Jan 18th, 2021
In today's episode, I welcome Mike Huerter! Mike shares his experiences participating in plays and ballets first as an actor, and then being "roped into" taking classical dance classes--and how much that has changed his life! His stories are heartwarming and powerful, and he discusses how much portraying certain roles has changed his perpective on his own life journey. (Fun fact: the cover image is of Mike and his dance partner in VidaDance's production of "Cracked! A Reimagined Kansas City Nutcracker.")
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Episode 035 - Mike Huerter
Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.
[00:00:07] Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.
[00:00:13] Roman: All I can do is put my part out into the world.
[00:00:16]Elizabeth: It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. It doesn't have to be perfect ever really. I mean, as long as you, you're enjoying doing it and you're trying your best, that can be good enough.
[00:00:24] Elna: Art is something that you can experience with your senses, and that you just experience as so beautiful.
[00:00:32] Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome back to Artfully Told . My name is Lindsey and I am so excited to have as my guest today, the fantastic Mike Huerter. We actually met through dance , but he has a long and very interesting story of sort of how everything came together. And I am just so thrilled to talk with him today and share his stories with you because he brings a really fun, unique background into his art. And so, Mike, thank you so much for being here today.
[00:01:08] Mike Huerter: Thanks for having me, Lindsey.
[00:01:10] Lindsey Dinneen: Of course, if you don't mind telling us a little bit about how you kind of got started and I just love this whole story of yours, so I'm excited to share it.
[00:01:22] Mike Huerter: Oh gosh. It's been quite a few years back now, actually 21 years ago, back in 2000 I was approached by a female member of our church at the time. And she had a question for me, said, "Hey, would you be interested in performing in a play for us?" And it's like, "Well, sure. I, I can do that. What do you know, what, what kind of play is it?" She said, "Well, it's actually a ballet." It's like, "Oh, wait a minute. I don't wear a tutu. I'm not, you know, I don't dance. I have two left feet, no rhythm." She said, "No, no, just hear me out." She said, "We , there's a place called Dramatic Truth that does a ballet every Christmas called "The Mystery of Christmas" and it's "The Nutcracker" ballet, but it's actually done to the true story of Christmas. And so I, I said, "You know." I kinda thought about it and said, "Yeah, that sounds kind of cool actually." I said, "I wouldn't mind taking a look at that." So did it the very first year and just totally fell in love with it. Fell in love with ballet at that point. Just watching these girls, 13, 14, 17, 18, just giving their all and could barely breathe coming off stage just fascinated me. And I actually got to play the role of Jesus--well I played, do a role of Jesus and Joseph in that play. And that was a very humbling experience in and of itself, actually.
[00:02:51] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So I'm curious though, because I'm so impressed with the fact that you were just like, "Sure I'll be in this play." I mean, have you ever, had you ever acted before, or was--so were you comfortable with the concept? Or were you just like"Sure. I'm up for something new."
[00:03:08] Mike Huerter: Well, I, I have the quote "look" for, you know, the Western American version of Jesus--long hair, back at times, still at my beard was still brown. It's got quite a bit grayer since then, but I, you know, I had done some, some school plays in grade school and high school and had done kind of a musical at one point in like eighth grade, if I remember right. And it was kind of a fifties hip hop thing. Oh gosh. The soda fountain type music back then. And then I had done some church plays prior to being approached by doing this and playing the role of Jesus and everything . Actually did "The Passion of the Christ," and that, that was, yeah. That's, that's a whole 'nother story.
[00:03:48] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Well, I mean, I would love to hear it if you want to share about it.
[00:03:52] Mike Huerter: Just the aspect of going and trying to portray Jesus . Halfway through the rehearsal, part of that production, prior to our Easter production, I literally heard the devil say, "Who the hell do you think you are?" And my problem at that point was I started listening to him, and I was close to probably being on the verge of quitting, just because-- excuse me, bear with me-- because I had no right playing that part. Yeah, it's , you know, I don't even come close to being who Jesus is. I mean, I can, I can show Him to the world is how, what I think He should be, but I'm not Him by any means. So I kind of talked to the, the pastor who was producing it and. She, she of opened me up to really delving in deeper into into my faith at that point. And so I started praying about it and kept going, going to the rehearsals and everything and, and shared with a few people what I was going through.
[00:04:59] And then one day at rehearsal, I was , I believe what I heard was God. Because I heard the devil say it again. It's like, once again, "Who do you think you are?" And I heard another Voice said , "This is my beloved son, and he's here because I want him to be here." Yeah. It just kind of set me back and it's like, "Wow!" I mean, "Did I just really hear that?" Did I think it? Didn't, you know, what's going on here and, and then distinctly felt and heard it again saying ," I'm here because God wants me to be here and to fulfill this role." And I can't remember in my mind visualizing, turning back, looking over my shoulder and it's like, "Hey, I'm out of this. If you have a problem with me doing this, you need to talk the Guy in front of me right now."
[00:05:41] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes!
[00:05:43] Mike Huerter: So it was like, "Hey, I'm just doing what I gotta do. And it turned out really well. It was a great production. And it just, it really deepened my faith just to put myself in that role. And then kind of got, I guess, quote "stereotyped" into doing it from that point forward. I mean, people contact me to play that part, and I love doing it and I mean, it's great.
[00:06:05] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Wow. That is a powerful story. Thank you for sharing that. That's...
[00:06:09] Mike Huerter: Ah, you're welcome. You're welcome. It's still hard to talk about it so many years later just, just how real that was for me.
[00:06:18] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. I think you captured it well in the way that you were talking about how it's just such a humbling experience to try to portray a character like that. Obviously that would, I guess, be kind of your ultimate standard of character, but just in general, trying to portray someone that you respect and look up to and admire, I mean--that alone is huge. So yeah. Good for you for listening to the right Voice, ultimately. Yeah. Oh my gosh. Okay, so then, all right. So fast forward, you got involved in "The Mystery of Christmas" and you obviously were pretty inspired by that, but then what happened after that? Because that kind of changed a little bit of your life from there. And then that kind of inspired you to start doing other things related to ballet. And I don't want to tell your story for you, but can you share a little bit about what ended up happening as a result of all that?
[00:07:18] Mike Huerter: Liz Dimmel, who's the Artistic Director over at Dramatic Truth, after years of performing in "Mystery of Christmas "--about five years ago now-- yeah, I was 55 years old. So she in her, I don't want to say "devious," but she's, she has a mischievous twinkle and smile she, she sometimes gives to people, and she kind of looked at me one day, said, "Hey , would you be interested in performing another play that we're going to do?" And it's like, "Well, yeah, you know, sure. I'm always up for doing something different like that." And she said, "Well, now wait a minute. Before you answer that fast, you might want to take into consideration that you will actually have to dance in this one." And it's like, "Ooh " once again, you know, proverbial white guy, two left feet, no rhythm. I don't count music and all that kind of stuff. And she said, '"Well, you know, I've got a DVD. I'd like you to go home, you know, kind of take a look at it and see about, you know, if you'd be interested in doing this. You would be playing the role of Jesus again."
[00:08:19] And so I took the DVD home and I have watched it, and really interesting piece . I kind of started talking to the girls a little bit about it, you know, and they said, "Well, we haven't done that piece in probably five or six years." And it's the piece is a, it was a production about what we all go through in the spiritual battle. Demons abounded in it, and they were tormenting for particular characters in this, in this production, and Jesus being the role of stepping in and intervening to help them. And really, really enjoyed doing the piece. It was, again, another humbling experience , touched a lot of people's lives. I was told afterwards even by some of the young ladies that I was performing with. And so anyhow, that that production was over and, well Liz--I went and talked to her, said, "Hey, thanks for, you know, thinking about me for playing this role." And she kinda looked at me and she said , "Would you be interested in taking a dance class?" And it's like, oh again , "Well, tell me more, you know." So she said, "Well, we, we would really like you to come and do our pas class 'cause a lot of the girls don't understand the dynamics of what a guy goes through and performing lifts and, and working with them. And we could, we could really use the help. So I thought about it and talked again to two of the older girls. You know, "We , we don't get into it very often because we don't have that many guys here." So I said, "Okay, I'll do it." And I'll call Liz and tell her. And she was ecstatic.
[00:09:53] And so I showed up the first night of dance class, and yes, they really did need the help. It was me and eight girls. And it's like, "Am I the only guy?" "Yep." "Oh, great." But I'll tell you what--that, oh my gosh, what a workout. I remember the next morning when the alarm went off to get up for work, I could barely move to get out of bed. My whole body was like, "What did you do?" But I talked to my youngest son about it and he said, "Dad, that's a phenomenal workout because your body doesn't really know what's coming next. You got different weights sizes, you know? And it's like, that's a great workout." So, and I, once again, fell in love with it and just kept doing it. Unfortunately, you know, this COVID thing has come along and I've had to bow out of it for awhile, but I even at 60 years old, I would welcome to get back into it. And, and they've already told me that they would love to have me back too. So.
[00:10:52] Lindsey Dinneen: Of course. Yeah. Well, okay. So first of all, for anyone listening who isn't familiar with the term "pas," it's actually partnering. So it's typically, in classical ballet at least , a man and a woman. And so, yeah, those kinds of classes are, I mean, they're, they're difficult for the girls because they're learning something, a skill that is more advanced and is challenging and can be a little scary sometimes because you're relying on a, another human to catch you and lift you and all those things. But for the guys, it's this tremendous, like you said, workout and responsibility and all those things. So yeah. Thank you for stepping up and bringing brave to help.
[00:11:37] Mike Huerter: Well, you're welcome. And the one thing that we'll say is that, at least at Dramatic Truth--and I'm, I'm, I would hopefully most dance studios are this way--but our number one goal and focus as a male dancer working with a woman, is to protect her at all costs. I mean, when you're trying, when you're throwing somebody up in the air, you know, things can happen. You try not to drop them. And thank God, I have not done that yet to this point. And I don't intend to, but you do whatever you have to do to keep them protected and safe.
[00:12:12] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes. And we certainly appreciate that. Oh man. I recall...
[00:12:17] Mike Huerter: I've worked with you, I don't think I dropped you at all, so.
[00:12:21] Lindsey Dinneen: No, I'm still here in one piece. Nope, feel great. Oh, no, but that, it made me chuckle because it reminded me of the first pas that we did together. There was this moment that we incorporated of a shoulder sit, and those things, those things are pretty scary. And I remember just, you know, doing the whole--because the idea is that you run to the--the woman runs to the man. And so you already have momentum going into it, and then you're supposed to jump and turn and he catches you and puts you on his shoulder. That's a lot of things happening at one time. And I just remember practicing it and it was just having this, "Oh, here we go," every time. Like, it's just a hard lift for anyone.
[00:13:09]Mike Huerter: But you did.
[00:13:11]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, it was, it was good, it was a good team effort. It was fun times.
[00:13:14] Mike Huerter: Those kind of things that make it a lot of fun. I mean, if you can, you know--things don't go well the first time, obviously when you try things and you just have to laugh and practice until you get it right.
[00:13:26] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Absolutely. So out of curiosity, since this was kind of an endeavor you undertook a little bit later than most people start--which is fantastic, I have so much admiration for that-- do you, did you have a lot of like funny conversations with people who were like, "You're doing what?"
[00:13:47] Mike Huerter: Yeah. I still get that actually. It's like you, you're! Well , let me back up. I will say that anybody who doesn't think God has a sense of humor , if people knew me growing up, then they find out I'm now doing ballet. Yeah. God does have a sense of humor. I would never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would be performing in any kind of ballet. So yeah. I still have some interesting conversations. Like, "Did you say ballet?" You know, obviously people get the ideas, like "You're not wearing a tutu or anything?" and I was like, "No, we don't wear tutus, but you know, I still do ballet."
[00:14:25] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. That's so funny. Oh my gosh. So, okay. So are there any moments, you know, either performing or watching someone perform, or it doesn't even have to be related to dance necessarily, but kind of any moments where you were experiencing art and something really stood out and you kind of tucked it away as a moment to remember?
[00:14:47]Mike Huerter: Oh gosh. There's been a couple moments in, in doing "Mystery" at Christmas where playing the role of Joseph right after the baby is born, I, I carry a really alive baby in the performances out to the center of the stage. And there was one particular year, I remember looking down at this , it was, it happened to be a girl . So , but I noticed one little lone tear rolling out of her eye and it struck me at that point that even then Jesus knew what He was going to do for us later on. And I almost fell to my knees on stage, just at the thought of that. And then there was another year I distinctly remember realizing and feeling is of it, playing that Joseph role, again, that at the, at the end of our little dance performance, I always kissed the baby on the forehead. And it struck me at that point that Joseph--I just got this overwhelming feeling of what Joseph must have felt like to realize he was actually the first physical person to kiss the face of God.
[00:16:00] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. Yeah. Those are two really big moments of inspiration. Just getting to think of it in those terms, it kind of brings more realness and, and humanity and, and all those things to this story that's, you know, sometimes feels a little distant. So that's, that's pretty amazing.
[00:16:22] Mike Huerter: Yeah. Those two, I think will probably stand out-- at least for now, anyhow--as probably the two most greatest feelings of my life and in performing.
[00:16:31] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Wow. Well, and so, you know, once everything kind of gets back to a semblance of normal, whatever that's going to look like , you had mentioned still planning to, you know, get back into it. So you were planning to go back to classes and perform and all that kind of stuff?
[00:16:48] Mike Huerter: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's my goal. I will, I would love to . Just it's, it's a good exercise. It's great exercise. It's you know, it keeps people connected , helps keep me young, hanging around with young, younger people. Because there's, there's going to be a day, you know, that I'm not going to be able to do it anymore. And I'm trying to fight that as much as possible.
[00:17:11] Lindsey Dinneen: Very good. Very good. Well, I, I always ask my guests the same three questions and I was wondering if I could go ahead and do that with you?
[00:17:20] Mike Huerter: Well, absolutely.
[00:17:21] Lindsey Dinneen: Very good. Okay. So first of all, how do you personally define art or what is art to you?
[00:17:30] Mike Huerter: Well, you know, art takes many forms dance acting, obviously drawing, painting. So I mean, for me, I think I probably gravitate more towards the acting, dancing role of art then, but that doesn't take away anything from any other art form, by any means , you know, musicians and all that. My sons and daughters are very musical. I love music. I, I wish I could play it, but I can't. So I'm in total admiration of people who can. I mean, it's such a gift that they can just-- my son's trying to, you know, he was trying to teach us to harmonize some time. They say, "Dad, it's right there in front of you." And it's like, "No, you don't understand. It's not right there in front of me. It might be for you." 'Cause he's got that ability where he can just pick out notes and play them, that kind of thing. So this would be a very sad world that any form of art . I think art-- it saddened me to see you know, some schools, they, it's not very high on their priority list. I think it's a great outlet for people to express their feelings as things that are going on, maybe emotionally in their lives. It's a great outlet for them, for them to, to bring that out without actually, without actually having to sit down and talk to somebody about it. I mean, they can express it in whatever form they want to. And it's, I think art's more for us, you know, the people are performing it than it is for the people that we're actually presenting it to.
[00:18:54]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, that's great. Okay. And then what do you think is the most important role of an artist?
[00:19:01]Mike Huerter: Probably just be true to yourself. You know, you, you can't fake art. It's, I mean, yeah, I'm portraying a role in something, and I guess people would maybe think that's fake, but for me, I want to do it to the very best of my ability. I want people to--when they, when they look and see me doing something, they don't see me, they see the person or, you know, that I'm trying to portray.
[00:19:28]Lindsey Dinneen: I really liked that. Yeah. Okay. And then my final question is, and I'll explain my terms a little bit, but do you think that art should be inclusive or exclusive? And what I mean by that is inclusive referring to an artist who creates something puts it out into the world and provide some context behind it. It doesn't have to be a lot, but you know, even title, program notes, inspiration, whatever to kind of help give the audience, the background info . Versus exclusive referring to an artist who does create their work, puts it out there, but doesn't provide context behind it. So it's kind of completely up to the viewer to interpret it the way that they do.
[00:20:13]Mike Huerter: Oh, goodness. That's a hard question because I can actually see both sides of that. You know, I guess I would probably lean more toward the inclusive because if you're using your art form to convey a message--and there are some people out there who have not been exposed to art-- so it would be as the, as the portrayer of the art, you might have a particular message you want delivered. And if there's no background to to go along with that, the message you're trying to portray may not be seen by the person you're trying to convey it to. So I think a little bit of context behind a piece is beneficial. But then on the other side, you know, on the, if you're a true artist, then we'll let the person see whatever they want to see in it. But I, I'm still leaning more towards the inclusive.
[00:21:11] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely think there's value in both. And it's completely up to the artists too, because they can, you know, make decisions based on what makes sense. You know, I've certainly created works that I haven't--well, I almost always, I have to say, I almost always add some sort of program note--but in theory, you know, art should be able to stand on its own as well, right? And then, you know, it's kind of fun to have the background, but you don't always need it.
[00:21:40] Mike Huerter: So yeah, a lot of it just depends on what you're trying to portray. If you, if you just want to do a fun piece to let people think what they will, great. Don't give any context. But if you really, if there's a message in there that you want delivered, I think a little bit of context would help turn the light bulb on, so to speak, for people. It's like, "Oh, I get what they're doing."
[00:21:59]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. So I'm curious, it's another question kind of popped in my head. So whe--you've talked a lot about what about these really, really deep, impactful moments for you. You know, you've had the opportunity to portray Jesus, which is a huge undertaking. And you know, so I'm, I'm kind of curious: do you find yourself leaning more towards opportunities that give you a chance to share something that's very you know, meaningful to you personally, or do you also enjoy more lighthearted things, or is it kind of like a little bit of both?
[00:22:36]Mike Huerter: I, yeah, I think a little bit of both. I mean, I think originally just because that was the only role I was really being used in was the spiritual until, you know, I got some other opportunities. So I, I, I mean, at this point I kind of welcome just about anything really. The, the aspect of a light-hearted is fun, enjoyable. I mean, like that little coffee piece we did, and we talked about before that we need to somehow bring back. That was fun. That was just a fun, you know, no real spiritual message in it at all. It's more of a an everyday person who's getting up to go to work type message. It's like, "Oh, okay." But yeah, so yeah, anything really? I mean, I, I just enjoy being part of it.
[00:23:19] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, definitely. I think it's fun to have a little bit of both too. Like, I'm all, I'm all about the joy aspect, but I think that it's, you can get that from, from both sides and it's fun to have, have some of both. Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mike, for being my guest today. I really appreciate it, and sharing your stories. I mean, you brought such depth to this conversation, and I really appreciate you being so honest 'cause I know sometimes those are, it's a little hard to be vulnerable when it's, you know, something that it did mean so much to you. So that's, that's really cool that you shared that. So thank you for that. I really appreciate it.
[00:24:01] Mike Huerter: You're very welcome. You're welcome. Anytime.
[00:24:03]Lindsey Dinneen: And thank you also to everyone who has listened to this episode, and if you're feeling as inspired as I am, I would love if you would share this with a friend or two, and we will catch you next time.
[00:24:19] If you have a story to share with us, we would love that so much. And I hope your day has been Artfully Told.
[00:24:27]Hey, Artfully Told listeners. It's Lindsey here. I want to say, first of all, thank you so very much for your continued support of Artfully Told, for listening to the episodes, and for being a part of bringing art to the world. I really believe that what we're doing is important and matters, and I'm just excited to share art with you on a continual basis. I do want to reach out to you. I do the whole podcasts myself, from the interviews themselves to the editing, to the transcribing, and then of course posting and all that good stuff. And I absolutely love what I do, but it is both time-consuming and expensive to run a podcast. I have to have the proper equipment. And then of course the proper editing software and hosting platform. And in order to continue to be able to do this on a sustainable basis for the future, I'm asking our listeners, if you guys would consider supporting the podcast, even a very small, monthly donation, like $5 a month, would really go a long way towards me being able to continue to do this in the future. And so I've set up a PayPal account that you can access through the Artfully Told website, which is www.artfullytold.podbean.com. And I would love if you would consider just making a monthly reoccurring donation to support the podcast. We don't have corporate sponsors. So everything that you hear is me doing this from a labor of love. And I love it, but I would ask if you would perhaps consider supporting it too. Thank you so much. Have an amazing day and I'll catch you next time.