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First Debbie Gibson's backup dancer, Merrick's Buddy Casimano finds continued success
Buddy Casimano’s voice echoed against the wooden walls on Techniques dance studio in Wantagh: “OK girls, start stretching!”
Inside the small space where Casimano teaches jazz, all of the dance students promptly dropped to the floor and began stretches. Casimano joins them, stretching his long, muscular arms toward the ground to reach his toes.
He sings along to Katy Perry’s “Roar” as he takes a deep lunge to stretch his hamstrings. “You guys go into the split, I can’t -- I’m too old,” he says, chuckling.
As he energetically stretches, spins and twists, the fedora he wears remains fashionably in position.
The Merrick native, 44, may be the oldest person in the Wantagh studio, but he is also the most enthusiastic. Casimano started dancing when he was 15 and since then has enjoyed a career filled with world tours, Broadways shows, and few slumps.
One might say, Casimano’s career began with a small victory in a 1986 talent show. With a duet dance performance to Yazoo’s “Don’t Go,” Casimano, then 17, and his partner beat out their classmate Debbie Gibson, who would soon go on to be a chart-topping pop star.
At the time, Casimano and Gibson didn’t know each other well, despite being in the same high school, nearly 30 years later, the two are close friends. The friendship began a few months after the talent show, Gibson said, when Casimano auditioned to be her backup dancer.
“He came and auditioned in my living room for a tour,” she said. “ We’ve been friends ever since.”
After signing on with Gibson, Casimano’s life began to change. In the next four years, he danced in four world tours alongside Gibson, performing in Japan, Sweden and Australia. He danced for Prince Charles and Princess Diana during the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala in 1989, which featured big names like Paula Abdul.
“I was touring with Debbie from 1987 to 1992,” Casimano said, “And then I did 'Starlight Expres' in 1994 at Vegas.”
"Starlight Express," a rock musical, helped Casimano segue into a career on Broadway. His footwork and choreography skills helped launch him into several shows including “Miss Saigon,” “Hercules Live on Broadway,” and “That’s Christmas.”
Casimano has always been ambitious. He started swimming when he was 5, picked up gymnastics when he was in his teens and competed in each. From 1980 to 1982, he swam in the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics.
Casimano never received any formal dance training, but an inherent level of perfectionism contributes to his success. Valerie Genovese, 59, of Massapequa, works as the receptionist of the Techniques dance studio where Casimano teaches. “I remember one year, him and Maria, my daughter, did a song from 'Dirty Dancing,' which drove me crazy because during the rehearsal they couldn’t do the lift,” Genovese said. “But during the night of the show, the lift was perfect.”
Casimano has lived all over the country for work but returned to his hometown in 2001, after the end of a six-year run with “Miss Saigon.” He said 9/11 had a lasting impact on Broadway because of a decrease in tourism and consequently, showgoers, which affected his ability to book shows. Casimano found himself out of work, but not out of shape, and he decided to get licensed as a fitness instructor. He’s now an instructor at American Physique in East Meadow.
Between dance and fitness classes, Casimano is also part time baby-sitter for his niece and nephew, whose parents lost their home to superstorm Sandy.
“Everybody needs some Buddy,” he explains as his personal philosophy.
Casimano said he still dances with Gibson in about six shows in a year. In April, Casimano and Gibson took part in Jam for Autism, a charitable show sponsored by Twisted Sister rocker Dee Snider, another Long Island native.
“I always try to bring Buddy in,” Gibson said. “Life’s too short to not have fun, and it’s always great to look over my shoulder and see Buddy standing there.”
Though Casimano still performs in gigs throughout the tri-state area every weekend, his eyes twinkle when he thinks about going back into Broadway. “I have a lot to do, and what happens is that I suddenly get this itch,” he said. “I can’t explain it, so once I get this itch, I actively seek what I want, and go out and audition.”
Until the next “itch,” Casimano remains positive about his future.
“I have a feeling I’m gonna wind up back into a show,” he said. “I’m not done performing yet.”