Ben Lokey is upbeat, fast, spirited definitely high energy, his jazz students say. "You've got to be a zombie to do some of this stuff," he said, thrusting and jerking isolated muscle groups.
Lokey was in Ogden recently to conduct a workshop for the Utah Dance Association, as he does each year. It's a kind of homecoming, since he began his professional dance career in 1965 with Utah's Ballet West.Since then he's performed on Broadway as Al in the original "Chorus Line," and was handpicked by Michael Jackson to dance in his "Thriller" and "Captain EO" videos. He's taught private dance to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and starred in the movie "Breakin." He's well known in Utah for collaborating with Lex de Azevedo - co-directing, writing and choreographing such Mormon classics as "Saturday's Warrior" and "Charly."
Lokey lives in the world of stage and screen, traveling and teaching. He's performed in 40 of the 50 United States and taught jazz workshops internationally, and he talked candidly with young Utah dancers.
"To be a professional, you must understand and eliminate the variables. A mover just moves, but a dancer - ahh! He knows how to put it where he wants it," he said, lunging his chest forward, then moving his hips from side to side.
"Anxiety is the dreaded No. 1 disease of dancers," he continued. "You know in advance that you must battle your own anxiety."
"Inside the dancer's arms lies his own best or worst critic. The flow of the arms writes the review," he said, demonstrating the difference between jerky arms and smooth, well-defined movements. "You control your critic; make him write the review the way you want him to."
Lokey teaches the basics of sound body mechanics, and he never ceases to be amazed at how the principles of physics relate to ballet and jazz. "Jazz is beautifully structured and classical," he observed.
He first trained as a gymnast, then entered college in Texas as a theater major, transferring to the University
of Utah before his third year. It was in a U. theater performance that Willam Christensen spotted Lokey and invited him to perform in "The Nutcracker." "I was hooked instantly on ballet," he recalled, and within three months he became a principal of Ballet West (then Utah Civic Ballet.)
He continued to dance with Ballet West until 1970, then moved to Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Returning to Utah in 1973, he ran a dance studio in Ogden while completing work on a master's in theater direction at the U. of U. and performing at the Pioneer Memorial Theater.
For a year he danced with Ann-Margret ("a sweet and caring person") in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, and in 1975, moved to New York for "A Chorus Line."
A convert to the LDS Church, Lokey directed and choreographed "Threads of Glory" in 1976, an LDS production celebrating the Bicentennial year. Among dancing and acting ventures in television and film were "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and the movie "Staying Alive." He also conceived, wrote and directed a film short titled "A Field so White" - 12 pieces of music based on LDS themes.
Close association with Sylvester Stallone ("a great director") prompted the comment, "he took time to talk to me personally about health and weight training. He's a fanatic in those areas, and he knows a lot."
At present, Lokey is associate director of the Santa Monica Dance Center and co-owner and director of an agency that manages actors, dancers and singers. Though none of his clients are well known yet, he feels sure some of them will be soon.
Lokey finds it difficult to choose his favorite pursuit - whether dancing, choreographing, directing or writing - but leans a little toward writing and directing films. Yet "there is a tremendous high in dancing before a live audience. When you are good, you feel the response in the audience, and that's exhilarating."