From YouTube to the boob tube, Keone and Mari Madrid seem to be everywhere these days—and that’s just the way we like it. Recent highlights for the husband and wife team include choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance”; receiving an MTV Video Music Award nomination for their choreo for Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me” vid; and continuing to break the internet with their dance shorts and class choreo clips.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Even though their careers have taken off in a big way, the Madrids are still the humble, adorable couple that won our hearts on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” back in 2013. And that wasn’t too long after they fell in love themselves: They first met at an Urban Legends dance workshop back in ’08 and married in 2012 following an uber-romantic surprise proposal from Keone. The pair have stayed true to their roots, opening a new dance studio called Building Block in their hometown of Carlsbad, CA. And they haven’t deviated from the upbeat, fun-loving, smooth dance style that put them on the map.
Since Keone and Mari know each other better than anyone, we asked them to have a conversation rather than doing a typical Q&A. Find out what they had to say about their secrets to success…and whether a mini-Madrid might be on the way!
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Keone: We have so many memories from working together—what’s your favorite so far?
Mari: It would have to be the Hyundai commercial. We just thought we were making a YouTube commercial, but…
K: …a few months later, we got a Tweet from someone saying, “Keone and Mari are in Times Square!” It ended up being on a huge electronic billboard that played 24/7, right underneath the Coca-Cola sign. It was incredibly humbling, and pretty wild for us to have that opportunity.
M: I’d say the most challenging job we’ve done was definitely “The X Factor.”
K: Same here, because it’s live television. There were several times when we had to change the choreography on the stage, on the spot—in a span of 30 seconds. It caused some stressful moments, but also helped us to be prepared for the worst if we’re ever presented with that challenge in a different dance setting.
M: It’s also difficult to separate our work and our personal life. They tend to blend into each other.
K: That’s the hard part—since we work together not just creatively, but also business-wise.
M: We always say we should relax and not talk about work, and then it turns into, “Did you answer that email?” Being married three years, we realize we have to make our personal life a priority.
K: That’s why the Fourth of July this year was so great—we decided to just stay home with our dog, watch Netflix all day and have our own mini barbecue.
M: With Chicago-style hot dogs!
K: But 80 percent of the time, we’re working or dancing. How would you describe our choreographic process?
M: Usually, we’ll talk a little bit first and then just start moving; sometimes, we’ll map out a piece to make sure it has good ups and downs.
K: Yeah, it’s definitely a good mixture of freestyle and pre-planning. It’s almost like a game of Twister, putting together different ‘pictures.’
M: Yes on Twister! Sometimes I’ll be in a terribly uncomfortable position while we figure out the arms, and I’ll have to take a little breather. But it’s all worth it.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
K: I’d describe our choreography as urban dance—it’s a fusion of styles with a strong base in hip hop, but definitely not pure hip hop. Storytelling is a big part of it.
M: It’s also rooted in musicality, with lots of detail and precision.
K: Our choreography is all about grooves! The feeling is the most important. We brainstorm moments we want to bring out of the song, but a lot of times, the flow creates itself and new ideas come to the table.
M: One of the pieces I’m proudest of is “Orphans,” which we performed with our dance team Cookies at the VIBE XX Dance Competition in January. We got first place and donated our winnings to World Vision, a huge charity organization dedicated to helping children and families. There was a ripple effect, with the team that won second place also deciding to donate. It was such a cool moment, seeing what dance can do beyond the stage.
K: Our faith plays a big part in the choices we make, the songs we choreograph to and the messages we decide to share. With “Orphans,” it felt good to raise awareness and give a voice to people who don’t have one.
M: Looking ahead, what would be your dream dance job?
K: It’s hard to say—I think we’re living it right now! We’re getting into theater, doing more film stuff and traveling and teaching, so I can’t complain. But having a family will be the ultimate prize. That’s what all this dance stuff and the opportunities we take are for—to provide our family with a better future.
M: Yeah, that’s the next big step, and the real dream job: being a mom and dad.
The Next NappyTabs?
It’s no wonder people are constantly comparing the Madrids to Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo (aka “NappyTabs”). Married couple that works together? Check. Sick choreography? Check. “So You Think You Can Dance” creds? Check. “We totally get it, since they’re also married and do hip hop and partnering,” Keone says. “But we’re in different worlds—they’re very much in the industry, while we’re somewhere in between the industry, the competition/community scene and YouTube.”
Even though they draw a distinction, Keone and Mari are extremely flattered by the comparison. “We respect and are inspired by them, especially seeing how hard they work for everything they have,” Mari says. “They’ve also shown us it’s possible to have a family and work in choreography!”
In the House
For Keone and Mari, the creativity doesn’t stop on the dance floor. Their home in Carlsbad, CA (near San Diego), is full of touches that show just how artistic these two are—from a wedding portrait Mari drew herself to artwork they picked out together. “Our place has everything from a poster of Marty McFly in Back to the Future to a giant map of the world to pictures of our dog,” says Keone. “It’s a mixture of things we enjoy and things that inspire us.”
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
As with any successful partnership, Keone and Mari both bring different strengths
to the table—which make their work that much more awesome. Mari says Keone is particular, which helps take their ideas to the next level, while Keone says Mari helps him stay calm, cool and collected.
Mari: “Keone is a good initiator when we get stuck—he’s always pushing to find out what the piece is supposed to be. He has a very high standard. At moments when I’d just settle for something, he’ll push to go a little bit further.”
Keone: “Mari is all about patience and allowing the space to just figure things out. She’s really good with keeping things in perspective, and that translates to our personal life, too.”
Mari on Keone
What’s Keone’s biggest food craving?
Meat and rice, always.
If Keone weren’t a dancer/choreographer, what career would he have chosen?
What’s Keone’s biggest phobia?
What song would Keone say is “yours” as a couple?
We have several, but Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight" was our first dance at our wedding.
If Keone were a superhero, what would his power be?
Flying, pending he gets over his fear of heights.
Who would play Keone in a movie?
Haha, James Franco.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Keone on Mari
What’s Mari’s favorite flower?
What’s Mari’s biggest pet peeve?
Grammar, specifically "you're" versus "your" and "apart" versus "a part." And when I'm on my phone.
What item(s) of your clothing would Mari like to steal for herself?
My hats and hoodies.
What’s Mari’s hidden talent?
It's not really hidden, but cooking and writing.
What does Mari think is the best gift you’ve ever given her?
The "Raff the Giraffe" story book I made her. And marriage.
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!