roberta mathes
behind the scenes

SAG commercial for sansui

this was a 14-hour shoot, for a 30 second ran on MTV for 3 years.

back in the 80’s my teacher, rick atwell, sent me on a dance call for a commercial. many of my dance friends were there and rumor had it, his assistant was going to get the job. at the audition we were required to dance around the sansuii stereo system, “soutenu” and turn it on.  ironically, i treated myself to a manicure earlier that day and was thankful;  they focused the camera right on my hands and fingers. i booked the commercial and i attributed it to my newly polished nails.

note to dancers: you never know what the audition will bring, so be prepared.

Click Here to Watch the Commercial.


copa girl @ the famous sands hotel in atlantic city

opened for david brenner, gregory hines, clint holmes and the miami sound machine

in january of 1985, my father passed away. shortly thereafter, (before i was ready to think about getting back on stage), i received a call from an agent to audition in atlantic city for a “copa girl” gig. i schlepped to AC via bus, booked the job and had to learn the opening act in two days. working in AC was cathartic since it had been my father’s  favorite recreation spot. after long rehearsals, i would order a caesar salad and a glass of my dad’s preferred white wine, pouilly fussé. as it turned out, as each dancer entered the stage an enlarged baby picture flashed onto the backdrop. as i began to dance, a photo taken by my dad years earlier, shined behind me. i performed each night knowing his spirit was with me every step of the way.

note to dancers: dance the “dance” knowing your loved ones are watching over you.


the liberty centennial ceremonies

danced (with gene kelly) at giants stadium

my younger cousin jackie (from california), also a dancer, came to live with me for the summer to give the NYC dance scene a shot. within a week, she had her first callback for the Liberty Centennial Ceremonies. while she was at the audition, i went shopping at Capezio and ran into a friend of mine who was looking for dancers for an event. we schmoozed, shopped for leotards and leg warmers and while at the checkout counter, not only did i get a great outfit, but got a job in the same production my cousin was auditioning for. when jackie arrived home that evening, she told me she landed the job, but  little did she know i did to-without even auditioning!

note to dancers: network. sometimes, it’s who you know.


the guiding light

the soap opera: the making of a music video, auditions and rehearsals leading up to video shoot     

when i was younger, i was always self-conscious about my body type. i was a bit “zaftig” for a dancer and had received comments from bob fosse among other teachers and choreographers about not having a “perfect dancer body”. (i auditioned for fosse endless times.) he appreciated my talent, but definitely did not like my body. that’s the preface... now the story:
i auditioned for The Guiding Light at the minskoff theatre, (the then home of the alvin ailey school). there were over 400 girls trying out for one of the three female lead dancers who were to be featured in the making of a music video. the choreographer was matthew diamond, who is currently a television and film director/producer.
as i remember, i got down to the last six and was thrilled. despite my bad self-image, matthew made me feel comfortable about the way i looked doing his choreography and i landed the job with confidence. it was a very positive experience for me. during the shoot, he even asked me to check out the footwork from the director’s lense. i really made an impression.

note to dancers: even if legendary role models give you negative feedback, keep going. you have the power. there’s always someone who will appreciate your talent and love you for what you put out there.


beat street

a featured dancer

Part 1: open screen actor’s guild dancer call; i had just scored my SAG card and went to my first dance call. lester wilson was the choreographer. fairly new at that game, i was not aware of mr. wilson’s outstanding professional credits (ahem, saturday night fever). the audition was fast moving, high energy with a lot of “leg”. i had good extensions and though my legs are relatively short, i always worked them. during the combo, i truly “ grande battement’d” and wound up on my derriere. i was disorientated and felt embarrassed, but got right up and continued with the routine. at the “wrap” party, a dancer asked lester how he chose the featured dancers. when it came to me, he said, “the moment i saw roberta, battement, fall and get back up to finish the choreography, i knew she was in.”

note to dancers: even if you “get down” - get back up and get the job.

Part 2: sometimes when doing film, there could be a shift with regard to the director/producer/choreographer, and in seconds, a dancer could lose his/her job. while working on beat street, the director had walked out. we wanted job security, so the dancers bonded together with lester wilson, the choreographer, along with the SAG representative and we rallied to keep our roles. at the end of the day, we were put on hiatus for a month but we got paid and finished the film with the new director.

note to dancers: get a SAG card. a union job can mean your security.

BONUS: lester then hired me for his next project; berry gordy’s “dirty books” which was featured in the film, “the last dragon”. from that job, i made more contacts and was hired to choreograph a film and a new MTV video.



a soloist

i saw an ad in backstage, “female dancers needed for Kismet”. the call was at 890 broadway where many major auditions and rehearsals are still held. ironically, around the same time, my cousin jackie (mentioned above) had auditioned for a kismet on the west coast. low and behold, we were auditioning for the same production! i landed the role as zubbediya. jackie got one of the abbabu sisters and we were both in the chorus. she got the job on the west coast, i got the job on the east coast and we met in the middle; the first show was in detroit, michigan at The Fisher Theatre.

note to dancers: sometimes your very best friends or relatives stand behind you (literally) on opening night.



higher love music video

growing up, i loved the group “traffic”. steve winwood was the major force in that group, so i was excited to be a part of his award-winning video. to this day, i still remember part of the choreography. (if you watch the video closely, i am the shadow dancer that appears throughout and have a close-up!) it was a two day shoot, which was unheard of in the 80’s. they used models and they used dancers and i remember it took them an hour and a half just to do my big hair and over an hour for my makeup. the album went on to win “record of the year” at the Grammy’s. during the award ceremony, i got a call from a friend who told me i was on the american music awards. i was at home, but then she told me while steve winwood came to receive his award on stage, they froze a section of the video and i was front and center for millions to see!

note to dancers:  you never know when you may find yourself front and center, or shadowed at 10 feet tall in front of thousands in the audience.

cool bonus: recently, a friend took me to a steve winwood concert at the blender in NYC. being the groupie that she is, we found ourselves backstage and she told all the musicians i was in the higher love video. at which point winwood’s wife turned and shouted, “oh yes, i remember you!”


new year's gala for king hussein

performing at palace in rabat, morocco

my esteemed teacher, fred benjamin, had his own dance company and occasionally, he did got professional work and would call on me. this particular job was for a five day adventure to king hussein’s palace in rabat, morocco. the producers wanted girls 5’6 or taller. i am barely 5’4, so fred told me to tease my hair, wear the highest pumps i had and a push it all up with a bra. ultimately i got to go on this amazing journey. one of the all-male numbers was cut and i had a very quick change. the backstage was huge, i ran upstairs to the communal dressing area, quickly changed my costume, and ran down the stairs (mind you, all the workers were lined up on the staircase.) i tripped, broke my heel and flung myself onto the stage performing the entire tina turner in “releve”! one of the orchestra members caught everything and winked at me.

note to dancers: it’s ok to enhance a bit if it means getting the job you want... and there’s always the golden rule... keep dancing no matter what and if you need to, FAKE IT.