This Is Rutherford
This is Dani Letsche
By Jennifer Ersalesi
This upcoming Thanksgiving, Rutherford resident of 26 years, Dani Letsche will be marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for the sixth time. Dani has always loved parades and enjoys participating in this incredibly popular event every year. As a parade enthusiast, Dani also Rutherford parades, such as the Rutherford Irish Association Parade in March. This is Rutherford interviewed Dani about how much she enjoys living in Rutherford and her many interests and talents.
TIR: How long have you lived in Rutherford?
DL: I've lived in Rutherford since I was two, but I consider myself a lifer. My parents met here and lived here a million years ago. They moved briefly which is why I was born out of town but thankfully came back so I could grow up in the greatest place on earth!
TIR: What do you enjoy about living in Rutherford?
DL: Everything! The proximity to NYC has always been key. I love that it's a small town where everyone knows each other. For me it's always been a point of pride that no matter where I go I end up running into somebody who knows me or someone in my family. My friends always get a kick out of it when they visit from out of town. There's a running joke that I'm the "Princess of Rutherford", but it's a title I'm proud of and I'm happy to wear that crown (laughs)!
TIR: You are a jack of all trades and one of your many talents is acting. Tell us what you are involved in regarding theater right now.
DL: That's so kind! For the past 4 or 5 years I've had a steady performing gig with The Murder Mystery Company out of NYC. It's improvisation-based, interactive theatre and it's a very silly (and occasionally raunchy) time which allows me to try out all sorts of characters. The company has upwards of 20 different show tracks ranging in themes from the 1920’s, 1980’s and the Wild West. Typically I do private shows which may be at a client's house, a restaurant or even an office for a company mixer. I've done solo shows for small groups and shows of four or five actors for 100+ guests.
Additionally, I sometimes do princess parties as Belle, Ariel, Anna, Elsa...the usual suspects (laughs)! Those are always a lot of fun as I love these characters myself, so it hardly feels like work to dress up, play games and talk about Disney movies!
I've been doing a little bit of background work over the years too. Fingers crossed that I'll be in the foreground someday soon. Most notably I've had some spots on SNL, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and this summer I worked a lot on a new HBO miniseries called The Plot Against America. The best part about that work is how it's an on the job learning experience. Watching the stars take direction, make adjustments and collaborate with the creative team is not only exciting, but it's an invaluable lesson you can't quite get anywhere else. Not to mention being at Studio 8H for SNL, seeing Lorne Michaels and hearing the live audience is nothing short of a religious experience for me. Though I went to theatre school for 8 years (4 years of high school at Bergen County Academies for theatre and 4 years for my BFA in acting at Hofstra) the learning never stops. I've been taking classes in sketch and improv and interning at the Upright Citizens Brigade, continuing my education in Voice Over, and attending workshops whenever I can.
TIR: Tell us about your experience working with the Disney College Program. What were some of your roles you had while you worked there?
DL: I applied for the Disney College Program at the end of my senior year and moved to Florida the summer after graduation as a character performer. I was "friends with" the likes of Mike Wazowski, Winnie the Pooh, Chip and Dale, etc. I lived in the college program housing which were dorm style apartments not far from the parks. The programs last six months with the option to extend, which I did, so I was there for about a year. Over that time I had roommates from Texas, Italy and Ireland and made friends from all over the globe. Basically any time and any place I want to travel I have somebody I can stay with. Disney was, as expected, magical but it was hard work and long hours. Often, especially around the holidays, I would work crazy long days and double shifts. Of course, I would STILL go into the parks on my time off. I just couldn't get enough!
There was also an incredible organization in Florida that I have to mention called Give Kids the World. I would volunteer there any chance I got and I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon the year I was working there to raise money for that charity. It's a nonprofit resort in Central Florida where terminally ill children and their families from all over the world can stay for free when they're on Make-A-Wish type trips. In addition to being close to Disney, Universal and Sea World, Give Kids the World Village had its own rides, characters, daily parades and activities, round the clock ice cream service and basically anything a kid could want. It was a remarkable place that I highly recommend everyone look into (and maybe donate to now in this season of giving). Anyway, my time at Disney World was wonderful, but it was exhausting and HOT. I was ready to come home, but I do miss it all the time.
TIR: You are currently employed as a fitness instructor as well. What types of classes do you teach?
DL: You can catch me at locally at the Meadowlands Y teaching a half hour abs class into an hour barre on Monday nights from 5-6:30 and Friday mornings 9-10:30, as well as at King's Court teaching barre on Mondays at 8! (Sorry, shameless plug!) My certifications are in barre, core, Zumba and general group fitness from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), but I'm on the prowl for the next one.
TIR: How did you become interested in teaching fitness?
DL: I have always been into fitness and working out and my mom taught aerobics when I was little so I guess it had been on my radar to some extent. When I was living in Florida and getting ready to move home I knew I had to come up with something to do up here and I wanted the flexibility of hours to be able to continue to pursue acting. I got my Zumba certification at a fitness convention that came through Orlando and I suppose things just snowballed from there. When I got back home I began going into gyms taking classes, subbing, and getting to know other instructors before eventually picking up some classes of my own. Currently, I only teach Zumba twice a week at Merck Pharmaceutical Company on their lunch break, which has been a pretty great gig. Sometimes I laugh at myself when I'm there thinking like...these people are finding cures to cancer and I'm here screaming at them to shake their butts more? (laughs) But it's always nice when they remind me how necessary those 45 minutes of dance and exercise are for their own mental health, focus and productivity. For me, that's key in all my classes. I want my clients to have fun, feel better and workout for themselves. I'm just happy to be part of it. Not to mention, if you couldn't tell, I'm a ham, and teaching classes are just like mini performances.
TIR: How many marathons have you run? What do you enjoy about that experience?
DL: I just ran my 3rd marathon in October, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. Running a marathon had always been a bucket list item and three years ago I had this notion that I wanted to run the 26(.2) miles in my 26th year. I ran NYC in 2017 and my goal was just to make it out alive (laughs). I enjoyed the crowds, the fact that I was challenging my body to something so big and all the excitement that surrounded it. It was painful! It's a crazy phenomenon- you want to die and you feel like you ARE dying and then you get a medal and you're like "ok when's the next one?" So I did the Philly marathon the next year with the intention of doing better than the year before. Now I just intend to keep going until my body physically can't anymore! I enjoy how my goals and my focus has shifted and likely will continue to shift. As I said, my first marathon was just about finishing it. Then it was about just beating the last time. Now I'd like to qualify for Boston in the next few years and run every race in the World Marathon Majors.
TIR: What can you tell us about your all women show, Thank You For Your Cervix?
DL: Thank You For Your Cervix was an all female sketch comedy troupe that consisted of me and two very funny and bright friends I had worked with in the city. We wrote, performed and produced our own material for the stage and occasionally for short bits on film. While we are currently not performing together anymore as everyone has shifted their focus and goals, we had a good run. As performers it's extremely important to create your own material. I'm a character actress myself and sometimes it's hard to find the right role for me, so, I wrote my own. Our sketches ranged from absurd to observational. Sometimes they were wordy, sometimes it was me wearing a potato sack and doing the worm.
TIR: How did you begin marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? What do you enjoy about participating?
DL: There was an audition notice on Backstage and I just showed up to try out. I actually almost left before auditioning because I walked into the holding room where there were people strapping on their stilts and juggling and I didn’t have a special skill to bring to the table. Obviously I stayed and I'm very glad I did because this is my favorite gig I get to do. At the audition, the moderator asked me to "pretend you're a penguin that just hit a home run." I guess I was convincing (laughs). Of course it helped to have Disney on my resume. Every year is just as exciting as the first time I did it. This is by far the best time of year. I'm pretty much a real live Christmas elf. To be in the middle of the biggest holiday celebration I could imagine is a dream. Here are some highlights: First of all, getting there in the morning at 6am and walking into what looks like a fever dream- people half in costume, a clown dressed like bacon and eggs, and chaos everywhere. Eventually, from there we all load onto city buses, which is wildly entertaining because most of us are in costumes that are so big, we have no spacial awareness. I laugh every time I look around at the tired, delirious faces dressed in the most outrageous outfits. It's impossible to take anyone seriously. We land up by Central Park near the Natural History Museum and walk to our spots when people are already trying to take pictures with us. I gladly oblige. Then we wait. The last few years I've been near the end of the parade so I've actually gotten to watch the start of it and see all the performers up close while I stand in my spot waiting to hop in. When I finally do get to join, it's like a sensory overload! So much excitement, noise, freezing weather...it's a lot, but it's worth it. When marching along it is just so amazing to look down the streets and up at apartment buildings and terraces and see people everywhere. The excitement is out of this world.
TIR: What do you have planned in the near future?
DL: Very good question! The performer life means always chasing the next thing and I currently don't know what that is. I would love to book voice over work, do lots of comedy and secure an agent in the new year. But I'll take whatever I can get!