Editor’s note: In the Spring 2024 “Life Without Limits” issue of Showstopper Magazine, we reached out to seven people who showcased what it means to live “without limits” and found ways to break physical, creative, and social boundaries that stood in the way of their love of dance. Portions of these interviews appear in print, but we wanted to share their full stories with you here.
Showstopper Magazine: What does it mean to you to “live without limits”?
Judine Somerville: To live without limits means to follow your heart and dreams wherever they may take you. I have also found, when you participate in activities on a daily basis that bring you love, joy, peace, hope, fufillment, and happiness—like for me Dancing, visiting fav bookstores, and helping out those in need, and spending time with friends and family—ya just feel fabulous. In my humble opinion, doing whatever it is that brings you joy and uplifts you is the beginning of you living without limits.
Showstopper Magazine: You have spoken a lot about growing up in an underserved community in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn and how you went from there to where you are now. Can you tell us that story?
Judine: When I think back to my humble beginnings growing up in the Lafayette Gardens Housing Projects in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, I remember a young girl who began dancing at an early age.
I am also grateful and thankful for all of the families and friends, especially the late Vita Worrell who took her daughter Helaine and I to see Alvin Ailey at City Center, and I knew right then and there I was becoming a professional dancer. Another special shout out to Deanna Washington for encouraging my mom to let me attend the High School of Performing Arts. It meant going from Brooklyn to Manhattan (three trains). As they say in life, gamechanger.
As Celestial Choreography would have it, I was taught by my next door neighbor Sarina Robinson, who attended the Asambi Omi Laye Dance Cultural Workshop under the direction of Mrs. Linda Walker. The living room of Sarina’s apartment 10C, diagonally across from my apartment, proved to be a good space equipped with a mirror and Ms. Candy’s (Sarina’s Mom) blessing. And As they say, the die was cast. I was also a participant in Sonny’s Talent Show, that showcased the youth and was a fun activity to participate in.
Music and Movement filled our home and WBLS was my favorite radio station. I also grew up in church at the St. John Pentecostal Holiness Church where my grandmother put me on the Bennie Shepard Choir, and it was there I learned how to sing. I participated in every play and musical in elementary school with the full support of my awesome family (mom, grandmother, and awesome brothers Quentin, Michael, and the late Wayne Hawkins) who showed me and told me how special I was and that I could be anything in the world I wanted to be.
My first grade homeroom teacher Ms. Herman and Ms. Meyers (my music teacher who, by the way, I am still in contact with) believed in me and in many ways showed me how far I could go in life and the arts.
I attended a wonderful junior high school, Satellite East for the gifted and talented where it was expected upon graduation we attend one of the specialized high schools, Brooklyn Tech, Bronx High School of Science or the High School of Performing Arts. Katherine Solomon was our Principal. Both the staff and faculty made sure that each of us reached our full potential. We had a wonderful music teacher Leigh Powell who directed musicals and brought her friends from the wonderful world of showbiz to show us that dreams do come true and that we had not only the talent, but the drive to make our dreams come true. Ms. Powell was a great inspiration and made us feel seen and heard. She showed us the sky was the limit to what we could achieve. I graduated Salutatorian from Satellite East Junior High School and went on to attend the FAME school, High School of Performing Arts in NYC for Dance. (OMG!!!! Out of 2,000 applicants I was selected to TAKE MY PASSION AND MAKE IT HAPPEN.)
The next four years were simply awesome. I auditioned for The Ailey School not once, not twice, but three times. The third time I got in while in my junior year of high school. I went on to perform in five original Broadway musicals including the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray, On the Town, Late Night Comic, Crazy for You, and The Life. I was also a former Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.
Showstopper Magazine: Since then, you have been in some incredible dance spaces from Broadway to Alvin Ailey School of Dance! What are your favorite moments in your career?
Judine: Some of my favorite moments in my career are receiving the Legacy Robe for having performed in the most Broadway Musicals as an ensemble performer during the Broadway run of Hairspray, becoming a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall, singing The National Anthem at Yankee Stadium, Barclays Center (Brooklyn Nets), and Madison Square Garden (NY Knicks). [I was also] a part of the original Broadway cast of Hairspray and part of the singing sensation The Dynamites, performing at the Kennedy Center Honors, [appearing in] the Rose Bowl Parade, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, VH1 Awards, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The David Letterman Show, The Today Show, the Tony Awards, and Jerry Lewis Telethon. [I hosted] of Fidelity Future Stages, and [now enjoy] being a part of the Showstopper family as a judge and host.
Showstopper Magazine: You interact with people as a judge, host, motivational speaker, and teacher. How do you turn those areas of the dance world into spaces that encourage people from different backgrounds and experiences to believe in themselves and their goals?
Judine: I am able to encourage people from different backgrounds and experiences to believe in themselves and their goals as a judge, host, motivational speaker, and teacher because I am able to meet people where they are and really listen to what they are saying.
Two things I know for sure: we all want to be loved, and we all want to be appreciated. As a people person, I am genuinely interested in the journey of others which I find very inspiring. I treat people the way I would like to be treated, and therefore connect with encouraging others to not only believe in themselves but [to] pay it forward. I also share one of the ways one can believe in themselves and their goals is to be ok with making mistakes, which is part of success. Lastly, always count on you.
Showstopper Magazine: What aspects of dance do you feel are the most limitless
Judine: Going into a studio, playing your favorite song and improving to the music. Telling the story in real time and being in the present moment. Limitless!
Showstopper Magazine: In 2022, you were an audience member, who was invited to answer a question, which turned into a mini segment on The Drew Barrymore Show. The last thing Drew says in the segment is “When we are lost, we need Judine!” Can you tell us more about that moment and how you bring that kind of positivity everywhere you go?
Judine: The moment on The Drew Barrymore Show was a testimony to the phrase “Stay Ready!”
I chimed in on Drew, Ross Matthews, and Mikel Welch’s debate on thank you notes. I shared that when you receive a thank you note, your saying that you appreciate the person and took the time to think of the person. It is the thought that counts. When you open a thank you the card, and it says “I love you,” “You got this,” or “I appreciate you,” it makes a world of difference.
Drew said I “reignited [her] plight of the thank you note.” When I told Drew she was a connector and had a lot of great things going on, she jumped out of her seat to hug me. I told her she was an inspiration as she thought the same of me.
Showstopper Magazine: What advice would you give to someone trying to overcome their limits or break barriers?
Judine: I humbly believe the first thing is to give yourself permission to lead with love and grace. Identify what the challenge is and why you feel the way you do. Create a positive affirmation for the negative feelings that are presenting. Allow the negative thought to land, without fear, immediately comeback with a positive thought. If and when you are ready, write the positive thought on a cue card and read that affirmation or affirmations daily. This builds your positivity, resilience, confidence, and hope.
As my Mom always said “JUJU, nobody can do it like you.” In other words, we are all unique and have the greatness within. There is room for everyone at the table of life. Know that you are worthy of all of the wonderful experiences life is offering.
Keep up with Judine: @jvsomerville
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