Kelly Konno reflects on a rare experience

Touring for two months with Prince as a teen

 

Konno was 17, a back-up dancer just starting out fresh from Surrey and living in LA. She was living with other dancers, getting by, hand-to-mouth, when she auditioned to dance for Janet Jackson. There wasn’t an opening for her with Jackson at the moment, but the choreographer who was watching her had another client for Konno. That client was Prince. “I had every one of his albums,” says Konno, who still can’t believe the turn of events surrounding herself and Prince. “I’m a huge fan.”

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At the time, Prince was pushing back against the industry, dropping his well -established name and opting instead, to be called The Artist, or The Artist Formerly Known As.

“We were told to call him The Artist,” says Konno. “We also called him The Boss.” The Artist had one main dancer and needed Konno as one of this two other dancers for his North American tour. Naturally, Konno took the job.

“We weren’t a big part of the show. We did two numbers and would sit in the audience and watch the show in between our sets.”

Konno says that Prince was exacting in his expectation of everyone involved in his shows. “He could get up and play any instrument from his band, and play it better than anyone in the band. If someone wasn’t up to his expectations, anyone, they’d be gone.”

She says that he wouldn’t warn anyone but he would change up his set list and his song list, keeping everyone on their toes. “One day the other dancer and I were in the audience between our sets and our song starts playing. We flew down the steps to race onto stage. I think he saw us sitting there and wanted to make sure we were paying attention.”

Konno’s one role as his dancer was to come running down from the audience area, looking like a journalist trying to get a story. Once she got to the floor in front of the stage, she had to follow him an a choreographed style, back and forth in front of the stage while he pretended to push her away before he finally pulled her up onto the stage where she would continue in character.

Prince regularly performed for two hours straight in concert, says Konno, and then, “around 2 am, he would let a club know that he was coming and then he and his band would show up and play for another two hours.“ He had unstoppable energy and talent, and attracted an entourage of the rich and famous.

Before each show, Konno says that the performers would gather with The Artist for prayer. “One day I ran in, held hands with the person beside me, and when I opened them, I saw that I was holding hands with Lenny Kravitz. –“He ended up being a surprise guest in the show.”

Konno said that Prince spoke in a soft voice and kept his distance from the dancers. “We were allowed to come to the club parties after the show,” says Konno who underage and amazed at her own circumstances. “I would just sit in the wings and watch him play and I’d see all kinds of stars who were there too.“

She says he treated everyone well, putting the crew and dancers in five-star hotels while on the road “Prince was always very respectful. One day at the end of the tour, his bodyguard told me that Prince wanted to talk to me. I was waiting at a table, trying to think of what he was going to say. Prince didn’t speak to us individually,”
says Konno, “so I was worried, I didn’t know what to expect. He came and sat across from me and in that soft voice said that he really liked what I had been doing on the tour and “--and then he asked me if I would like to do the European leg of his tour. “ Konno said she was electrified. “I was so excited. “Konno accepted, but then, she was offered a chance to tour with Janet Jackson “with lots of dancing,” so she turned down Prince’s offer. “II can’t believe that I turned down Prince at 17, “ says Konno looking back.

Before switching bosses, Konno had a chance to go to Prince’s estate, Paisley Park, near Minneapolis. “He had a recording studio there, clubs, a sound stage, it was amazing. I feel pretty lucky I got to see it, and to have a chance to work for Prince, especially at 17. I’m sorry that he’s gone. He was an amazing performer.

© Copyright 2018 Bowen Island Undercurrent

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