A Wednesday night in the summer for a woman in her 20s usually looks like staying down the shore with family or going out to a bar with friends. For Nina DaCosta, however, she is wearing a zip-up hoodie and leggings in the music wing of the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. She is teaching dance numbers for a production of “Grease”.
DaCosta, 22, is a first grade teacher at Michelle Obama Elementary School in Newark, Jersey. She has been given the responsibility of choreographer for the performing arts company A Work of Heart Productions. Although this is her first time choreographing a show, she is not new to the world of dancing, or to the artistic director of the company, Angelo DeFazio.
DaCosta grew up in East Hanover, where DeFazio has directed shows in her middle school and high school. DeFazio reached out to DaCosta before auditions to offer her the opportunity, and she knew that she wanted to say yes. Not only does she know DeFazio, but she also has a connection to this musical because DeFazio directed a production of the show while she attended Hanover Park High School. “This opportunity was one I could not pass up because I am able to take my two passions (teaching and dance) and create numbers for a cast that is so enthusiastic, kind, uniquely special, and talented,” she said. Through this opportunity, DaCosta also works with founder of the production company Nicole Lippey, a teacher from DeFazio’s previously owned company, Theater Next Door. However, DaCosta met Lippey for the first time this summer, and she had nothing to say but positive things about both directors. “They both are two of the most incredible people I know, and I am glad that this production connected each of us,” she said. DaCosta researched for this position by educating herself on dance moves from the 1950s, which is the time period of the musical. She said that she also took the time to refamiliarize herself with the movie, which she grew up watching, as well as looking further into the characters. Finally, she took inspiration from her high school’s production back in 2014. “I also recognize that each dancer has different dancing abilities so I definitely wanted to provide modifications and artistic freedom in some areas for performers,” DaCosta said. “I believe that being a teacher has supported me in supporting performers to learn the choreography that I have come up with.” Although there are over 20 songs in the musical, DaCosta said her favorite number to choreograph is “Shaking at the High School Hop”, which is the opening number of the second act. This song is about the students of Rydell High School at their dance. “This number requires high energy and excitement, and when done correctly, has this contagiousness about it that makes the audience want to jump out of their seats and dance,” DaCosta explains. “It is a full cast number which is great because I get to play around with spacing, levels, and ripples. It also is just such a fun number that even when we are learning and rehearsing it, the whole room is just lit up with this spark from each performer” When this experience began for DaCosta, she said that she felt nervous about how her ideas would look once the cast began to learn it. After rehearsals began, her perspective changed. “However, the first day when I stepped into rehearsal and was welcomed, I felt so excited to teach what I had put together,” she explained. “Each dancer/performer took the steps they were given and fully embodied them and made them their own. THAT is what makes them so special and this experience of watching the choreo I have come up with really come to life” This summer may be just the beginning of a new chapter for DaCosta, who said she would be willing to choreograph more shows for A Work of Heart if given the opportunity. “Truthfully, it has been the most beautiful experience to get to work with this team and to feel the love and energy every single time I walk into a rehearsal. It is such a wonderful environment, you cannot help but feel happy when you are around each and every single one of these incredible people.”