Take a good look at Skyler Semien, because she's an up-and-coming commercial dancer who's primed to take Hollywood by storm. A freshman at Georgia State University, the former competition kid has already appeared in her first feature film, Pitch Perfect 3, and has two more movies in the works.
How did this dancer end up in one of the biggest films of the year? Semien says it started with her dance training. Studying everything from ballet to contemporary, Semien started competing when she was only 6 years old. But in high school, she realized hip hop was her ticket to the commercial world, and decided to shift her focus. Soon, she'd signed with Bloc talent agency, and as a senior in high school, she was cast as one of the "new Bellas" in Pitch Perfect 3.
Though Semien's found success in show biz, don't expect her to drop everything and move to Hollywood. The multi-talented dancer is keeping her options open as she concentrates on getting her education. "Dancers are no longer just dancers; they're entrepreneurs, creative directors, musicians and actors," she says. And she believes education will breed the skills she needs to pursue those kind of opportunities.
We chatted with Semien about why she thinks so many dancers are pursuing additional careers beyond the dance world.
Nina Bartell is such a complete performer that when she was crowned Teen Outstanding Dancer at the 2015 New York City Dance Alliance gala, it felt inevitable. You'd never have guessed the 16-year-old had only begun competing solos two years prior to her big win.
Tap improvisation is a skill usually reserved for seasoned professionals. But 16-year-old hoofer Devin Ruth, who practices her improv by performing at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, is ahead of the game. Devin wasn’t always a sleek city tapper—she got her start as a comp kid, training with Mary No at In The Spotlight in Waldwick, NJ, and winning platinums at Tap2You. It was there that Devin met Aaron Tolson, who introduced her to the slinky, rhythmical world of NYC tap. At 13, she joined the Tap City Youth Ensemble, and she continues to train and perform with the company today.
(Photo by David Kaptein Photography)
Birthday: January 22, 1998
Hometown: Wyckoff, NJ
Nondance talent: “I run hurdles for my school’s track team.”
Performer she’d love to work with: “I’ve wanted to work with Randy Skinner for a long time, and I’m about to start!”
Favorite food: chocolate chip cookies
Dance idol: Gregory Hines
Favorite dance movies: White Nights and Tap
Dream job: “Tapping on Broadway!”
Juliet dancing a variation from Diana and Acteon (pas de deux) at Youth America Grand Prix (VAM Productions)
Juliet Doherty just may have it all: ridiculously long legs, the archiest feet on any given stage, big, beautiful eyes, sky-high leaps and totally controlled turns—plus a starring role at Radio City Music Hall. And she’s smart and super sweet? Yes, 14-year-old Juliet has the kind of dance life most of us only dream of.
Juliet started dancing when she was 3 at her great-grandmother’s studio, Fishback Studio of the Dance, in her hometown of Albuquerque, NM. “I was born into a dancing family,” says Juliet, who trains with her mom. She began with ballet classes, and by the time she was 5 she had added modern, jazz, tap and acrobatics as well. Juliet also made an early name for herself on the competition and convention circuit. “I did my first competition solo when I was 7, and it was a hip-hop number,” she says, giggling. “But then I was like, hmm, maybe this isn’t a fit for me.”
Hip hop wasn’t her forte, but ballet certainly is. In addition to attending competitions such as New York City Dance Alliance, International Dance Challenge and Showstopper, Juliet began competing at Youth America Grand Prix at age 9. “I love attending conventions because you get to learn from and put yourself in front of so many amazing teachers,” she says. “But at YAGP, you get the opportunity to earn scholarships and take a step even further into your future. I love competing with dancers from all over the world.”
In 2009, Juliet traveled to Chicago to audition for the role of Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. She was cast in the show’s Seattle/Pittsburgh tour in what Juliet calls “the most exciting time of my life!” The next year, she was cast in the Florida/Texas leg of the tour. Finally, in 2011, Juliet landed the role of Clara in the biggest production of all: the NYC show at Radio City Music Hall. “After two years on tour, I was ready for New York,” she says. During the 2011 season, Juliet performed alongside the Radio City Rockettes in two to five shows a day, six days a week.
With such a grueling dance schedule, is Juliet burnt out? Not even close. “I love performing in front of a live audience,” she says. “Someday I want to be in a ballet company like New York City Ballet—those dancers are so inspiring and the Balanchine ballets they perform are gorgeous.” And she’s already taking steps toward her future dance career. “Last year when I went to YAGP, I had some scholarship interest from overseas programs, and I’ve kept in touch with those contacts. I want to research my options overseas and in America—I’m figuring out what will be the best fit for me and where I’ll be most comfortable.”
Birthday: June 10, 1997
Most-played on her iPod: “Breathe Me” by Sia. “But before competitions I love listening to Beyoncé’s I Am...Sasha Fierce album. She’s so confident, and I would love to have that confidence every time I go out and perform.”
Favorite movie: Matilda. “When I was 5, she was my hero. I watched that movie every day growing up.”
Favorite dance step: Saut de chat. “I’m a powerhouse when it comes to leaping.”
Favorite food: Octopus and white rice. “My parents spent time in Japan before I was born, so I was introduced to really good food from other cultures.”
Dance idols: Misty Copeland and Ashley Bouder
Who would play her in a movie? Audrey Hepburn
Dance crush: Daniel Ulbricht. “He has a girlfriend, but don’t worry: He’ll realize soon his true future lies with me…[giggles.]”