Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 3:03 a.m.
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When Davy Jones of the Monkees passed away just over a month ago, my heart sank. He was a part of one of the most incredible chapters of my life, and he was such a sweetheart in work. When I was cast in the starring role of his video for "Cuddly Toy," I was the envy of all of the girls in L.A. Every dancer wanted that gig! They needed a dancer who wouldn’t get nervous and could perform on the spot, and they found me. With little rehearsal, I started dancing with Davy as cameras rolled.
Though he didn’t have professional dancing experience, he was so much fun as a dance partner. We were just making it up as we went along. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to dance with Davy Jones. It was fun, crazy, and I just loved it! My hair in that video, too … I had this short shag that was so popular at the time, and for me it was part of my look.
That was 1967. While reflecting about that special experience, I thought about everything that occurred during that time that led me to where I am today, as owner of Anita Mann Productions, the company that produces “Fantasy” at the Luxor. I loved dancing, and I wanted to make a career out of it. I knew working in choreography was not only exciting, but also could lead to that longevity.
Elvis Presley and the lead choreographer on his films, Jack Baker, are the two people who helped me get started. They spotted me dancing on the set of “Spinout” in 1966, and Jack made me the assistant choreographer on Elvis’ next two films: “Clambake” and “Speedway.” I’ve been asked many times if I was ever romantically linked to Elvis, but I never thought of him that way. To me, he was like a brother. We looked out for each other, and we were very close.
There were two other people during that time who really helped me lay the foundation to become a choreographer and businesswoman: Nancy Sinatra and Lucille Ball. I met Nancy while filming “Speedway,” and I later danced on “Movin’ with Nancy,” her TV show that aired in 1967. She was incredible; well educated and one of the hardest-working people I have ever met.
Working with Nancy taught me that I can do anything if I put full effort into it. People thought we looked alike, so on occasion I would work as her double. I recently saw Nancy at the Paley Media Center where they screened “Movin’ With Nancy.” She is as beautiful as ever.
Lucille Ball was a powerhouse. Not only was she one of the top actresses of her time, but she also was a smart businesswoman. I met Lucy when Jack Baker asked me to assist him on her TV series. I worked with her for years starting in the mid-1960s on “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy,” and even played Little Desi’s girlfriend in an episode. I learned so much from her, including how to start and operate a business and how to multitask without losing focus.
There were other incredible experiences during that time; I met and danced with more celebrities than I can remember. I danced on “T.A.M.I.,” which featured many of the legendary performers of that time, including the Rolling Stones, Diana Ross and the Supremes and James Brown.
Today, I still choreograph much of what you see in “Fantasy,” and I love it as much as I ever have. While the moves have changed, dancing and choreography are always about how to tell a story through dance and making sure that the audience connects to it.
The dancers in “Fantasy” are contemporary showgirls, and that is something I can relate to today. In the world of Davy Jones and the Monkees, they are the modern Cuddly Toys.
“Fantasy” (FantasyLuxor.com) performs daily at 10:30 p.m. in the Atrium Showroom at the Luxor. Tickets start at $39, plus taxes and handling fees. Guests must be 18 years of age or older. Tickets can be purchased at the Luxor box office, online at Luxor.com and by calling 800.557.7428 or 702.262.4400. Fans may follow “Fantasy” on Twitter @fantasyluxor or like “Fantasy” on Facebook at Facebook.com/FantasyLuxor.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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