Backup dancer Buddy Casimano, 54, of Point Lookout, rehearses with...

Backup dancer Buddy Casimano, 54, of Point Lookout, rehearses with singer Debbie Gibson on Feb. 26 in Manhattan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

When one thinks about backup dancers, the athletic gentlemen in Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” film might come to mind. Or maybe the gang in white hoodies from Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl performance. A middle-aged bald guy in Christmas pajamas? Not so much.

And yet, here is Buddy Casimano, a 54-year-old Point Lookout resident who was first hired as a backup dancer for Debbie Gibson in 1987. Casimano finished Gibson’s “Winterlicious” tour (hence the pajamas) in December, and just embarked on yet another world tour with the Merrick-raised pop singer, this time to celebrate the 35th anniversary of her “Electric Youth” album, released on Jan. 24, 1989.

“In a million years, I could not believe that at this age I would still be doing this,” Casimano said in a recent phone interview. He remembers joking with Gibson about still dancing when “we were old and our backs were bent.”

He added with a chuckle, “We’re getting close.”

I don’t try to pretend we are 20. I simply preach agelessness.

Debbie Gibson

For Gibson, who is 53, Casimano’s age is not an issue.

“I don’t try to pretend we are 20,” she said. “I simply preach agelessness.”

To her fans, she said, Casimano represents “what it means to be timeless and to not be discriminated against for age.”

Hiring Casimano was “one of the easiest and best decisions of my life,” she said. What makes him stand out as a dancer is “his unique brand of charisma . . . Nobody leaves a show without commenting on Buddy’s incredible energy.”

Noting that Casimano has been with her through all the “ups and downs and twists of my career,” she said he “always keeps me smiling and laughing. I am not sure how many career artists like me . . . can say that about anybody on their stage.”

His dance ticket

Growing up in Merrick, Casimano said he was initially more interested in athletics than in dance. He started out as a swimmer after being diagnosed with asthma at age 5 — a doctor suggested it would build up his lungs.

“That started my love of athletics,” he said, noting that even at that young age, he had set his sights on the Olympics.

Then when he was 8, he watched the movie “Grease” and said he was mesmerized by a man doing backflips. He checked out a book from the library and taught himself to do flips on his front lawn, thus starting his journey into competitive gymnastics. Again, the Olympics were his goal. “Everything I do, I have to do full force,” he said.

His life changed when he was in the eighth grade and his aunt got him tickets to the Jackson 5 “Victory Tour” at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Watching Michael Jackson dance, he said he decided, “I’m going to do that.” Watching his sister perform “Thriller” in a dance recital sealed the deal.

“I was getting to the age when you’re going to have to decide stuff,” he said. “I felt like dance was my ticket, how I’d get to be the guy on the screen doing backflips.”

Casimano said he got a full scholarship to Dance Arts in Merrick and was immediately hooked. “I quit everything else,” he said.

Casimano’s first paid job as a dancer was performing with a friend in Massapequa singer Frank Haskell’s music video for an MTV contest. “I was 15 years old,” he said. “We might have gotten paid 50 bucks and free lunches, and we thought it was the greatest thing in the whole world.” The video won the competition and was aired frequently, he said.

“People would recognize me as the kid who did the flips,” he said. “I felt like a superstar.”  

Long ties to Gibson

In 1986, he entered a talent show at Merrick’s Sanford H. Calhoun High School, which he attended in the afternoon after morning dance classes at Nassau BOCES’ Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset. Dancing again with his friend from the MTV video, he remembers feeling “we were cool as cool when all of the sudden this girl steps out to sing . . . She goes to the front of the stage and belts out this original song.”

It was Gibson and, he said, “We were pretty sure we’d lost.” But to their shock, they beat her. “Obviously, she wasn’t famous yet,” Casimano said.

It wasn’t until a year later, he said, that she got her first recording contract.

“I never presume anything, so I was not surprised when I lost” the talent show, Gibson said. She said she was “wowed” by Casimano’s performance, “like everybody else in that audience.”

Buddy Casimano, left, dances with singer Debbie Gibson and Eddie...

Buddy Casimano, left, dances with singer Debbie Gibson and Eddie Bennett at a rehearsal in Manhattan in February. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Then, Casimano was auditioning for a Dr. Pepper commercial, but the organizers thought he looked too old (that’s show biz, he was 17). Someone at the audition told him Gibson was looking for dancers for her world tour. He said he called her, and she remembered him from the contest. “She hired me from her kitchen,” he said.

Casimano joined Gibson on three world tours, eventually adding choreography to his duties. But at some point in the early ’90s, things changed. “It was different in those days,” he said. “We didn’t have streaming and YouTube ... MTV went grunge, they dropped all their teen acts. She went from being on top of the charts to kind of nothing.”

Paths veered

While Gibson embarked on a flourishing Broadway career, Casimano took a job as a receptionist in Manhattan. “I was there for six months and I thought I was going to jump off the roof of the building,” he remembers. On a lunch break in 1994, he walked in to an audition for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Starlight Express,” and as luck would have it, the company needed an immediate replacement in its Las Vegas cast.

“I went back to my job and quit,” he said, the glee still evident. “It was a Wednesday. I packed my bags and I was in Vegas working on roller skates on Monday.”

Casimano, left, playing Rocky 3 in the Las Vegas company...

Casimano, left, playing Rocky 3 in the Las Vegas company of "Starlight Express" in 1995. Credit: Julie Casimano

Roller skates? Yes, dancers in that show are required to perform on skates.

“Thankfully, I was an athletic child. I went to Levittown Roller Rink in eighth and ninth grade because that’s what you did,” he remembers.

Nonetheless, he said it was rough going at first. “I thought I’d made all the wrong choices,” he said. “I cried all night, my feet were bloody, I was having anxiety attacks.”

But it got better. “You realize your body can do it,” he said. “All of the sudden, I was flipping on my skates and loving it.”

From there, Casimano said he was hired for the first national tour of the musical “Miss Saigon,” eventually joining the Broadway company until it closed. “I was working, working, working,” he said, but he still didn’t think of himself as a musical theater performer. “I was just the kid who saw a pop star onstage and wanted to be one of the dancers,” he said. “All I wanted to do was a Janet Jackson video.”

Love intervened at some point and Casimano took a break. “I found a boyfriend, but I was hating it,” he said. When the relationship ended in 2006, he said, “I was living the life of a ‘Desperate Housewife’ up in Connecticut.”  

Reunion with Gibson

Gibson, about to do a show in Atlantic City, came to the rescue. “You’re going to pick yourself up and come dance with me,” he remembers his friend telling him. “And you’re going to feel better.”

It worked. “That reignited everything,” Casimano said. “That was it.”

Casimano was along for the ride as Gibson’s career took off — again — with the release of her 2021 album, “The Body Remembers,” and has joined her on multiple world tours.

Now, the company is at it again, celebrating the 35th anniversary of “Electric Youth” with a tour that started in late February with an ’80s cruise out of Port Canaveral, Florida. They will move on to Honolulu, the Philippines and Singapore in April.

“At this point, we’re so much more than backup dancers,” Casimano said of his role in the show, especially his partnership with fellow dancer Eddie Bennett. The pair, who call themselves the “Bookend Baldies,” do more than just dance these days.

Casimano, Gibson and Bennett performing at The Paramount in Huntington...

Casimano, Gibson and Bennett performing at The Paramount in Huntington on Dec. 1, 2022. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Gibson “gives us the stage and we’ll have five minutes to chat with the audience or sing a song,” he said.

“There’s something special about Buddy,” said Bennett, 45, of Maplewood, New Jersey.

Bennett, who performs in the Broadway cast of “Chicago” when he’s not dancing with Gibson, noted the strength and conditioning needed to be a dancer at Casimano’s age.

“He’s like a unicorn in dance. I mean, you don’t meet a lot of 50-something dancers anymore,” Bennett said.

Offstage, Bennett said, “Buddy has the biggest heart I know. If I need anything in my life, he will be there in a heartbeat.”

Other than Gibson, Casimano said he rarely performs with anyone else these days, though he did have a brief foray into the ballet world when he danced in the Eglevsky Ballet of Long Island’s “Nutcracker” in December. He played Herr Drosselmeyer, the eccentric uncle who sets the story in motion. All that BOCES training paid off, Casimano said.

“I loved doing that part,” he said, though it was clear that my legs “don’t work the way they used to.”

Giving back

When he has time, Casimano also teaches classes at Techniques Dance Center in Levittown and Just for Kicks School of Dance in Island Park, which, said Bennett, has “teenagers lining up in droves.”

Casimano hopes to inspire his students with his lengthy career. “I hope they see that if you choose to make a career as a dancer, it is actually possible,” he said. “And I hope that they see that dance can bring you such joy.”

He said he intends to keep dancing for as long as he can.

Gibson couldn’t be happier with that decision.

“You can’t fake chemistry,” she said. Referring to both Casimano and Bennett, she said, “Though I am the one with the microphone and my name is on the marquee, I consider us a trio and a team. That is what makes the magic.”

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