It all started six years ago at the Woodbury Dance Center. That’s when Zach Manske fell in love with dancing. Recognize the name? 13-year-old Zach is one of the stars of the Tony Award-winning show, Billy Elliot the Musical, which opens October 9 at The Ordway Theater in St. Paul.
It’s a homecoming for Zach, who hails from Woodbury and started his dancing career at the WDC. Six years ago, Zach was just tagging along to his sister’s dance recitals when he decided he wanted in on the action, too. He started taking jazz and tap classes and quickly transitioned into contemporary dance and ballet. The latter two happen to be his favorite disciplines.
While at WDC, Zach earned top accolades and was twice named a national champion: in 2011, he was named Junior Mr. Masquerade and Junior Mr. Starquest. But he had yet to achieve these honors when his family vacationed in Washington, D.C., and saw the Billy Elliot show in 2010. At his dad’s urging, Zach auditioned. After multiple auditions, including callbacks in New York City and an entire year’s wait, Zach found out the good news: he had been chosen as one of several dancers to portray young Billy in the musical’s tour. From there he spent three months of twelve-hour days rehearsing, training, and learning before he hit the tour and the main stage. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” Zach said.
Touring has taken Zach all over the country for the past year. His favorite stops included Washington D.C., the city where his BETM experience all started, and he ate up the time spent in Los Angeles. He said they stayed in L.A. longer than any other city. Not only were the apartments that the cast settled in top-notch, but they also got to rub elbows with the stars. They mingled with the cast of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” and also appeared on an episode of the Emmy-nominated show.
Despite hobnobbing with celebrities, mild-mannered Zach does admit that he gets a bit homesick—more so when he first hit the tour. What he misses most about Minnesota are his family and friends, he says. While the character Billy Elliot struggled with a family that wasn’t supportive of his dream in his quest to become a dancer, Zach said his family is quite the opposite. They support him one hundred percent and he considers his ten-year-old sister, Rachel, his biggest fan. Rachel his inspiration to start dancing, and Zach says that she’s “such a sweet girl who is always there for him,” even though their mother travels with Zach and isn’t able to spend much time with her young daughter at home.
Zach does, however, relate to Billy when it comes to his struggles in other aspects of dancing. He recalls that sometimes in the past it had been “hard to be different; dancing isn’t common for boys.” He’s had to endure the already tough world of middle school, but learned to “push through it,” he says. And it hasn’t seemed to faze him. Bullies and middle school alike are a thing of the past now; he recently started online schooling and spends two hours a day with tutors while on tour. “Everyone [on tour] is so nice and it’s been a great experience,” he says.
His skills as a performer have grown while on the road, too: “It’s crazy how much I have learned while touring,” he says. That’s just what he wants to keep doing, too: sing, act, and most importantly, dance, and “become the best I can be.” He has his sights set on the stages of Broadway, but he doesn’t hesitate when he says he would love to do television, movies, “all of that.” While he basked in the L.A. sunlight, the fact that Broadway is across the country in New York City isn’t lost on him. He can’t decide which city he likes more--either way, Zach’s on the right path. Wherever he ends up is sure to be entertaining.