“If I had to do it again, Taylor McKessie would 100 percent have braids because that’s what she would’ve done.”
Monique Coleman is giving us the greatest gift this season, and no it’s not a High School Musical reunion with the original cast members – well, not totally. On December 3, teen stars Coleman and Corbin Bleu are back on our screens as Barrett Brewster and Lucy Mortimer for Lifetime’s A Christmas Dance Reunion. Together, they work to save the 100-year old Winterleigh Resort as they fall in love with each other.
As I praised Coleman for her role as the intelligent and witty Taylor McKessie from High School Musical and her ability to make me feel seen as a fellow smart Black girl in high school, her eyes grew wide with gratitude. “Throughout these years, I do hear that more often and every single time I have to say, it really impacts me because I was at a time, on the Disney Channel when there were really only two of us, myself and Raven,” Coleman said as she referred to That’s So Raven star Raven-Symoné. “There have been so many times in my life and in my career, where I questioned myself, I questioned my worth, and I questioned my impact. To hear from other young, beautiful black people saying, ‘No girl, we were watching you,’ it just validates my experience so much.”
When asked about A Christmas Dance Reunion, she described it as the tale of Lucy, a young woman who is invited to return to the resort where she and her family would celebrate Christmas. Each year, the resort would host an annual Christmas dance and young Barrett (Corbin Bleu) would always be her dance partner. When Lucy gets wind of the resort shutting down, she reunites with Barrett in an effort to save the place that held some of their fondest memories.
We spoke with Coleman exclusively at Girls United about her exciting new project A Christmas Dance Reunion on Lifetime, the opportunity to work with fellow High School Musical alumna Corbin Bleu again, and what the holidays mean to her.
Girls United (GU): Tell me about A Christmas Dance Reunion and what excited you the most about being part of this project.
Monique Coleman (MC): What excited me most about being part of this project was honestly the opportunity to reunite with Corbin. When I got the offer for this film and I saw that he was already attached to it. It was literally the first time that I was like, ‘I don’t care.’ My agents were like, ‘Mo, you really should read something before you say yes to it.’ I was like, ‘I know, but I know Corbin and I know that he wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t great. We can fix it later. I really want this opportunity to be with him again.’ I couldn’t even begin to fathom how much the alignment and the synergy would be there.
The basic synopsis of the movie is a story about trying to save this place, which is really also about trying to capture the magic that was created there. One of the themes that I really personally relate to and think is really important is the fact that these are two people who grew up going to a place that gave them these feels and gave them this magic. Now they have to take responsibility for continuing that on. They’re the ones who have to step up and say, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something we can actually do to save this place.’ I’m not going to give the ending away, but I’ll say, I think people will be very happy with how it all turns out.
GU: Speaking of all the feels, Christmas is very much a time of nostalgia, happiness, and getting together. What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions to do with your loved ones?
MC: For me, Christmas is actually about being able to connect on a deep level to one another. It’s about compassion and kindness and love. Yes, sometimes I give gifts, but sometimes I don’t. I’m that person that if I didn’t get you nothing, I don’t feel bad about it. I’ve never really subscribed to that traditional sense of the hustle and bustle. For me, it’s a time of reflection. It’s a time of community, family, and really, really good food. I’m from South Carolina, so we know how to eat food. It’s also a time to rejuvenate and regenerate.
My husband and I, now we often go on a trip or we spend it with our friends and family. We’re not so concerned about the commercial aspect of it. As I continue on, I would actually really like to do Kwanzaa as well because I think that the values of Kwanzaa and the ideals are what I’m really more passionate about. Sadly, I don’t have any wonderful Christmas traditions, but Christmas time for me is about being deeply spiritual and connecting to my loved ones.
GU: The holidays are really a time of reflection because especially because of the pandemic, it’s very important to surround yourself with loved ones while you can. Gifts, trees and all that stuff are cool, but at the end of the day, if you’re around people who love you and that you love back, that’s really the most important part.
MC: Sometimes we spend too much time stressing ourselves out about how we show the love in this really small window instead of spreading that out and making sure that we are as loving as we can be as often as we can be. I would like to have matching pajamas this year. While on set, one day I knocked on Corbin’s door, because Corbin and I’s rooms were next to each other while we were filming. His wife Sasha is also in the film and I go over there one day probably to ask for food or something, I knock on the door and they were in matching pajamas. I died. I’m pretty sure they were Harry Potter pajamas. I was like, ‘This is disgusting. What is happening here? Why are you both in your matching jammies?,’ and then immediately I was like, ‘I want to go get some matching jammies too with my husband.’ Maybe that’s going to be my first tradition this year. I’m going to get us some matching pajamas so that we can match with Corbin and Sasha.
GU: If you could give your younger self any piece of advice, what would you tell her and how would you prepare her for what’s going to come next?
MC: You just brought a little tear to my eye. If I could look back and really talk to myself, I would let her know that first and foremost, my love, you are enough exactly as you are. Not only are you enough, but you are also a trailblazer. Because of that, you will get scarred, but do not let those scars become permanent. Those do not have to become deep wounds that stay with you. They’re just the markings that show you what you’ve been through to become who you are. Don’t be afraid to take risks. You don’t need to look around and follow the trends. You are the trend, my love. If I had to do it again, Taylor McKessie would 100 percent have braids because that’s what she would’ve done. I would’ve stood up for myself a little bit more. I would have moved away from people that were keeping me small or holding me back by thinking that I needed to be precious about my career. I would’ve been a little bit riskier and I would’ve jumped a lot faster.
As Black actors and artists, sometimes we have a little bit of an attitude of being happy to be here. There’s a difference between being grateful for being in the place that you have earned and that is rightfully yours, and being grateful because you were chosen. That being chosen, not feeling attached to your worthiness. It implies that someone is giving something to you, when in fact it’s your birthright. Whether you worked hard or you were born into it is actually irrelevant. The fact is I’m a child of God and I was anointed and given this position, not because of my agent, manager, or anyone on my team, but because it is what God placed inside of me and what is allowed to come out. I’ve kind of abandoned that hustle mentality or that, I’ve got to earn it in order to keep it. The way that you earn it and the way that you become qualified is just by doing it and being gracious and developing that self-love and self-compassion that says, ‘I may be flawed, but I deserve it anyway. I may not be the best, but I deserve it anyway. I may not know what to do when I get it, but I deserve the opportunity to try.’
When I look back on myself and my career, I know that many times I was looking for someone to validate my existence and tell me that I was enough and that I mattered. Now looking forward, I realize I should have told myself that I was enough and I deserved to be in those rooms. If someone else couldn’t see me in there, I should have taken my little butt and gotten to the next room or created my own spaces. Through our flaws and all, that gives the next girl permission to say, ‘I’m willing to take that risk.’ I also don’t have to be perfect. I also don’t have to know everything, but I do deserve to be in this room and what I do in that room – that’s what matters.
GU: If you could see Lucy and Taylor together, what advice do you think that they would give each other?
MC: I feel like Taylor might tell Lucy, ‘Girl, you don’t have to give up on your dream. You can do it all. You don’t have to pick one over the other.’ I think Lucy would tell Taylor that it was okay to open your heart.
GU: The holidays is a time where love is amplified. How do you demonstrate your love languages during the holidays, and why is it so important for you to keep your loved ones close?
MC: I’m learning that receiving love is just as important as giving love. I’m a very loving person, very generous and I love to give, but my husband and I were in a therapy session yesterday. Our therapist said to my husband, ‘Your homework is to be more expressive, to say more,” and my homework was to say less and to learn to receive. I’m going to challenge myself this holiday season. I know that I pick great gifts. I know that I am a loving and generous person, but I’m really going to challenge myself to allow myself to feel the love that is available to me. Because if you can’t receive it, then you’re not actually giving it fully. It robs people of their joy when you undermine their generosity and you undermine their compliments, their love, or their gifts by trying to make sure that you reciprocate it. My tune is changed and it really is about learning that I am also worthy and deserving of receiving. That is how I would like to approach this year, is to look around and really honor the people that honor me by allowing myself to feel that completely.
Watch the full trailer for ‘A Christmas Dance Reunion’ below before the premiere tonight on Lifetime.