Anne-Marie Galler started dancing at three years old, landed her first paying gig at 15 and was hired as a full-time dancer on a cruise ship at the age of 17. By 22, she’d secured her Equity card and was dancing on Broadway soon after.
Today, she works as a choreographer and is well-known for her ability to get even the most awkward, uncoordinated kids to dance in unison with their castmates. She just wrapped up her work with John Jay Middle School for the spring musical “Back to the 80s,” which will be performed March 11 at 7:00 p.m. and March 12 at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. At the same time, she’s also working with John Jay High School on their production of “The Wedding Singer,” which will be performed March 31 – April 2 at 7:00 p.m. and April 2 at 1:00 p.m.
We’ve been trying to get on Anne-Marie’s calendar for the past week, but she’s a tough one to snag. Luckily, she had a 30-minute drive the other day with, believe it or not, good reception the entire way!
Katonah Connect: When did your career take off?
Anne-Marie Galler: When I was 19, I was hired for a regional kid’s theater, and I had regular work after that. By 22, I was still non-Equity, but I was auditioning a lot. Then in one week, I was hired for three jobs: lead dancer in “West Side Story” with choreographer Jerome Robbins, a dancer on Michael Jackson’s tour, and as a playmate right after Playboy reopened their club.
KC: Wow! Which one did you choose?
A-MG: I really wanted to do musical theater so I chose “West Side Story.” I was the lead dancer and the understudy for Maria, and that’s how I got my Equity card. It’s a really hard way to get your card because they always try to hire an Equity member for those roles, but they couldn’t find one, so I got the job and the card.
KC: What came next?
From there, I did another regional theater show and then landed “Me and My Girl” as my first Broadway show. It was a huge hit. I was still 22 years old, and I was the youngest in the cast. After that, I did a bunch of industrials (editor’s note: that’s industry-speak for corporate conventions with gigantic budgets), and then I did another short-lived Broadway show called “The Prince of Central Park” and some more regional theater before going into restaurant management. I needed a break. I was burned out after working in the industry for 15 years.
…Fast forward to the year 2000 when Anne-Marie, after working for some of the biggest restaurant groups in Manhattan, decided she missed dancing, turned in her notice and began teaching dance. Three years later, she was hired to choreograph “West Side Story” at the Yorktown Stage…
A-MG: When they offered me the job, I was three months pregnant, and I told them I needed to think about it. I decided to do it and use Robbins’ original choreography. And the story goes, towards the end of rehearsals, every time I did a battement kick, the entire cast would gasp. I was constantly convincing them I was fine! I was very pregnant by the end and very big. In fact, the weekend the show closed, I was having Braxton Hicks contractions.
KC: So, when did you start choreographing the John Jay middle and high school productions?
A-MG: I started choreographing at the high school in 2006. I sent my resume in and eventually received a call from the assistant producer. He told me Amy Geiger was looking for a choreographer and found my resume in a trash can!
A-MG: Yes. It’s a long story. But she came over to my house, had coffee on my porch while my son was napping and they hired me. It was a match made in heaven. I choreographed every musical until 2017. I didn’t choreograph the musicals between 2017 and 2019, but I started with the middle school in 2018. I’m back with the high school now, and I think I’m on my 17th and 18th productions for KLSD.
KC: The JJMS production of “Back to the ‘80s” is this weekend. What number are you most proud of?
A-MG: Oh, I love a bunch of them. I love the opening – it’s really fun – they’re singing and dancing to “Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go.” I also love “Hey Mickey” because I really took a page out of the music video for that. The movements are very sharp, and the kids look really cute doing it.
KC: What about the JJHS performance of “The Wedding Singer?”
A-MG: Oh, boy, let me tell you, that one is a lot of work! There’s a ton of dance in it. Again, the opening number is really great – it’s full of lifts. Really, really fun stuff. I’m also doing two other huge numbers. “Saturday Night” is eight minutes long and interspersed with dialogue – it’s really quite something! “All About the Green” is very robotic and precise, and the kids look fabulous! I’m so excited for that one, too.
KC: Tell us something that really shocks you.
A-MG: I’m known for dance-heavy shows – I really try not to dumb things down at all. I want to maintain the show’s integrity, and I sometimes recreate movements from Broadway. I am always, always shocked at how far these kids come from the first day they walk into my room to how professional the productions look by the end. I know I shouldn’t be, but they bring my vision to life in such a way that I’m shocked, but it’s a fabulous shock!
KC: If you could pick one musical to choreograph, which one would it be?
A-MG: I adore “West Side Story.” I loved doing that and would do it again. The other one would be “The Prom.”
KC: What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you on stage?
A-MG: I have a couple of stories, but there’s one day that was legendary. So, occasionally, you’ll see a production where the orchestra is under the stage with a lip of stage in front of it. Once, while dancing on stage, another dancer cut me off and I fell on the pianist and broke his hand! Someone pushed me back up on stage, and I continued the number. Later during that same show, I also kicked a high heel tap shoe off my foot and into the second row of the audience!
KC: Did you hurt anybody?
A-MG: I don’t know. I was laughing too hard!
KC: What’s your dream job?
A-MG: Oh boy. I would love to just choreograph everywhere – regional theaters, cruise ships, Broadway, of course. But even if I didn’t do that, to be constantly choreographing is my dream job.
KC: What job would be your worst nightmare?
A-MG: A receptionist in a dental office.
And on that note, we hope you’ll witness Anne-Marie’s magic for yourself in “Back to the 80s” this weekend and “The Wedding Singer” at the end of the month. They’re much more fun than a root canal – we promise!
Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and the editor in chief/co-publisher of Katonah Connect. She says she’s living the dream she never knew she had. Gia enjoys telling people’s stories, laughing at her crazy dog and a good podcast. She thanks multiple alarms, fermented grapes and her husband for helping her get through each day. Her love languages are food and humor.