Cover Story

How Commercial Phenom Amanda LaCount Is #BreakingtheStereotype

Photo by Jim Lafferty

Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.

And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.


Finding Her Passion

Amanda started in ballet, tap, and jazz combo classes at age 2 at Mary Constantine-Nelson Dance Centre in Fort Collins, CO, and later added hip hop and other styles. Dance was a big part of her childhood, but it was far from her only extracurricular. She also took voice lessons and did regional theater. She qualified to compete at Nationals as a figure skater and was a competitive all-star cheerleader. She even rode horses.

Her early dance teachers saw a natural performer. "At 8 or 9 years old, she could command the stage," says Jenni Leinweber, artistic director of Loveland Dance Academy in Loveland, CO, where Amanda trained after MCNDC. Leinweber also recalls Amanda having another special skill: "I could show her a minute of choreography once, and she'd get it all. I could not believe how accurate her memory was."

(photo by Jim Lafferty)

Unfortunately, not everyone was so supportive. After leaving LDA in search of a more challenging environment, Amanda spent a year at a prestigious competition school. She had a stellar season and thought she'd found her new dance home. Then she and her mom were called into a meeting with the studio owner. "He told me that my body type didn't fit his vision," Amanda remembers. "I was sad and traumatized. That was the first point where I realized, 'I'm different. I'm going to have to fight to be taken seriously.' "

Making Bold Moves

In 2013, Amanda joined the L.A.-based kids dance crew Latin Flavah. She and her mom committed to driving back and forth from Colorado to California so she could train and perform alongside other hip-hop up-and-comers, like Jordyn Jones, Kaycee Rice, and Tati McQuay. "It was such a great experience—except for the 16-hour trip every weekend," Amanda says.

When the travel eventually became too much, it was decision time. "I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer," Amanda says. "Everyone moves to L.A. after high school. I thought, 'What if I came out here while I was younger? I could start making a name for myself before I turned 18.' " In January 2015, she arrived in the City of Angels and hit the ground running. In addition to enrolling at Champs Charter High School of the Arts, she started studying at Millennium Dance Complex, EDGE Performing Arts Center, IDA Hollywood, and Playground LA. She also signed with Bloc Talent Agency. Soon, she was being sent to three or four auditions a week.

(photo by Jim Lafferty)

The transition wasn't without its setbacks. For example, when 14-year-old Amanda met fitness guru Richard Simmons on a red carpet, he offered her some unsolicited advice: Lose 15 to 20 pounds in order to make it in the entertainment industry. "I walked away sobbing," she says. "I thought, 'Should I just go home now?' "

But she kept training, and auditioning. "I learned where to stand, what to wear, how to freestyle, how to catch the casting director's eye," she says. It took about six months to land her first gig, a J.C. Penney commercial. "Getting that stamp of approval from someone in the industry gave me confidence," Amanda says. "I realized there was nothing holding me back."

Becoming a Pro

Amanda's unique look is far from the only thing she brings to the table. She describes her movement style as being "in the sweet spot between hard-hitting and lyrical," and cites her vulnerability and storytelling as other strengths. "When I dance, I'm an open book," she says. "I don't fake emotion. It's truly from the heart."

People in the industry have taken notice. Amanda has performed on "The Voice" and "Dancing with the Stars." She was featured in Katy Perry's "Swish Swish" music video—chosen by Perry herself, out of thousands of entries in an Instagram dance contest. She spent two years on the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks Crew, is regularly featured in class videos for popular teachers like Matt Steffanina, is a member of Chloe and Maud Arnold's youth tap company #NoFilter: Sole Talk, and is a Team Capezio brand ambassador.

(photo by Jim Lafferty)

In 2018 alone, Amanda has crossed off two of the biggest goals on her career bucket list: performing on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," with The Greatest Showman's Keala Settle, and dancing for Meghan Trainor at the Radio Disney Music Awards. The latter experience, in June, was particularly special: "Meghan's song 'All About That Bass' helped me love my body," Amanda says.

"Amanda wears her curves with pride, and I love that, but she's also an incredibly dynamic dancer who can do anything that's asked of her," says Brian Friedman, whom Amanda considers a mentor. The two first met in one of Friedman's L.A. master classes. "I've noticed so much growth in her," he says. "My class demands versatility, and she brings it." Recently, Friedman has been encouraging Amanda to train more in heels. To push her, he cast her in former Pussycat Doll Carmit Bachar's "How Far" music video—the youngest of the shoot's 40 women.

Paying It Forward

These days, Amanda stays busy with auditions, jobs, classes, and travel while also studying full-time at Los Angeles Valley College. She dreams of going on tour with a big-name artist, and of becoming known as a choreographer and teacher in her own right. But no matter where her career takes her, one of the things she's proudest of is facing the dance world's body prejudices head-on.

To help others find the confidence she's worked so hard to develop in herself, she launched a social media hashtag campaign, #breakingthestereotype, in 2016. "I want to show people you don't have to look a certain way to be a good dancer and be successful," she says. Amanda shares dance videos almost daily on her super-popular Instagram (at press time, she had 141,000 followers), and tries to respond to every direct message and like every comment. "My posts are inspiring people, which is wonderful, but it can be a lot of pressure," she says. "But I wouldn't be where I am without everyone's support. I have to show my followers how much I appreciate them."

Like anyone in the public eye, she's dealt with haters. "I try to ignore them, because confronting them would only add fuel to their fire," she says. It helps that for every negative comment, there are hundreds of nice ones. Meanwhile, with each share, #breakingthestereotype reaches more people—dancers and non-dancers alike.

"It's so easy to focus on what other people think about you, rather than how you feel about yourself," Amanda says. "But you only have one life. I want to tell people: If you love something, do it! It's as simple as that."

Amanda would like to dedicate this story to her dad, Joedy Krieg, who passed away November 15, 2015.

A version of this story appeared in the November 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Dancing Outside the Lines."

The Conversation
Cover Story

It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.

In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Season 15's Top 10 in a Luther Brown number (Michael Becker/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a 16th season, and we are SO HERE FOR IT! Especially because there are tons of gorgeous dancers we're obsessed with RN and would love to see up on that "SYTYCD" stage. Here are nine people we hope are planning to audition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

Are you a college student curious about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite magazine? You're in luck—because Dance Spirit is searching for an editorial intern for summer 2019!

We'll be accepting applications through March 1. Internships require a minimum two-day-a-week, onsite commitment in our NYC office from June to August.

Keep reading... Show less
via joffreyballetschool.com

Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Photo by Joe Toreno

With over one thousand Instagram posts showcasing her latest improv practice or snippet of competition choreo, it's safe to say Lucy Vallely is never not creating. But how does she avoid burnout? Here, she shares her key tactics for staying inspired and energized, in and out of the studio.

Keep reading... Show less
See photo credits below

What inspires you most as a dancer? What keeps you going on the days when the motivation just isn't there, and makes you feel like all the hard work, rejection and sacrifice is worth it for the pursuit of your dream? What makes you want to run into an empty studio and create something new?

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.

In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
A still from one of the Dance in Paradise videos

Forget everything you thought you knew about Polynesian dance. French filmmaker Nyko PK16, who's based in Tahiti, has created a video series that showcases the beauty of the under-appreciated form in a unique way.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via @chelshightower on Instagram

From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.

But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.

With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Season 15's Top 10 in a Luther Brown number (Michael Becker/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a 16th season, and we are SO HERE FOR IT! Especially because there are tons of gorgeous dancers we're obsessed with RN and would love to see up on that "SYTYCD" stage. Here are nine people we hope are planning to audition.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.

Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story

It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.

In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending-posts
Past "SYTYCD" hopefuls at The Academy (Adam Rose/FOX)

More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.

That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dancer Tony Bellissimo on the field at Super Bowl LII (via Instagram)

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!

What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
screenshot via @donte.colley on Instagram

Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways