Haley Huelsman: Living Out Her Dancing Dreams
Only three years removed from her graduation from Daniel Hand High School, Haley Huelsman is already realizing her dreams. The 2020 graduate is currently on a 43-city tour of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Haley says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t focused and striving to reach her goal of performing on stage. According to Haley, she’s been dancing since the age of two and dancing competitively since she was just four years old.
“I’ve been competitively dancing since I was real young, like four. I started dancing because my mom danced when she was younger, and she always wanted her ‘little princess’ to dance. When I got into it, I had no idea what it was all about, but when I got older and realized and found the art of what dance is and the emotional aspects of it, I really fell in love with the art form,” Haley says.
According to Haley, dance for her goes beyond being in the spotlight or performing.
“When I dance, it feels like therapy to me. So, whenever I’m in a tough spot in life, dance is really a place where I can go to and express my emotions through my body. It really has been my safe place to go to in hard times and hard moments,” she says.
Haley not only performed in various ensembles throughout high school at Hand but also appeared on several reality TV shows, including Dance Moms and Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition as a young teen. Haley credits those opportunities in helping her develop many of the skills she needed for a career in dance and performance.
“I was only 11 on Ultimate, and on Dance Moms, I think I was 15. And we did those in LA and in Ohio for a bit. We traveled to certain places like Virginia; we were all over the country,” says Haley. “Those experiences were really fun, but I was so young that, honestly, I’m not sure I understood what was going on. It was reality TV, but it wasn’t really ‘real.’ It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me at such a young age, but Dance Moms was such an amazing time. We all hung out together and had so much fun outside of the filming, but when it came to competing and when we were filming, there was a lot of anxiety. I was 11, so I just wasn’t able to understand…that was a crazy experience for sure, but it was also really amazing.”
After graduating from Hand, Haley enrolled at the Institute for American Musical Theatre in New York City. That experience and the training and connections she made there further developed and honed her skills and the preparation needed for a major tour like Superstar.
“That school is literally just focused on singing, dancing, and acting. Every day we would have class from 9 to 5 and just constantly training. We had so many incredible opportunities there. They would bring in so many great people, Broadway choreographers and performers, so we were really opened up to so many people in the industry,” says Haley. “They brought in casting agents and practiced auditions and made those connections. It was really amazing.”
That experience was so crucial that Haley was cast in the Superstar tour before she even finished her time at the school.
“It is a two-year school, but you can opt for a third year, which is what I was going to do if I didn’t book this tour,” Haley says.
It took multiple auditions for Haley to land the part in the ensemble and also as an understudy for one of the major parts.
“I began auditioning last February, so it’s been a long process. I think I went to audition at least four or five times,” Haley says. “I found out I got [in] the show right before school ended in June. I went to a lot of callbacks. But it was cool. I feel really blessed and thankful to have booked a job right out of school. It’s a really scary place to be in. Obviously, when you’re first out of school, you want a job, you want to work right away, and that is tough, but I am so thankful to have gotten my first professional job right after school.”
Haley rehearsed last summer and has been on the road with the production since October. As part of the tour, Haley says she performs eight shows a week, and simply eating right, staying in shape, and keeping focused on a performance can be grueling for an actor. But Haley says she loves being on the road and the opportunities it provides. The job encompasses much more than a performer’s two to three hours on stage.
“We do eight shows a week. This show is very physically demanding. It is so important to get our rest, [and] eat the right food. It’s definitely hard to maintain that constant level of performance. But when you walk into that theatre and walk through those doors, whatever is going on outside in your life, we leave it outside the theatre. We just stay focused mentally and physically. But the cast and the production are so supportive and amazing. The company we are working with is so supportive, and they are always there for us in every way, whether it’s physically or emotionally…they are always there for us. We truly are surrounded by amazing people. It really helps with that stress because we know we are safe and just do what we love to do.”
Despite the challenges, Haley says the tour has been a magical experience for her and her colleagues so far.
“We’ve been all over Cincinnati, we went to Canada for three weeks; sometimes I can’t even remember where we are. Gosh, we’ve been to Wisconsin, Knoxville, LA, we’ve been to a lot of places. We were just in New Orleans and now we’re in Houston. It has been really fun so far. The cast goes out a lot. We obviously perform at night, so we have our days free to go out and explore. We get to do stuff and try new things, try new foods, and explore the world and the culture of wherever we are. The cast is amazing. They are all so talented, and we have become really close,” says Haley.
The tour will be coming through Connecticut in April, where it is scheduled to stop in New Haven. Haley says that it will be an incredible experience when she gets to perform for family and friends.
Haley says she is already preparing for her next role and is gearing up for auditions and projects when the tour ends in June. Her current aim is to be cast in a Broadway production, and if past is prologue, it shouldn’t be long before Haley finds herself on the Great White Way.
“I really hope to book a Broadway show or do another tour after this one, and I’m just going to continue auditioning and training,” Haley says.