MOVING PEOPLE: Michael Cusumano & Madame Olga Spill the Tea on Their Secret Obsessions, Favorite Neighbourhoods in NYC and More

Michael Cusumano
Madame  Olga

Michael Cusumano

Biography

Michael Cusumano grew up on Long Island, New York. At the age of 14 he won the bronze medal at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, the youngest male dancer to medal in the competition’s history at the time. That same year, he went on to win the special Jury Prize at the Prix de Paris 1994. Michael then joined American Ballet Theatre at age 15 as the youngest male dancer in the company’s history. With ABT, Michael danced in all the full-length classics as well as works by Twyla Tharp, John Neumeier, Agnes DeMille, and Lar Lubovich, to name a few. Michael then danced as a soloist with the Boston Ballet. He made his Broadway debut in All Shook Up and then went on to star as “the jury” in the smash hit Chicago the musical on Broadway. Michael won the title of Mr. Broadway 2011. Other credits include The Most Happy Fella at New York State Theater, On the Town at Encores, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Today’s Show, ABT Now for PBS, Le Corsaire for PBS, feature film Center Stage, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and SNL. Michael most recently appeared in the original production of An American in Paris on Broadway. Michael frequently teaches at Broadway Dance Center, Ballet Arts at City Center, the Peridance Center, and is currently on faculty at Pace University. Follow him on Instagram at @mikeycusumano.

Madame Olga

Biography

Madame Olga is a highly sought out dance teacher nationally and internationally. Browse and sign up for a wide breadth of classes on madameolgatv.com. The Russian superstar was featured on an episode of Joan and Melissa Joan Know Best, dancing the Black Swan coda for WE TV. Most recently, Madame Olga shared the spotlight with Michael Cusumano in ITVS | PBS's new short documentary When I'm Her, directed by Emily Schuman, filmed by Donny de Cesare, and edited by Emily Packer, with a score by Noah Fishman. Follow her on Instagram @madameolgav.

Sammi Sowerby/Follow @sammi.sowerby on Instagram

By Sammi Sowerby/Follow @sammi.sowerby on Instagram
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Published on September 20, 2021
Photos courtesy of Michael Cusumano

1

When did you first meet one another?

Cusumano:

I felt the presence of another energy starting to emerge when I was a teenager dancing with American Ballet Theatre. I would just become this Russian woman out of nowhere. The name Olga popped into my head early on without a thought. This was over 20 years ago. 

Olga:

I (Mikey) can answer for Olga. This may sound a bit strange but she actually doesn’t know much about who I am. She has her own life and existence and is pretty unaware of mine…as of yet anyway.

2

What was your first impression of one another?

Cusumano:

I would say I was intrigued and taken aback by Olga’s confidence and bluntness, but also her underlying kindness. She seemed complex yet she knew who she was.

Olga:

Again, I (Mikey) will answer for Olga. Olga has not met me, but if she did, I would hope she thinks I’m a good dancer, a good teacher, and a good human, above all.

3

Close ones know that I am mad for ______________, whereas few know that I am also secretly obsessed with _____________.

Cusumano:

Close ones know that I am mad for roller coasters. When I was a kid I was a member of ACE, which stands for American Coaster Enthusiasts, a monthly roller coaster magazine.

Whereas few know that I am also secretly obsessed with “all-you-can-eat” sushi buffets.

Olga:

Close ones know that I (Olga) am mad for a lobster dinner, whereas few know that I am also secretly obsessed with 80’s American music, especially Whitney Houston!

4

My signature item of apparel is ______________. I own around _______.

Cusumano:

anything rainbow-themed. I love dressing like a sparkly unicorn.

Olga:

I have many turbans. Too many to count. This is my signature item. 

5

It takes me around ______________ minutes to get ready before stepping out my door.

Cusumano:

15 minutes (I roll out of bed, take a quick shower, stuff my face with something, make coffee, and leave my house)

Olga:

I take about 2 1/2 hours to get ready. Of course, I always look stunning when I wake up in the morning, but I just like to take my time.

6

My favorite neighborhood in New York City is ______________ because ______________.

Cusumano:

Midtown, because that’s where most of my best friends live, and where the restaurants and bars we hang out at are located.

Olga:

Midtown, because it's where I often teach, meet friends, and run into people I know, which makes me happy!

7

Come Happy Hour, you’ll find me sipping on a ________________.

Cusumano:

a spicy margarita or any kind of tequila drink. I am a tequila guy. 

Olga:

There is only one clear answer to this. Russian vodka, of course.

8

I am drawn to personalities who are _______________.

Cusumano:

funny, charismatic, and loving. My circle of friends have a deep love for each other, and we all have big personalities. It's always a riot hanging out together, and I love to laugh. 

Olga:

all personalities. If someone is open, I want to be open with them. If someone is shy, I want to be open with them. I want to experience all humans and help bring out their truest selves.

9

I can’t resist dancing whenever I hear this song: ______________.

Cusumano:

"Cut to the Feeling" by Carlie Rae Jepsen. I go absolutely nuts.

Olga:

any Whitney Houston song! I am hypnotized whenever she sings!

10

If I could relive a dance performance, it would be ______________.

Cusumano:

my first opening night on Broadway in the original cast of All Shook Up. It felt like my entire world had opened up, and I was completely free. It was magical.

Olga:

The Dying Swan I did for a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS performance. It was my first time in NYC on a Broadway stage in front of thousands. I felt so connected to the people in the audience.

11

If I could take a dance class with anyone, alive or dead, it would be _____________.

Cusumano:

Agrippina Vaganova. She created such a beautiful schooling of ballet, and I would love to be in her presence.

Olga:

There is no question about it. Vaganova is the one.

 
12

What I enjoy about teaching ballet is _______________.

Cusumano:

watching someone's life change for the better. For me it's not about dance. Dance is a vehicle to reach people, love deeper, and help them find their own voice.

Olga:

instilling confidence and love for oneself, and the evolution to be kinder, more loving, and become more empathetic humans.

13

The nicest thing a student has ever said to me: ________________.

Cusumano:

I had a young girl write to me once after class and tell me that all her life she never felt good enough, thin enough, perfect enough et cetera, and when she took my class, all of those negative thoughts left her head and she was free for the first time.

Olga:

Someone once said to me that they were thinking of hurting themself, then they took my class and decided to love themself instead.

14

Besides dancing, my many skills include _____________.

Cusumano:

singing, playing the piano, writing, doing improv, and folding both of my ears in half to where my ears are literally inside my ears. It’s hard to explain. I'd have to show you.

Olga:

whipping out some old-school 80's jazz. Don’t ask me where I learned it, because we only had one channel on Russian TV back then. I guess I'm just a natural.

15

If I won $3,000,000 through the lottery, my first impulse would be to ______________.

Cusumano:

take all of my friends and loved ones on a fabulous cruise!

Olga:

go to the roulette table in Vegas and try to double it. Just kidding — sort of. Actually, I would help my family out first, and then see what I have left over. My family is the reason I'm blessed to be on this planet.

16

Social media is _________________.

Cusumano:

fun and rewarding. I have connected with some of the most beautiful people through social media and developed friendships across the world. That is a gift I would not have without social media.

Olga:

wonderful. I love to have fun and interact with people from around the world. My hopes of bringing joy to ballet and people is important to me, and social media helps me do that.

17

I agreed to star in "When I’m Her" for ITVS for PBS because _________________.

Cusumano:

I trusted my director Emily Schuman. When she asked to film Olga and me, I was a little nervous about what would happen. She always assured me that everything was okay and to just be myself. Emily helped give me a voice I didn't realize was always inside of me.

Olga:

it is a way to share my heart and love with the world.

*Watch the full short film here.

18

Filming the short documentary has been _______________.

Cusumano:

exciting and emotional. People may not realize that When I'm Her was filmed over a period of about 3 years. It was quite a journey of discovery that figured itself out over time. It's been a beautiful ride, and I’m grateful for my director Emily’s consistent belief in me and Olga.

Olga:

heartwarming. Being able to capture human moments that I share with my students on film has been a gift.

19

What’s in the pipeline for me in 2022: ________________.

Cusumano:

In 2022 I see a lot more Madame Olga teaching and appearances. She wants to travel and teach at every dance school and dance company she can. I also want to make more films. I would love to make a feature-length comedy for Madame Olga like Mrs. Doubtfire, Austin Powers, or Pee-wee's Big Adventure. That's my dream!

Olga:

In 2022 I see myself teaching a lot more, traveling to different parts of the world to share my love for dance and humanity, encouraging more kindness and deeper love for ourselves and each other and, of course, more turnout!

20

If aliens came to earth and I had to introduce them to Earth dances, I would perform ____________.

Cusumano:

something everyone knows like the Macarena or YMCA so we could all jump in and have a grand old time. I wouldn’t want to throw ballet at them and scare them away ;)

Olga:

There is no doubt about this answer. They would need to watch Giselle. This would give the aliens an understanding of the immeasurable capacity humans have to love. What a gift that would be for the aliens to see that humans can be so miraculous. 


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