This adorable Shiffon, a hybrid of a Shih-tzu and Brussels Griffon, is at home on Broadway, has traveled with his “mom,” Jennifer Balagna, to two countries (Canada twice and Mexico) in addition to 17 states. He has been to the Hamptons, up and down the east coast, Florida, California and Colorado 10 times, just to name a few.
“He is the best travel buddy, riding in this super chic carrier that sits below my seat,” Balagna says. “He’s been traveling since he was a pup, and it was important to me to acclimate him to traveling on all different types of modes, including trains, the subway, taxis, airplanes and more.”
He has schmoozed with Dolly Parton, who would scoop him up from the dressing room and take him out to the house to watch during “9 to 5.” Mr. Henry sat through many rehearsals with two-time Tony Award-winning Andy Blankenbuhler. He also became great friends with Allison Jenney’s dog, Addie. Balagna, who has acted in all of these productions, gave her cast the challenge of naming her new 8-week-old puppy. The final four were Oscar, Valentino, Calvin and Hank Aaron.
“I surprised them all when I named him Mr. Henry!” she says.
Mr. Henry was born on April Fools Day in Kansas City, and Balagna adopted him when she was on tour with “Wicked.” She now owns Kansas City Dance Company in Lee’s Summit and says no matter if students are having a bad or good day, this little studio mascot is always there with a snuggle and cuddle on the couch.
A Lee’s Summit native, she graduated from LSHS in 2001, then headed to New York, explaining that on her second day of college at Fordham University, 9/11 happened. She volunteered at the World Trade Center in the aftermath. She earned her B.S. in economics, choosing this degree because as the daughter of Phyllis Balagna, longtime owner of Steppin’ Out the Studio in Lee’s Summit, it was critical for her to work in the dance industry.
“I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” she says.
She did pave her own way, living in NYC for 14 years and performing as a professional dancer on Broadway and in the touring company as the Dance Captain of “Wicked the Musical” and also an original cast member of the Broadway musical “9 to 5” with Dolly Parton where she sang on the cast album. She also toured with New York City Dance Alliance as a demonstrator, performed in multiple contemporary companies, and has performed in gigs for companies including Tupperware, Saratoga Springs Water and the American Dental Association. Her favorite performance memory was dancing as Betty White’s body double for “Saturday Night Live.”
She now loves to teach and pass on her knowledge and love for dance and has workshopped for multiple shows, including “In the Heights,” “Annie Revival,” “the Apple Tree Revival,” “Cats Revival,” and “9 to 5.”
Mr. Henry has been by her side through it all.
“My favorite activity that Mr. Henry and I do is go to Bar K in the River Market and just hang out with our friends and watch him play with the other dogs. He is a pretty lazy, borderline lethargic dog, but when he gets to the dog park he turns into a running machine,” she says. “Chasing other dogs is his favorite 'sport' to play. The bigger the dog, the better as his first dog friend that he adored when he was a puppy in NYC was a 180-pound Great Dane. He was only six pounds then! His nickname is Henrito Burrito, H. Man and Baby Hens.”
As Balagna herself has traveled to more than 28 countries, it is safe to say she and her little sidekick will continue finding new stages and discovering new adventures for many years to come.