You may not know Haylee Roderick yet—but you will. Check out the dancers in High School Musical 3: Senior Year and look for the girl with big button eyes, wavy dark hair and a megawatt smile. Or watch an episode of “Glee”—20-year-old Haylee is the only dancer Vocal Adrenaline star Jesse St. James (played by Jonathan Groff) wanted to partner. She’s not a leading lady yet, but Haylee is becoming L.A.’s go-to girl, and she has all the makings of a star.
Growing up training at a rigorous studio in Utah, Haylee started competing at age 8, and soon she was working with top commercial and contemporary choreographers, including Brooke Lipton and Justin Giles. She’s hardworking and driven: When she’s not dancing on set, she spends her days in classes at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex, while taking college courses on the side.
Now, with a stellar support system (her parents encouraged her to move to L.A. at the ripe age of 18) and major Hollywood players (including “Glee” choreographer Zach Woodlee) doing everything they can to hire her, Haylee is on the brink of her big break. Read on for a peek at her road to commercial success.
Disciplined Early Dance Days
Being raised in Utah, a state that’s flooded with competitive dance studios and top-notch teachers, Haylee had a bevy of opportunities from the start. She began dancing at age 6 at The Winner School in Salt Lake City. But one year later, Haylee’s favorite teacher, Laura King, left to open her own studio, Pulse31, and Haylee followed soon after. “Those were the most intense dance training years of my life,” Haylee says. “I danced from 4 to 9 pm every day to prepare for competitions.”
King instilled a strong sense of discipline in her students. She held mock auditions during which she asked the dancers on-the-spot interview questions. “We were trained like professionals from the start,” Haylee says. “We were there to get work done.”
King, who brought in guest choreographers such as Dave Carter, Mark Meismer and Mandy Moore, remembers Haylee as a young dancer who was willing to try anything—even if she didn’t get the hang of it right away. “She had a hard time nailing the tricks we used in our choreography, but she never lost her spirit,” King says. “She stayed positive and was a great teammate. Even if she couldn’t get a move, she would keep working at it and never brought the rest of the group down.”
Trey Barber, who taught hip hop at Pulse31, also attributes Haylee’s current success to her outgoing personality. “She was a leader from the beginning,” Barber says. “Though she’s too modest to admit it, Haylee was a role model to the other dancers at the studio.”
By the time she was 12, Haylee was a regular at competitions and conventions. At a Hollywood Connection event, Haylee met Brooke Lipton, a faculty member at the time and the current associate choreographer on “Glee.” “Haylee was a little spitfire,” Lipton says. “She came from a studio where perfection was expected. But Haylee had a little something extra—she had a special shine.” Two years later Lipton hired Haylee to be her convention assistant. “The whole time I was dying for her to move to L.A. so I could hire her professionally,” Lipton says.
At 15, Haylee’s dance life shifted: King closed the doors of Pulse31. “Everyone started to do their own things after that,” Haylee says. She continued assisting Lipton and auditioned for a spot in Dancing Under the Stars, an annual summer show in Utah put on by Kim DelGrosso, artistic director of Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. “I fell in love with the Center Stage girls,” Haylee says. She joined the studio’s competition team and stayed there through high school. “Dancing at Center Stage was eye-opening,” Haylee says. “I was mechanically trained before that, always focusing on strict technique and cleanliness. At Center Stage, they were into contemporary, fluid movement. It was foreign to me.” Haylee also gained a new mindset: “I learned how to be inspired by my classmates rather than compete with them,” she says.
A Taste of the Professional Life
Dancing at Center Stage brought Haylee her first professional audition—and ultimately her first job. Through her industry connections, DelGrosso got Haylee, who was 16 at the time, an audition for a featured dance role in the Utah-based High School Musical 3: Senior Year. “I got to the audition and all the dancers there had been in the first two movies. They already knew the audition process,” Haylee says. “I felt so out of place.” After a week of auditions that included learning routines from the film, performing partner work and going through an interview round, Haylee got the call: She’d booked the job.
The five-month filming process was grueling, but it was worth it: Haylee is on screen in nearly every shot involving dancers, often in an East High cheerleader uniform. “Working on HSM opened my eyes to the whole behind-the-scenes world,” Haylee says. “It was rewarding to watch the final product on screen.”
When her senior year arrived, Haylee wanted to get involved with school before it was over. “I spent months in fantasy high school on set,” she says. “I felt like I had missed so much in the real world.” She was elected student body vice president, performed with her high school’s dance team, joined a handful of clubs on campus, took honors classes and continued dancing at Center Stage. But HSM had lit a fire under her: “I made the most of my senior year in school but I knew what I eventually wanted to do full time,” Haylee says.
Bright Lights, Big City
After graduating from high school, many dancers ponder the “college vs. move to L.A. or NYC” debate. For Haylee, there was no question. She’d already gotten a glimpse of a professional dance career and was ready for more. She graduated in May and moved to L.A. in September.
Luckily for Haylee, her parents were on board. “When it came time to apply for colleges or move to L.A., my dad said, ‘This is your chance to live out your dream. Go do it.’ ” Still, when she got to L.A., Haylee experienced her share of culture shock. “You see Hollywood as this glamorous, fun vacation spot,” she says. “But when you make it your home, you realize that everyone is here competing for the same dream.”
The fast-paced city didn’t discourage her, though. “I became a classaholic right away,” she says. Haylee spent entire days at EDGE and Millennium taking classes with Mandy Moore, Nick Lanzisera and Jennifer Hamilton. And though she admits that ballet isn’t her favorite style, she committed to adding ballet classes to her jazz and contemporary-heavy repertoire.
While Haylee had everything working in her favor—solid technique, discipline and commitment—the paying jobs didn’t come immediately. She signed with an agency and started auditioning regularly, but quickly learned that she would need a side job. “I was used to having a set schedule,” she says. “When I had free time, I didn’t know what to do.” Haylee and a friend took a catering job delivering organic lunches to a private school in Beverly Hills. The optimist in Haylee saw the best in the situation: “We drove the van, dropped off the lunches, then parked near fancy houses and ate the leftovers,” she says. “I was getting paid and getting a free lunch!”
After a few months adjusting to her new lifestyle, Haylee was eager to spend time with her family back in Utah for the holidays. But after just a few days at home, she got a phone call from her agent. “She said, ‘Happy New Year, are you available in two days? They want you for ‘Glee.’ ” Haylee was on the next plane back to L.A.
At the time, “Glee” was in its first season and about to embark on a series of episodes featuring the Vocal Adrenaline show choir. They needed strong, technical, energetic dancers, and Brooke Lipton recommended Haylee for a spot. “She can dance for hours,” Lipton says. “She’s a powerhouse with so much strength. That’s the kind of dancer we were looking to cast.”
The first day on set, the dancers were told to pair up to learn the choreography for the “Highway to Hell” routine. Haylee asked the male dancer standing next to her to be her partner. Unknowingly, she’d chosen Jonathan Groff—a Broadway veteran and Vocal Adrenaline’s lead. When it came time to film the scene, Lipton and “Glee” choreographer Zach Woodlee tried Groff out with three girls. But he wanted Haylee. “Jon said, ‘I need Haylee. She’s the one I want to partner,’ ” Lipton recalls. The two meshed so well that Haylee was brought back for two more episodes and spent four weeks performing across the U.S. on the “Glee Live” tour.
While the future of Vocal Adrenaline’s presence on the show is uncertain, Lipton says Haylee needn’t worry: “If they don’t come back, we’ll find a space for Haylee. She steals the screen.”
Haylee Takes the Stage
As her career surges forward, Haylee is enjoying stints on screen and on the stage. She attended an open audition and was cast as a dancer at the 2010 Academy Awards, where she performed in the opening number. Dancing at the Oscars, Haylee had one goal: “I walked out on the stage, looked into the audience and saw all these recognizable faces—Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Rachel McAdams. During my last pose, I wanted to make eye contact with Meryl Streep. I knew where she’d be sitting since I’d seen the seating chart during rehearsals. When I hit my final mark, I looked her straight in the eyes and she smiled back at me. It was the highlight of my life.”
With all she’s got going for her, we can’t say we’d be surprised if someday Haylee’s the one in the fancy dress, winking back at the dancers onstage.
Birthday: November 1, 1990
Hometown: Sandy, UT
Most-played on her iPod: Florence and the Machine and Joshua Radin
Guilty pleasure: Baking. “I make everything: muffins, brownies, cakes. I’ll throw things from my pantry together with chocolate and hope it comes out well!”
Favorite meal: Indian food
Favorite movies: “Currently Black Swan. Also The Breakfast Club, Garden State and Wayne’s World.”
Must-see TV shows: “Mad Men,” “Glee” and anything on the Food Network
Who would play you in a movie? Rachel McAdams
Dance crushes: Zach Woodlee, Teddy Forance, Justin Giles and Tony Testa
Something people don’t know about you: “I dominate on the drums in Rock Band!”
Dance idols: Brooke Lipton and Mia Michaels
Most memorable off-screen “Glee” moment: “Shooting the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ performance. It was so crazy behind the scenes—everybody
was getting hurt!”
Advice for readers: “Live with your eyes wide open. There’s so much to see and do in this world. Don’t judge yourself and don’t regret anything—everything is a learning experience. Pursue your dreams and never give up.”
Photos top to bottom: (2) Haylee Roderick, by Omi; Haylee (second from left) and the dancers on the “Glee Live” tour, photo courtesy Haylee Roderick.