Ryan Steele's Big Leap

9.3.2013

By Daniel D'Addario

The Broadway dancer on physical demands and downtown love stories.

Photography by Peter Ross

Ryan Steele, the star of the new film Five Dances (in theaters Oct. 4) and an ensemble member of the Tony-winning musical Matilda, doesn’t count calories. When he arrives at 10 p.m. sharp at one of his favorite dimly lit Broadway haunts — having skipped, just this once, indulging autograph-seekers at the stage door — he immediately orders a Jameson and ginger ale. “My job has me burning a lot,” says Steele, who eats four meals a day and often pounds a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked once he gets home to his Midtown apartment. “I don’t need weird diets to do my thing.”

Who could argue? Not audiences of Five Dances, who’ll get quite an eyeful when the movie, directed by Alan Brown (Book of Love, Private Romeo), opens this month. “I don’t think it’s anything that’ll hurt my career,” Steele says about his very (ahem) physical sex scenes with his onscreen love interest, played by another real-life hoofer, Reed Luplau. “It just might give me a different sort of fan base.” Furthermore, he’s not the bashful type, because, as he puts it, he can’t be. “Dancers have a certain amount of comfort that’s a little weird to normal people,” he says. “We’re physical people. We’re always changing in front of each other. There are no secrets in a dance company.”

But beyond the physicality of Five Dances is a compelling story of an 18-year-old ballet dancer from Kansas who leaves his family behind in favor of sweat, competition, and a downtown Manhattan affair with another dancer—one that wouldn’t have been conceivable back home. Fortunately, Steele’s transition from the Midwest was less dramatic than that of his character. His parents have always supported his career and his sexuality, though he admits that in his early hometown dance classes, “we did a lot of punches and butched it up.”

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