Dani Tatay

The leap to a dream

10/03/2022 · By Roberto C. Rascón
Dani Tatay during a performance of ‘Dirty Dancing’ at the Espacio Ibercaja Delicias
Dani Tatay during a performance of ‘Dirty Dancing’ at the Espacio Ibercaja Delicias. © LetsGo Company

Each person chases their dreams in their own way, some take it step by step while others go by leaps and bounds. This is the case of actor and dancer Dani Tatay, who currently plays the leading role in ‘Dirty Dancing’ and performs the most famous leap in the history of film alongside Sara Ávila. Shows like 'Más de cien mentiras', 'Hoy no me puedo levantar' and 'The Bodyguard' make up his career and prove that dreams do come true.

Baby (Jennifer Grey) jumps on Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), who grabs her with both hands and lifts her up towards the sky at Kellerman’s, the hotel that is the backdrop to their love story. Now, those who want to relive that instant, one of the most memorable scenes in 1980s film, have their chance because Dirty Dancing will continue in Madrid until the 11th of December in Espacio Ibercaja Delicias. Dani Tatay (Valencia, 1982) plays the mythical Johnny Castle and proudly assures us that he has “never” failed when doing that scene, which the audience awaits with much anticipation. Dani himself knows a lot about leaps: from swimming to dancing, from Valencia to Madrid, from dancing to acting, from secondary to lead role; leaps without a safety net that have turned out well for him and have allowed him to make his dream come true.

What does Dani Tatay feel when he leaps onstage?
Leaping on stage in front of so many people is a big responsibility. I’m never nervous but I do feel that excitement you need before starting a show. There’s always some apprehension —not stage fright— that something will go wrong. But I step onstage full of excitement, willing to give it my all and enjoy myself, and the audience can feel that. I want the show to come alive and avoid running through it mechanically. Dirty Dancing lasts for two and a half hours and I end up pretty exhausted because it is a very physically demanding show and I’m almost always onstage. I’ve been doing it for three weeks and I’ve been to the physiotherapist three times already (laughs).

Now you’re playing a character who is well loved by the audience: Johnny Castle. Is this extra pressure?
Yes, because people want to see Johnny onstage. It’s a challenge. I’ve seen the film a dozen times, so he’s a protagonist that was on my mind. I’ve been a dancer for many years and this role, which requires me to dance and act at the same time, is a fully-fledged character for me. Actors don’t like to copy, but we do want to capture the essence of the character and that’s what I try to do. Mere imitation isn’t good enough.

“Actors don’t like to copy, but we do want to capture the essence of the character and that’s what I try to do. Mere imitation isn’t good enough”

Dirty Dancing is a film with thousands of fans; is not letting them down one of the goals you’ve set yourselves?
Absolutely. We transfer every moment in the film onstage. Sometimes, I’d ask the director: “Can I change this?” And he’d answered: “No, no, no, you need to be true to the film.” Because people know the scenes and want to see them. When Johnny is teaching Baby and strokes her underarm, or when Johnny says, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”, those moments have to be just so. Everything is very measured. I don’t think about the leap in the final dance because if I do I get nervous. There are thousands of people waiting for it and we have to nail it. If we don’t, people go to the ticket office and ask for their money back (laughs). I’ve never messed it up.

Did young Dani Tatay already imagine acting in front of thousands of people? Tell us where your passion for dancing comes from.
Since I was little, I’ve always been artistic, but my family never pointed me in that direction. They guided me more towards sports, and I swam competitively for several years, but I always tried to do theatre and dance because I loved it. At the age of 19, I started studying Social Work at university, but I didn’t find it fulfilling and I met a group of people who danced. I started to dance at a school as a hobby, but about a year later I dropped everything and focused on it 100%.

You took the leap from dancing to acting and that opened up the doors of film and television for you. Today, what do you enjoy the most?
Theatre is alive and what you feel onstage with the audience watching —if, on top of that, you play a leading role, imagine the adrenaline— can’t be replicated in front of a camera for a series or film. Shooting fiction is colder. In terms of the media, film or TV will give you a better result, but I’ll stick to theatre.

In 2010, you left your hometown of Valencia and moved to Madrid to chase your dream. Twelve years later, do you feel like you’ve succeeded?
Yes. This started out as an adventure, and I’ve slowly made each dream come true. I’d never have imagined coming this far. I came to Madrid, suitcase in hand, to try my luck, thinking I would be here for three months, and it’s already been twelve years. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but more from taking it step-by-step than out of difficulty. From starting to dance at an orchestra to ending up making a film or playing the lead role in Dirty Dancing. I have friends who’ve been doing this for many years and haven’t come half as far, so all I feel is grateful.

“Theatre is alive and what you feel onstage with the audience watching can’t be replicated in front of a camera”

If you had to give a young dancer starting out any advice, what would it be?
That you have to fight for what you want and chase your dreams. But I’ll also say one thing: if you’ve been trying for five years and haven’t achieved anything, it’s time to be realistic. You have to fight, but always have a backup plan in life. Because this doesn’t always depend on you, it depends on a phone call.

Talent is a must-have for success, but does luck also play a role?
Yes, I was extremely lucky. From one day to the next, I started playing the lead role in The Bodyguard after Maxi Iglesias’ injury. I was the only person who could replace him —the other protagonist, Iván Sánchez, was in Mexico—, so they told me: “Dani, you’ve got to do it.” I got to the theatre after hardly any sleep under enormous pressure because I’d never played such a big role. If I’d given it any thought, I wouldn’t have stepped on stage… (laughs). I don’t know if it was sheer luck being in the right place at the right time, but the company supported me, and everything went well. I couldn’t believe my face was advertised on Gran Vía!

Speaking of talent, what does that word mean to you?
Talent is something that a person is born with. Many people spend years trying something and don’t succeed, and then someone that has that innate talent comes along and makes it. It also takes a lot of hard work. Onstage you can tell who’s got it and who hasn’t. It’s something that goes beyond, and that the audience perceives.