Kurtis Sprung landed his dream job with Circque du Soleil and competed on World of Dance
With a thriving professional dance and choreography career that includes Cirque du Soleil, World of Dance and performances with celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Jewel, it may come as a surprise that 27-year-old Kurtis Sprung, BFA ’15, initially threw a fit when his mother tried to take him to his first class at age 4.
“She was holding me and I actually punched her and yelled, ‘I’m not going,’” he says with a laugh. But she took him back the next day, and with his new attitude after meeting the other boys in his class, he decided to try it...and stick with it. The dexterity and stamina he mastered for dance, especially in hip-hop, also served his athletic pursuits well, helping him excel at soccer, basketball and lacrosse in his hometown of Caroga Lake, New York.
But, being a star athlete didn’t spare him from getting “beat up and bullied” at school, and at 14 he decided to quit. “I didn’t know if dance was worth it. But after only a week, I realized that I needed dance.” And he was back at it.
After four more years of intensive training and traveling to competitions, Sprung followed in his older sister’s footsteps and attended the University at Buffalo—both earning BFAs in dance and choreography while double majoring in math.
“UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance is one of the best in the country,” Sprung says. “My sister and I also used to go to dance competitions hosted at UB, so it felt like home—we looked forward to going into that theater from the age of 8 or 9.”
At UB, Sprung deviated from hip-hop to focusing on ballet and contemporary—his primary styles today—and he credits the department for giving him the tools he needed to succeed.
“They took me into Zodiaque, the pre-professional dance company, as a freshman and I was able to learn rehearsal structure very quick. That was huge going into New York, to LA, to a ballet company,” he says. “The dance department also gave me the space to create my opinion, and that was huge: creating who I wanted to be.”
Sprung specifically cites Thomas Ralabate, professor and past department chair, and Melanie Aceto, associate professor, as instrumental in his growth while studying at the university.
“He [Ralabate] won’t believe it or tell you this, but he’s one of the fathers of jazz dance … I’m so thankful for Melanie and her class because the way she carried herself in conversations and rehearsals was really impressive and nice to learn from,” Sprung says.
Rather than moving to LA after graduation, Sprung took his agents’ advice and went to New York City, where he performed commercially for nine months before taking an assistant choreographer position in Arizona with the Phoenix Ballet. He then moved to Las Vegas after auditioning for—and landing—his “dream job:” a main character role in the Beatles-inspired Cirque du Soleil show “Love.” The audition was grueling, he says, “Because when you’re on those jobs doing 10 shows a week, you have to be mentally strong more than physically.”
After a year-and-a-half run with Cirque, Sprung finally made it to LA, where he competed on season four of World of Dance in front of celebrity judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and Ne-Yo—not to mention millions of viewers.
“It was really fun getting to share with such a huge audience,” he says. “That’s one of my favorite things about dance: performing and sharing with other people who want to take in the same thing that you love.” Competing as one of 16 upper division performers, Sprung advanced through the competition qualifier and the head-to-head “duels” rounds, making it all the way to the upper division semi-finals alongside five other acts.
“That’s one of my favorite things about dance: performing and sharing with other people who want to take in the same thing that you love.”
Kurtis Sprung, BFA '15
Living in LA with his girlfriend, fellow dancer and UB alumna Angel Mammoliti, BFA ‘16, and their three cats, the couple turned their living room into a dance studio during COVID-19 and used Zoom for classes and teaching. Sprung adds that he also produces music at home, something he started “back in my freshman dorm with some buddies.”
Much like how Sprung has flourished with his years of training and creating a characteristic dance style based on his own unique experiences, his advice to young dancers is to do their homework and embrace what makes them different.
“Research the choreographers and artists you want to work with and follow them on Instagram,” he says. “And research your own body and opinion so that when you’re asked to ‘speak’ in a dance class, you’ll stand out from the other people that are there.”