Dance Like Everyone Is Watching, Part II

After a successful performing career on Broadway, Radio City and more, Steve Konopelski hung up his dancing shoes to purse a career in pastry arts. His journey has led him to opening Turnbridge Point B & B, and more recently to entertaining audiences on Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship". Having known Steve since our ballet school days at RWB, I was curious to hear how his skills as a dancer have translated into pastry. This is part two of a three part series.

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KM What is your fondest memory as a dancer?

SK I have been thinking about that a lot, actually. I think one of my biggest, fondest memories was Don Q, at school. Just because that was an entire year's worth of preparation, for one performance. I'd been on the big stage before, but for some reason, this felt like we were in the big leagues. We were on the big stage, we had the full orchestra playing for us, the audience was packed. We had prepared and prepared and prepared for so long for this one performance, and we ended up putting something out, for my memory, was pretty darn perfect. There was this little part of me that was like oh, we are professionals now.

This was also when I felt I had made the right choice in coming to ballet school. Even though we had done shows before and did shows afterward, this one really stuck out to me. I think a lot of it was that we had devoted an entire year's worth of prep to it (laughing) to the point where we were like, I cannot do the Toreador Ballet, again! Or in Act 3, with the lean back, on the bent knees in the relevé, oh my gosh. I honestly felt like I knew everyone else's part too because we had been working on it for so long.

That for me is really one of my best dancer memories. The other one would have to be the first time the curtain went up at Radio City Music Hall doing the Christmas Spectacular. Again, you are on the best stage in the entire world, and when you look out on the house, it's like playing to the Grand Canyon. There is just this abyss full of people, and the stage is like the size of a football field, and you realize this is so much bigger than just me.

And I think that's why Don Q stands out for me too, because collectively as a whole, we were all so proud of it. It just made that experience so much greater.

KM You could own it and make it yours, because at that point it was basically part of your DNA!

SK Oh my gosh yes! You knew that from the audience standpoint, nobody was going to say I really didn't enjoy that. And with Radio City - everyone is there because it's the Christmas Spectacular, and they are in the holiday spirit.

KM Dancers are emotionally sensitive and must be able to adapt quickly to new circumstances. For example: jumping in as a swing for a Broadway show, thirty second costume changes, working with a new dance partner, split second directions in auditions and callbacks, etc etc. How have these qualities enabled or challenged you working in pastry?

SK Having to think on my feet has always been second nature to me, because of the dance training. Because of everything you've said, the last minute changes, or even, when you're in the moment and your leg is giving out, what am I gonna to do in order to save this pirouette? It's always just having to be on your toes, all of the time. I think that has helped me because that is what I have to do in the kitchen too.

The emotionally sensitive part is a little bit harder, because I do have a bit more of a luxury in distancing myself. I think, the nice thing about the kitchen, is that there is less stuff to take personally.

I remember hearing in auditions and callbacks being told to not take rejection personally. But I disagree - because if someone tells you that you are not a good enough dancer, then you can work on that. That's not a problem. Talent, or lack there of, is something that's easy to not take personally. But it's when you're too short for this piece, you're too tall, you're too young, you're too old - how do I not take that personally? Because now actually, it's something about my person - I can't change my height. So when you tell me we love you and you are so great, but you're just too short - how do I not take that personally?

In the kitchen, that stuff doesn't exist. Nobody cares if you are too short, too fat, too tall, too young, too old, too blonde - too whatever - can you cook, or can you not cook? That's all we care about. Everything else is a luxury. You have a great personality and you are fun to work with? Great, that's an added bonus. But at the end of the day, can you cook or can you not cook?

So it's a little bit easier in that I don't have to bring in as much of my personal life in all this. I don't have to worry oh, am I pretty enough? (laughing)

I think that having to think on your feet and adjust is something that every chef has to do. Sometimes the ingredients don't work together. You've followed the procedure exactly and something still doesn't work out because there is too much moisture in the air etc, and that's going to affect the things that you are making.

I also think, that for some people that come into the kitchen - they have to learn that skill. Learning to adapt is a really difficult thing to do. If adapting is not part of a chef's "muscle memory", it is going to be the thing that just paralyzes them. It hasn't been ingrained in them to switch gears and change. You have to be able to let go of I really wanted to make this and commit to a new plan. Forget about Plan A now. We're on to Plan B, or we're on to Plan C.

As dancers, that is just something we've learned to do from tiny tots all the way up. And owning what it is that you do - even if you screw up. You have to able to say I did the best that I could within the situation, which is that whole dancer side of you. If I only pulled out three pirouettes but I really wanted five, I still own the fact that I did three pirouettes and they were still good. I am proud of what I am putting before you.