A true sports spectacle like the Grey Cup reaches a much wider audience than an average football game — both on and off the field.
Take Rodney Morgan, for example.
The Whitehorse-raised dancer, now based in Toronto, will be part of the CFL’s big game this Saturday. But he won’t be sporting a helmet or cleats.
“Football? I have no idea about football — none at all … should I say that?” laughed Morgan over the phone from Paris.
Morgan is currently on tour with Nelly Furtado, working as a choreographer, dancer and stylist — he was in Milan the day before, and is heading for London — but he insists it’s “not as glamorous as it sounds.”
When Furtado agreed to perform at the Grey Cup halftime show, the opportunity to choreograph the performance went to Morgan.
His job, as he described it, was to find a way to corral 90 cheerleaders from all the CFL teams — as well as dance onstage during Furtado’s performance.
Although this is the biggest job Morgan has had in his fledgling career, he’s not in it alone.
His manager, Ilona Dougherty, also a Whitehorse native, will be on hand to help keep things flowing.
She will be responsible for the preparation of the show, along with the Toronto Argonauts dance team captain and the Grey Cup producers.
“Rodney is flying in at the last minute to do the creative stuff,” said Dougherty from her office in Montreal.
Dougherty and Morgan share more than a hometown — she’s a choreographer as well, but she’s leaving the creativity to her client.
“I’ll help him out just by doing what he tells me. My own choreography is much more modern dance, and I don’t think it’s Grey Cup material — at all,” she said with a laugh.
With just one day of rehearsal before the show, things will need to run smoothly, and that’s what Dougherty is there for.
“This last year’s been pretty crazy for me,” said Morgan, who has been touring almost constantly since April with Furtado.
“I just did the MTV Europe awards, and we’re doing the American Music Awards and the Grammys — there’s a string of big shows lined up,” he added.
Morgan admits that he’s not much for business, and is thankful he has someone like Dougherty looking out for him now that things are taking off.
“It’s really good to know that someone has your back, and because we both grew up in Whitehorse together, it’s not just somebody I hired in Toronto; I trust her, and I know she truly does have my best interests at heart,” he said.
How did Morgan find himself in such a unique position?
“I ask myself that every single day,” he said. “I’ve been dancing all my life; I started with Andrea Simpson-Fowler at Leaping Feats.”
From there, he studied theatre and dance at Ryerson, and formed a band called Fritz Helder and the Phantoms.
“We play clubs around Toronto, kind of an electro-punk thing.”
A couple of chance meetings with Furtado led to Morgan’s big break. “She said she liked my dancing, and maybe we should work together,” he said.
“When someone like that says that, you don’t really take it very seriously.” A few years later, this April, he got the call.
“Everything since then has been an avalanche — things are piling up, they asked us to do more and more shows, they signed us on for the promotional tour, and then the world tour.”
Morgan and Dougherty won’t be the only Yukoners involved in the Grey Cup.
As a member of the BC Lions dance team, Nikki Swerhun will be the Yukoner with the most field-time during Saturday’s game.
Swerhun, who grew up in the same Riverdale neighbourhood as Morgan and Dougherty, is a first-year member of the Lions’ cheerleading team, and is studying fashion design as well.
“We don’t have any kind of cheerleading in the Yukon,” she said from Vancouver. “And as a dancer, its something I always wanted to do. When I moved here I knew I wanted to do this.”
Though not a football fan, Swerhun has fully enjoyed the experience.
“I didn’t know a lot about football — so the first couple of games were interesting — I’m definitely a fan now, I love the game.”
With the Lions winning last weekend’s western championship, Swerhun and the rest of the Felions squad will be on the sidelines for the whole game, and will participate in the halftime show as well.
“It’s a huge opportunity; I love being at the games, dancing in front of 40,000 people. It’s a huge rush.”
When asked if she knew Morgan would be the choreographing, essentially acting as her boss, Swerhun laughed.
“I’ll be the teacher’s pet; I’ve got an automatic in with the choreographer.”
“We grew up dancing together,” said Morgan. “It’s a small world, definitely. It’s gonna be cool to see her again. We’ll definitely have to laugh about the situation; it’s more than a little surreal.”