Anthony Tippins on 18 years of Surviving with Style

September 22, 2023

After a successful first model meeting, Cancer Pathways’ Shayla Ring and Runway Choreographer Anthony Tippins discuss the upcoming Surviving with Style Fashion Show and Gala. Anthony shares his personal journey with cancer, his years of involvement with the gala, and what this event means to him every year.

You’ve been choreographing our [Surviving with Style Fashion Show and Gala] for 18 years, how did you first get involved with Cancer Pathways and our Gala?

I was introduced to Cancer Pathways by Rose Dennis who co-chaired the Surviving with Style Luncheon. Rose asked if I would help show the models how to walk on the runway, because that’s what I’ve done in the past for other clients. I came to my first meeting and I’ve been here ever since.

What keeps you coming back after all these years?

What keeps me coming back are the people. The people that come to support Cancer Pathways, and the people that need support from Cancer Pathways in their journey through cancer. 

When I had cancer, Cancer Pathways wasn’t around. I went through my first round of cancer in 1973. I had testicular cancer and I was 13 years old. It was a very frightening experience and there wasn’t a support organization. 

I hadn’t told Anna [Gottlieb] that I was a cancer survivor until a few years after I’d been volunteering. It was something I never talked about, I wanted to forget the whole experience. I think how we try to empower the models in the show and make them feel beautiful, make them feel loved, and celebrate their journey thus far, that’s why I keep coming back because that is such a beautiful thing.

What is your philosophy going into the Gala every year? 

Every year that I go into the gala I want to make these models look and feel like professional models. I want them to feel great. I want them to feel like a supermodel, that they are beautiful and that they have a lot of pizzazz. They’ve already agreed to do the show so we know that they’re not really shy. It’s about just giving them the tools that’s going to make them feel really great on the runway.

What I think is important when going into the gala every year and working with each group of models is to give them tools that will always make them feel beautiful and looking and feeling good no matter where they’re at, what they’re doing, or what they’re wearing.

According to Anna, our Gala looks so professional because of you. Could you describe your process for getting the models runway-ready, and the changes you see from our first model meeting to the night of the show?

What’s interesting is that people show up at the meeting and they’ve probably been talked into it by a friend or a loved one. Then, there they are, and it’s like ‘Well what am I doing here?’ They’re really scared, they’re nervous, they’re also sharing a very intimate part of their lives by sharing their journey with cancer. 

When I get there, I want them to be like a professional model. Anybody can do that if they know how to walk on a runway, do a half-pivot, and project a happy face. So, I go in and I start off with their posture, then I start with their walk, and I tell them to practice. 

I tell them to look at themselves in the mirror and to tell themselves ‘I love myself,’ every day. Every day I wake up I want to look in the mirror and say ‘I love myself.’ I think when you’re going through cancer that’s not the first thing that you want to do. You just don’t. So I want them to spend time looking at themselves in the mirror and enjoy their own company. 

Then we send them off and I tell them to take all of these tools: keeping their body pulled up, walking foot in front of the other, and to practice that every day. When I see them again at the second meeting It’s amazing how their bodies have changed, how their attitude and disposition has changed.

By the time we get to the day of the show, they see this huge runway and this big production, they’re nervous. They’re nervous, but they know that they can do this and they are ready to do this. It’s so wonderful to see them excel and just have a good time. 

What has been your most memorable experience working with the models?

In the show we have all age ranges that are wanting to model, and we had a little girl, maybe five or six. When she came to the first meeting she was very shy and really quiet. 

In the rehearsal on the day of the show she gets on the runway and she doesn’t want to walk, and then the show comes and it’s her turn. She walks out onto the stage and stands there and I’m thinking, ‘Oh she’s not going to walk, she’s scared,’ because all of a sudden there’s lights and all these people. And they started clapping and cheering for her and she walks down the runway and she stands there, basking in the moment and enjoying everyone clapping and cheering for her. We almost had to send her mother out there to get her to come back!

That was one of the most memorable moments. A little kid like that going through cancer… that’s what I love about Cancer Pathways. You laugh, you cry, you control the controllables, and there are some things you can’t control. 

As a two-time cancer survivor and someone who has spent many years working with survivors and people living with cancer, could you share some wisdom about life?

As I mentioned my first time having cancer, I didn’t talk about. I felt damaged, I felt unattractive and I didn’t feel loved. I thought people could see my scars through my clothes. It took me it Cancer Pathways to get me to share my story, because people need to hear that. They need to know that there’s hope, they need to know that they’re loved, they need to know that this too shall pass, and if it doesn’t then what can you do? 

So you live fully in the moment. You give all that you can give. That’s what’s most important, to be your authentic self, to say what you mean to mean what you say, because tomorrow is not promised to anyone. 

I feel like people still talk in hushed tones when they talk about their cancer, and I’m not the kind of a person that would yell and that would be the first thing out of my mouth, ‘I’m a cancer survivor!’ I’m just not that kind of a guy. But when you’re around other people of like mind then you don’t feel so alone. Going through cancer, it really makes you feel very, very alone. Even though you may be loved, do people really understand what you’re going through? 

That is the beauty of being around other people, you don’t feel so alone. You start sharing your story, and then you celebrate with them, and you realize that there is hope. It’s not always a death sentence. 

You just go with the flow. You take control of what’s good for you, and what isn’t good for you, you make those decisions yourself. Like I said, you control the controllables and you just try to live in the moment, because you never know what’s going to happen.

I’ve had models that have come back and said, ‘You taught me how to walk on the runway and that’s changed me.’ That’s a really nice feeling because that’s what we’re here for, to make sure we leave a footprint that is inspirational for those to follow.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s gala?

I’m looking forward to lots of money being raised at the Gala, which is always really great fun. I think once again it’s about touching the lives of the people that have chosen to be a part of this year’s gala and helping them in their journey. Being a support to them and their family, and celebrating where they’re at in their lives right now. We’re going to celebrate this moment because we can. 

When you can celebrate something like [making] it through this part of your treatment, even though you might have more treatment to go through, it gives you that energy, it gives you that life. It’s that special feeling of walking down that runway in the lights and pretending that you’re a supermodel.

It’s those experiences that I love and look forward to in the gala every single year. Especially this year, seeing that we’re really getting out of this pandemic and we are learning to be good to ourselves. It’s good to be in a good space.

Anthony Tippins has been choreographing our Surviving with Style Fashion Show and Gala for nearly two decades. A two-time cancer survivor himself, his expertise, wisdom, and love helps our models shine every year on the runway. 

Our 26th annual Gala takes place Saturday, October 21st at The Westin Seattle. We can’t wait for you to join us for this beautiful and inspirational night. Register now to share in the love, support, and joy of our Cancer Pathways community.