Kalani Hilliker Dishes Details About "Dance Moms"—and Where Dance Might Take Her Next
Kalani Hilliker made "Dance Moms" fans sit up a little straighter when she first appeared on "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition" back in 2013. The then–12-year-old ballerina had charisma, she had sass—and, wow, did she have technique! Abby Lee Miller, the show's infamous host, saw Kalani's star potential from the start, saving her from elimination and ultimately inviting her to perform alongside Maddie Ziegler on Season 4 of "Dance Moms." "I was never supposed to be on 'Dance Moms' beyond that one performance," says Kalani, now 16, but she ended up staying on the show for the whole season—and the following three. "It was my first time, but not my last time, causing drama. And it was also the first time I got to meet the other dancers, who have become like sisters."
A lot has changed since Kalani joined the cast of "Dance Moms": Many longtime team members have moved on, the show has relocated from Pittsburgh to L.A., and Miller has left amidst legal troubles. But Kalani remains a refreshing constant on the show, practically unfazed by the utter chaos around her. She's stood out as a leader onstage and in the studio, performing near-flawless routines weekly and serving as a mentor to dancers on the show and in its audience. "Dance Moms" may be on its way out, but this extraordinary performer has staying power.
Journey to the Spotlight
With her endless extensions and crazy-archy feet, it's hard to imagine Kalani as anything except a dancer. But there was a time when she considered taking her talents to the soccer field instead of the stage, switching back and forth daily between soccer practice and dance rehearsal. When the 9-year-old was caught doing grand jetés on the field instead of keeping her eye on the ball, her mom knew it was time to commit to dance.
The pint-sized phenom trained at Club Dance Studio in Mesa, AZ, and quickly signed with an agent in L.A. She got her first taste of TV at age 10, when she and three friends won a chance to appear on Disney's "Shake It Up." From there, Kalani started commuting to L.A. regularly for appearances on "Bunheads" on ABC Family (now Freeform).
Once "Bunheads" wrapped, Kalani was excited to return to normal life, competing with her home studio. So when she was invited to join the cast of "AUDC," she hesitated. "I didn't want to take two months out of my training," she says. "But they called so many times to ask that I ended up doing it. And that led to the rest of my life."
A Life on TV
Over the next few years, Kalani grew up in the public eye, experiencing major life events—from hearing about the birth of her baby brother to getting her first car—in front of cameras. These days, her schedule is nonstop: She's constantly running to rehearsals, filmings, competitions, and photo shoots, plus meetings for her three fashion lines and auditions for new projects. And since she's a junior in high school, she still has to fit in at least three hours of schoolwork from home per day.
"There's a lot of pressure that comes with being in front of cameras, which gets stressful," Kalani says. "I have to watch every little thing I do, but I also have to remember that I can't make everybody happy. Part of being on reality TV means having no regrets." Since "Dance Moms" only shows a small portion of Kalani's life ("Usually when we're upset or crying," Kalani says), she opts to show off her personality on her own terms on her YouTube page, where she posts makeup tutorials, cooking demonstrations, or meet-and-greets with her adorable brothers Jax and Jett.
At the end of the day, she loves her life in the spotlight, especially when she gets to be a role model to her fans. "One of the most amazing things to hear is 'I started dancing because of you,'" says Kalani, who's swarmed by admirers whenever she arrives at a competition. "Most of my competition friends knew me before all this, and while they may complain about having to take photos for me with fans, they know I haven't really changed. I'm still Kalani."
One thing that certainly hasn't changed with fame is Kalani's competitive edge—and she makes a point of attending competitions, both with and without the "Dance Moms" crew, as often as possible. Her proudest achievements have been at The Dance Awards, where she's placed in the top three for the last six years. In 2013, she won Junior Female Best Dancer; in 2016, she took home 3rd in the Teen Female Best Dancer category.
With her hectic schedule, keeping up her technique isn't easy. "I don't have time for regular classes, so I've needed a lot of self-discipline," she says. "I'll give myself a barre when I can, and I'm constantly reminding myself to straighten my legs and point my feet. I'm so happy I did a lot of ballet when I was younger, because it comes in handy now."
Now that "Dance Moms" Season 7 filming has come to a close, with no promise of a contract for Season 8, Kalani's thinking hard about what she wants to do next—and it'll probably involve more TV time. "I want to do more acting, and my dream is to be on 'Dancing with the Stars,' " says Kalani, who's ecstatic that "DWTS"
veteran Cheryl Burke has joined "Dance Moms" as Miller's replacement.
Burke, too, sees big things for Kalani. "It's nice to see a dancer who is such a hard worker, but also knows how to have fun with the process," Burke says. "She has great technique and so much passion. Out of all the girls, she's the one I could really see being a professional dancer."
For now, Kalani is keeping her options open. "All I know is I want to keep dancing," she says. "When I was little, I never thought I'd be on TV or move to L.A., but now I'm living my dream—and I'm not even an adult! I can't wait to see where dance takes me next."
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A version of this story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "I'm Still Kalani."
What a week in the "Dancing with the Stars" universe, amirite? After we bid farewell to Drew Scott and Emma Slater on Monday (in a surprise to pretty much nobody, despite the duo's strong performance in a super-fun freestyle that evening), it was time, last night, for Season 25's Grand Finale. And goodness, I don't know if we've ever seen quite so many perfect scores thrown around the ballroom. The final three—Frankie Muniz and Witney Carson, Jordan Fisher and Lindsay Arnold, and Lindsey Stirling and Mark Ballas—performed a total of six routines on Tuesday, and five of them earned straight 10s. Yes, those scores were well-deserved; the finalists danced their bedazzled behinds off. But it also felt like the judges were channeling Oprah. YOU get a 10, and YOU get a 10, and YOUUUU get a 10!
Turkey is great and all, but the best part of Thanksgiving? It's watching some truly fantastic dancing on television, courtesy the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. On Thursday, when your arms are sore from mashing potatoes and/or you need to escape crazy Aunt Linda, head to the living room to catch these super-dancey parade highlights:
Taja Riley's bold, full-out presence and unique ability to mix hard-hitting hip hop with smooth, sensual choreography paved the way for her success in the commercial industry. She's danced with music icons like Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Pitbull, and Bruno Mars, and has assisted with choreography for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale tour, Demi Lovato's Skyscraper tour, and Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. She also appeared in Beyoncé's groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Raised in Virginia Beach, VA, Riley grew up training at Denise Wall's Dance Energy. Currently, she's on faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, where you can catch her touring the convention circuit. —Courtney Bowers
P!nk, known for her high-flying, acrobatic awards show sets, has literally raised the bar for pop stars everywhere. For her performance at last night's American Music Awards, P!nk decided to break out some flips and tricks ON THE SIDE OF A BUILDING. WHILE FLAWLESSLY SINGING HER FACE OFF. You know, just casually, like you do when you're a full-on goddess.
After 13 seasons, "So You Think You Can Dance" viewers probably thought they'd seen it all. From "Ramalama (Bang Bang)" to Bollywood, Travis Wall to tWitch, it seemed like there couldn't possibly be any room left on Mary Murphy's Hot Tamale Train.
Then came 19-year-old Lex Ishimoto. When Lex showed up at the show's Season 14 NYC auditions with an improv solo in lieu of a choreographed routine, the judges were shocked—and then brought to their feet by his show-stopping creativity. From there, the jaw-dropping moments kept coming. In week one of the live shows, Lex busted out a super-crisp tap (!) routine. In his Episode 12 solo, he pulled off a triple (!) tour en l'air. And in Episode 14, he and fellow finalist Taylor Sieve revealed that they'd been dating on the down-low (!!!).
To dance insiders, Lex's name isn't new: It first popped up in playbills when he joined the national tour of the musical Billy Elliot at age 11. Last year, he was featured in Sia's "The Greatest" music video, and he's toured with Travis Wall's critically acclaimed contemporary company Shaping Sound. But now, Lex is officially a household name as America's Favorite Dancer—and has a first-class ticket on that Hot Tamale Train.
Oh hey there, Hallmark Channel! The producer of all those sweet, homey movies best watched in your PJs with your mom has a super dance-y film on its holiday lineup this season: A Nutcracker Christmas. And the casting is—to use a very Hallmark-y pun—perfectly on pointe.
A Nutcracker Christmas tells the story of a talented professional dancer, Lilly, whose supportive sister dies just as Lilly is about to perform the role of Clara in The Nutcracker with New York City Ballet. (Nit-picky fact-checking: In New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, she's known as Marie and danced by a child, but OK.) Lilly's boyfriend and dance partner, Mark, keeps her from performing in the show, which makes Lilly declare she'll never dance again. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Lilly's niece, Sadie, is about to dance Clara in a different company's Nutcracker—a company run by, of all people, Mark. And tons of drama ensues.
Yes, it's a whole lot of plot to wrap your head around. But the real story here is that Sadie is played by none other than the phenomenal Sophia Lucia, and the ever-dashing Sascha Radetsky is also involved in the project. (Radetsky's exact role is unclear from the press material, but he seems like a pretty natural fit for Mark, no?) The odds seem good that we'll get the gift of some very high-quality dancing. Merry Christmas to us!
Sophia Lucia showing off those banana feet (via @sophialucia5678)
You can catch A Nutcracker Christmas on December 10 at 8 pm. Get your slippers and hot cocoa ready.
When you think of a dancer, a double leg amputee may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Eric Graise, who's one of the stars of the upcoming "Step Up: High Water" YouTube Red series, hopes to change that. Graise, whose legs were amputated as a child due to missing fibula bones, will play a character named King in the new dance series, set to debut early next year.
We all suffer from Nutcracker fatigue sometimes. After a zillion performances, it's hard not to. But there's nothing to restore your little-kid sense of Nutcracker wonder like a look at the sheer scale of a world-class Nut.
New York City Ballet's iconic production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker opens on Friday, and for the past week, the company has been Tweeting out some seriously eye-popping #NutcrackerNumbers. The stats cover everything from the number of jingle bells used on each Candy Cane costume (that'd be 144) to the watts of light used in the show's grand finale (ONE. MILLION. WATTS.).
One of the most beautiful things social media has brought us is the ability to feel like we're up close and personal behind-the-scenes with all our favorite dancers. And one of our favorite stars to Insta-stalk are actually two casts of 36 scintillatingly synchronized precision dancers. I'm talking, of course, about my mild obsession with the legendary Radio City Rockettes.
Have we mentioned lately how much we love dance dads? Especially ones who show up to their daughter's ballet class sporting a tutu, like Thanh Tran.