When ”Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” begins its production at the Hippodrome Theatre Tuesday, some local residents may notice a familiar face.
The musical tells the untold story of Tina Turner, from her beginnings in Tennessee to her rock ‘n’ roll fame. It will feature locally-trained dancer Aliyah Caldwell as a member of the Ikettes, who were the backup vocalists for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, the group Turner once had with her former husband.
Caldwell has trained with dancers who are well-known locally, including Sharayna Christmas, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell and Diedre Dawkins. Her introduction to dance was at the Baltimore School for the Arts’ after-school program, TWIGS, which stands for To Work In Gaining Skills. At the end of eighth grade when her time with TWIGS ended, she knew that she wanted to be a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts. After graduating from there, she went to college at Towson University to study dance and business administration.
Caldwell has trained as a dancer for most of her life in styles such as modern and jazz, and she also has some musical theater training.
She thought her goal was to be a modern dancer, but she didn’t want to “pigeonhole” herself into it, given that she also had a background in ballet, jazz and musical theater.
The musical follows Turner through her tumultuous abusive relationship with her husband to her powerful resurgence in rock. Turner herself worked with the team to create an authentic portrayal. Through Turner’s early career, she sang with the Ikettes.
Caldwell recently spoked to The Baltimore Banner from the show’s stop in Buffalo, New York. The interview has been edited for clarity.
The Baltimore Banner: What are your other passions, maybe outside of dance?
Aliyah Caldwell: I love to teach. That is like my go-to plan, especially once I’m done performing. I know for a fact that like I wanna be a teacher, a dance teacher, a professor of dance … I want to give back.
This is how I felt about my teachers. They were still performing artists [that had] their own dance companies while teaching. You learned so much and have more respect for a professor that is currently doing it while they’re teaching you. I want that to be the same with the students that I plan to teach.
TBB: Do you ever think about diversity in dance? A lot of students may never have a Black dance instructor.
AC: I was blessed to train with a lot of Black female dance teachers. I like seeing how they grow their business and how they’re teaching, how they’re doing outreach.
It just put like a fire in my behind [having Black instructors]. They’re doing it, like let’s get it! I was taught by fierce Black women in their specific art form and I just want to do the same because we can do this!
TBB: There’s a lot of Black dance history that people aren’t taught in traditional ballet settings. Do you ever feel like people discount you because of your background?
AC: Yeah. I think for me, I learned from those women certain aspects of being a Black professional dancer. We have to assimilate to a specific standard. So not only was I learning from them, but I had to also learn the Vaganova technique and learn how you’re supposed to act in ballet class. So some of the standards I learned had to mesh both of those together.
TBB: I consider ballet dancers athletes, I know a lot goes into a show. How many hours are you onstage for ”Tina”?
AC: So many! And then not only that, having rehearsals during the day as well too. You also have to cross train your body vocally, mentally, spiritually, physically after. So it is no joke.
TBB: Have you taken vocal lessons?
AC: Yeah, I took a couple just to get my voice into a right range and then once we get to rehearsal, they break down what specific scene and parts you’ll do. So you focus in on to that as well.
TBB: I know before you were on tour with Tina, you had done some cruise line tours. What’s that like?
AC: That was fun. I’ve done cruises since 2017. My last cruise, I did ”Hairspray” on the ship and that kind of [got me interested in] musical theater touring. It was like the coolest thing. And people come to me [and say] “I saw your bio. You’re from Baltimore, you’re doing ’Hairspray.’”
TBB: Do you keep up with your BSA dance community?
AC: Yeah, we do. Especially my class of dance majors; we keep in touch. We try to get together, maybe like once a year or try to reach out to one another to see how we’re doing. And each one in their respective fields is doing great things.
They definitely come to shows and I’m the same way. Anytime they’re like, hey, I’m doing a show in D.C. or I’m doing the show in Baltimore, I’m doing the show in Philly, I’m like, let me check my schedule to make sure I can come. We’ve bonded and gotten close because of that, too.
TBB: I know you’re also a part of another community as well. How did the “dancing Zeta” come to mind for you?
AC: I am a part of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated. I became a Zeta in spring 2015 on the campus of Towson University with the Upsilon Mu chapter. Everyone knew I was a dancer, so I was like, I’m gonna do hashtag the dancing Zeta. A lot of people still come up to me and be like, oh, it’s hashtag the dancing Zeta!
TBB: You have an artist collective. Tell me a bit about how that started?
AC: That [the collective starting] actually happened in 2020. I wanted to just dance for Christmas just because. And one of my friends, Dorien Carroll, I was like, can we do a duet for Christmas? And he was like, yeah, I don’t mind. Then for some reason I was in Hunt Valley [Towne Centre] one day and there was a huge Christmas tree. I was like, let’s just dance in front of the Hunt Valley Christmas tree.
My mom had the camera, and we just did a little video, put it together and stuff, and then maybe a couple days later, I told him, I want to create a dance company that we’re able to just come together as local artists in the Baltimore DMV area. We come together and we might do gigs. We do performances, specifically site-based work. We let the environment kind of lead our dancing and the environment is the backdrop to what the piece is about.
It’s been fun! Right now it’s on a little hiatus because I’m touring, but dancing in so many different places I think will just get me back into the fire like, all right, I’m ready to go full time into the collective again.
TBB: Do you have any advice for other dancers who may want to do what you’re doing?
AC: Keep it up, keep up the faith. I will say when I graduated from Towson, I was in a funk because I didn’t know what to do. I’d been auditioning for stuff. Nothing was coming through. You’re so used to having a schedule in college where it’s just like back-to-back stuff every single day. Then you get into the real world where your kind of just like out here, kind of lost a bit. I definitely felt like that once I graduated from Towson.
So just keeping the faith, keeping it up, keeping your body in the right physical shape, being in the best mental shape.
”Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” plays at the Hippodrome from Nov. 15-20. You can find tickets at baltimore.broadway.com