October 26, 2008
Britta Lazenga, 27, can be seen tearing up the stage at the Cadillac Palace eight shows a week co-starring in the pre-Broadway national tour of “Dirty Dancing—The Classic Story on Stage.” It’s a return home for this former Joffrey Ballet dancer, who steals the show as Penny, the leggy dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks.
1. After growing up in Pittsburg and Minneapolis, “I moved here when I was 18 to dance with the Joffrey Ballet, so I feel like Chicago is more of a home than anywhere. My mom dropped me off with some stuff, we furnished my apartment, and then she left and I didn’t know a soul in the city! So I made a life for myself here. Chicago feels more personal to me than anywhere else.” During the show’s run in Toronto, she says she felt homesick, especially for her favorite North Side eateries, Rose Angelis and Las Mananitas.
2. Face look familiar? Lazenga was one of the Joffrey dancers glimpsed on film in Robert Altman‘s “The Company.” Plus: “I’m actually on the cover [of the DVD]—I’m right behind Neve Campbell at the barre.”
3. Face still look familiar? Lazenga, with her long curls and delicate features, could pass for the film actress Elizabeth Berkley. “People always ask me if I was in ‘Showgirls.’ It is weird—there are moments when she’s looking in the mirror [in the movie] and I’m looking in the mirror getting ready to do a show, and it’s like, yeah, we do sort of have a definite resemblance. I think she’s beautiful, so I’m like, OK!”
4. “Dirty Dancing” casting directors found Lazenga on the Joffrey Web site in spring 2007. She auditioned on a Monday and was offered the job the following Thursday. Timing is everything. “Friday was the day that my contract [renewal] with the Joffrey needed to be turned in.”
5. After seven years with the ballet company, she was ready for a change. “I don’t have all the ideal things that you need to be a huge ballet star, and I knew that. I think maybe the last two years at the Joffrey I was sort of entertaining the idea of doing something else. I just kind of felt like I was plateau-ing.”
6. Onstage, Lazenga looks impossible tall—she’s 5 foot 8, but closer to 6 feet in her high-heeled dancing shoes, a big change from her toe shoes. “The first week was hard. My feet were so blistered and sore. I mean, I had different ailments now and then when I was a ballet dancer. It’s still extremely physical, but now I’m only able to dance on the ball of my foot. I feel it in my back.” Before each performance, she warms up by doing a series of classical ballet exercises at the barre. “That, and sit on the heating pad.”