Mak and Midler

U of A on hold as the Vegas show goes on
Performing with the Divine Miss M a heavenly gift for Edmonton dancer
JANUARY 27, 2010

Kandis Mak, right, has been living in Las Vegas for the past two years, working as a dancer at Caesar’s Palace with Bette Midler, left.
Photograph by: Supplied,

Kandis Mak could have been a doctor in Edmonton instead of a dancer in Las Vegas. But then, she would never have had the chance to work with Bette Midler.

Mak moved from Edmonton to Los Angeles when she was 19 after being awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Edge Performing Arts Centre, chasing a lifelong dream to become a dancer.

“By then I had already registered for a second year at the U of A,” said Mak, who was enrolled in an honours course in immunology and infection. “I didn’t think I was going to get (the scholarship).”

Mak hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to school one day. The way she sees it, though, the University of Alberta will always be there; the opportunity to learn from icons like The Divine Miss M won’t.

“I think to work in entertainment you have to do it when you’re young,” said Mak in an interview from Las Vegas.

Mak asked her mom to enrol her in dance when she was five years old after she saw a ballerina perform on television. “I knew from an early age that’s what I wanted to be, and I stuck with it.”

Now 25, she was 23 when she joined 700 other dancers in Las Vegas to audition for Midler’s show at Caesar’s Palace, which was about to start a two-year run.

Her performance must have stood out. Two months later, she was called back for a gruelling weeklong tryout in Los Angeles.

On the last day of the callback, Midler herself showed up to observe the dancers. “It was scary, but it was really exciting, too,” recalls Mak. “Seeing her there made it real for me.”

Three weeks later Mak got the call — the job was hers.

Since then, she has savoured every moment of what for her has been the job of a lifetime. “The time has just flown by,” she says.

Along the way, she has met and seen a host of celebrities — Celine Dion, in particular stands out — and appeared on both The Ellen De- Generes Show and Oprah, as well as Good Morning America.

When you hang with “Miss Bette,” it’s all you can do to keep up. At 65, she is decades older than her dancers, but you would never know it.

“Her energy is absolutely boundless, night after night,” marvels Mak. “She does all her own singing — nothing is on a track — and she does all the choreography with us. It’s pretty insane.”

Even crazier, says Mak, is that despite her iconic stature, Midler is no diva — far from it, in fact. “She is just a really sweet lady.”

Mak says Midler ends every show the same way: “Eat your vegetables, and be kind to others.”

She says she has learned a lot by working with Midler, not just about kindness, but about professionalism and what it really means to have a strong work ethic.

During her two-year run, which is scheduled to wrap up this weekend, Midler never cancelled a single show. “She inspires me to do work harder and do better,” says Mak.

The last show is Sunday, but tonight Mak and the rest of the cast, including Midler, will hold a wrap party after the show at one of the restaurants at Caesar’s Palace to celebrate their triumphant run.

It should be a lot of laughs, she figures, but there will be tears, too.

“It’s really bittersweet. The show is ending and it has been such a huge part of my life for the past two years, so it’s sad. But I’m excited for the new opportunities to come.”

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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