What a Feeling

Everything is cyclical. Big hair, leopard print pants and, dare we say it, legwarmers, are being resurrected. And with them, “Flashdance” is making a comeback.

You remember Alex Owens — the “Maniac” in that oversized sweater. Few things are more iconic of the ’80s than the image of her draped over a chair on stage, pulling a cord to drench herself in water. That moment is immediately recognizable no matter when you were born.

So it wasn’t hard for Jacksonville native Ryan Carlson, 22, to connect with the 30th anniversary national tour of “Flashdance — The Musical.” He returns home to perform before his family, friends and previous instructors. Folio Weekly spoke to him over the phone, when he took a break between rehearsals. Unlike Alex, the show’s main character, Carlson said his love of dance wasn’t immediate growing up, but an affinity for music was always present. It didn’t take long to bridge the gap.

“I would hear music, and I would almost see the sound in my head,” Carlson said. “I would naturally just groove to the music. For me, it is a strong way to express myself.”

Though Carlson mainly breakdances in “Flashdance,” the B in B-boy, his character’s name in the show, also stands for ballet.

“Douglas Anderson was really my first experience with ballet,” Carlson said. “Because I wasn’t perfect at it, and it was hard, that’s why I loved it.”

Carlson has become somewhat of a poster child for a DA grad, going on to professional dance companies, commercials and major productions. His life is the stuff of Alex’s dreams. He credits his success to DA’s dance program instructors for shaping who he is as a performer.

“Without the training I got from DA, I definitely would not be here,” Carlson said. “Dr. [Phyllis] Penney [the head of dance] was like a mom to me, in a way. She helped me in school, made sure I behaved, and helped me get through it.”

The tie between breakdancing, the ’80s-born hip-hop movement, and ballet is more immediate than most of us suppose.

“They are very different, but being good at one will make you better at the other,” Carlson said. “If you can only dance ballet, or only dance hip-hop, then you’re not right for either of them.”

In concert ballet, there is just the performer and the music. Carlson welcomed the transition from that world into a musical with props, sets and costumes. “Flashdance” makes fluid use of these devices. The story line and even some of the songs are the same as in the movie, but the audience can expect more than just a rehash.

“It’s magical because we are bringing a movie onto the stage,” Carlson said. “Because of the projections and the way the production moves from scene to scene, it’s one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen.”

A production like this could help pave the way for Carlson, who wants to perform on Broadway. He’s spent most of his time since graduation on the road with various projects, paying his dues.

“I think I stay sane on the road because there are people out there working way harder than me, doing things that they hate for way less money,” Carlson said. “I get to do what I love every day.”

Carlson admitted that he’s part of a rare group of performers who don’t need to pick up a welding torch to make ends meet.

“There are thousands of entertainers who can’t find work,” Carlson said. “To have the opportunity to do this large of a show is an opportunity and a privilege.”

The stop in Jacksonville gives Carlson the rare chance to see his family for the holidays, including his twin brother who suffered a stroke.

“He has great energy and he always tells me that he is proud of me, since our lives are so different,” Carlson said.

After a short visit, Carlson will hit the road again. The value of this solid work ethic is something that he tries to convey to dance students when he’s returned to DA to teach.

“I tell them, ‘Take your craft seriously,’ ” Carlson said. “Don’t give up. Never settle. Push, push, push to get better.”