Taylor Bradley ’15 fell in love with dance when he was 9 years old.
“I never really had that crisis of ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ I was like, ‘I’m going to be a dancer. Yeah, it’s going to happen.’”
Growing up in Atlanta, he says, a lot of his friends didn’t understand.
“It was uncommon for boys to dance in the South. Everybody played football and sports — but it was a no-brainer for me.”
Encouraged by his parents, he looked for a university that could help him on his path to becoming a professional dancer.
The University of Arizona was a top choice. Bradley has family history in the state: His great-grandmother, he says, was one of the last people born with a territorial birth certificate before Arizona became a state in 1912. And his Wildcat roots run similarly deep — four members of his family had attended UArizona.
He had planned to audition at Julliard, New York University and Point Park University in Pittsburgh. But his UArizona audition was his first and last. When he visited, he remembers, he said, “Cancel the rest. I don’t need to go anywhere else.”
“I instantly fell in love.”
And the love didn’t fade after graduation. “U of A has such a big, big part of my heart. Anytime I see a U of A bumper sticker or anything with a block ‘A,’ I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be your best friend.’
“My Wildcat experience is more than just, ‘I went to college. I went to dance school.’ … I’m a Wildcat for life. I went to the University of Arizona, and it helped shape who I am today.”
As a freshman, Bradley was already being cast in great works, like a medley of excerpts from “Chicago” titled
“A Chicago Suite,” set by the late Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst.
“For me to be 18 and people say, ‘Hey, I believe in you,’ ‘Yep, you have potential’ — the fire that was already lit literally combusted into fireworks.
“The ‘Chicago Suite’ proved to me that I love jazz, I love entertaining.”
That love, he says, is why he moved to Las Vegas after graduation. Today, he dances for Cirque du Soleil. The Beatles-themed show “Love” was his first performance. “It’s peace and love all day long, right? It’s hard to leave work upset when that’s what you do for hours.”
His journey to landing the gig of his dreams reflects UArizona’s brand concept, Wonder.
“When you think of wonder — you’re watching fireworks, you’re in awe. That feeling resonates so clearly with me. But it took me six and a half years to get into Cirque du Soleil,” he says.
Competition for Cirque du Soleil — a dance, acrobatic, and globally renowned production company — is intense. Bradley’s first audition was in Salt Lake City with 700 dancers vying for just 20 spots. After nine private auditions, he moved on to another open call with 900 dancers in Las Vegas.
“They narrowed it down to 15,” he says. “Fast forward, I finally got the call. I remember I had to pull over on the highway because I couldn’t stop hyperventilating. I was ear-to-ear grin.”
When he opened with Cirque du Soleil, he says, “I started crying on stage. We’re doing this big finale to ‘All You Need is Love,’ and it’s raining confetti, and the theater’s in the round, and I’m on stage with a few other Wildcat alumni. We’ve been together now for 10 years, finally sharing this moment on stage, and I just broke down — happy, ugly cry. Makeup’s coming down my face.”
To him, the moment was filled with wonder. “Realizing you can do it, and there’s no limit to your abilities if you just keep that wonder — keep it in your heart and keep your dream in laser focus.”
Bradley acknowledges that wonder can also have a negative aspect if risks and unpredictability lead to anxiety. For example, he says, during the song “Come Together” in the “Love” show, the dancers perform overhead lifts and other partner moves on darkly lit runways elevated 20 feet above the rest of the stage. “That alone is a wonder in anxiety,” he says.
“You just tell yourself, ‘Don’t fall in the 20-foot hole or put your partner down in the wrong spot’ — but yay! The joys of live theater!”
His experiences at UArizona, he says, helped him learn how to get past anxious moments. “You’re going to trip and fall,” he says.
Most recently he returned to the stage after suffering a foot injury while dancing in “Come Together.”
“You’re going to get injured. And you either let that get to you or you keep going, performing until the curtain goes down and you take your bow.”
Otherwise, he says, “Scary things happen if you get stuck in that negative sense of wonder.”
On the positive side, Bradley connects wonder to the idea of flow. “The endorphin rush: You’re sweating and in the zone, and tired, but then you hit this wall — in a good way — on top of the artistry, on top of self-expression, on top of moving your body.
“There’s no greater feeling in the world. There’s no higher sense of wonder than getting lost in your own art and craft and passion and sharing that with people in a vulnerable way that you’re confident in. You’re vulnerable in putting yourself out there, but you’re so fine with it.
“You get to bring joy to people — that’s the perfect storm.”
He’s trusted that sense of wonder his entire life, he says. “And it’s landed me in the happiest version of myself.”