret on the Upper West Side. I was busy. ... I was able to support myself with performing and directing. It was creative work.”

Rairamo said she encouraged Gudim’s New York adventure. “You really do push your dancers,” she said. “You don’t want them to stay in a bubble.”

But there was a push-and-pull between the two over when Gudim would get New York out of her system and return to become her associate director, Rairamo said.

A succession plan now appears to be in place.

“I would say within the next five to 10 years, she will take over the studio,” Rairamo said. “She’s the heir apparent.”

A career trajectory hasn’t dampened Gudim’s entrepreneurial spirit. When “42nd Street” is over, she hopes to spend more time on her latest project — “Dance to Impress with Bekah Gudim.”

“It’s dance classes that teach, we’ll call it, club dancing or wedding reception dancing,” said Gudim, who lives in Minneapolis. “It’s more like for someone who’s never danced before but wants to not look silly at a party. That’s the vibe. What I’ve been doing so far is teaching dance classes for bachelorette parties, which has been really fun.”

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