Why We Can’t Stop Watching Instagram Star Autumn Miller—On Screen and Off

Photo by Joe Toreno

Visit Autumn Miller's Instagram feed and you'll find a video of the 18-year-old practicing fouettés. "You'll never be able to do it until you try," the caption reads.

At first it looks ordinary enough. (How many fouetté videos are there online?). But once you watch it, you'll understand why Autumn has more than a million followers. The turns are flawless, showcasing phenomenal technique—extension, coordination, lift, all of it. And if you keep scrolling, you'll find snippets of her working her butt off in class, equally at home in contemporary and hip hop, attacking each combination with the kind of fearlessness and confidence one rarely sees in a teenager.

That full-bodied devotion to her craft—what one of her mentors calls her "soul-bleeding dance"—makes Autumn a rare breed: an Instagram dance sensation more focused on her art than her follower count.


Photo by Joe Toreno

The Early Years

Autumn started dancing at age 6, after a brief stint in gymnastics. Her mother, Krista Miller, was then a well-respected dance teacher, and knew the business well from her years of working professionally with everyone from Prince to Debbie Allen. "I didn't want her to feel pressure from me, so we tried gymnastics first, but she was undeniably going to dance," Krista says. Autumn began her training at Dance Precisions in Anaheim, CA, and then spent seven years at Mather Dance Company, where she started "training hardcore," she says, competing in up to 10 dances a year.

From a very young age, Autumn loved performing—even though she admits that before going onstage for the first time, at age 7, she "almost had a panic attack! But I let my emotions take over, and I loved it." She scored her first agent at age 8, and her first job, on "Dancing with the Stars," at age 10.

"She really connects with an audience," Krista says. "Now her technique sets her apart, but in the beginning, even if her dancing wasn't perfect, she could captivate an audience."

A Dancing Sisterhood

Autumn doesn't live the life of a typical 18-year-old. She's been homeschooled since the fourth grade, for starters. Three years ago, her parents opened a dance studio, The Brea Space, in Brea, CA, and started The Launch, a mentorship homeschooling program for dancers ages 14 to 22. (Right now, there are 21 girls and four boys in the program.) Many of the students moved to Southern California from out of state and are housed with local families, including the Millers. So right now, Autumn lives with her parents, her younger brother—and four other girls. "It's so much fun!" she says. "It's a built-in sisterhood. We do the L.A. thing together."

The Launch students at The Brea Space have an on-site tutor in the morning and dance 25 to 30 hours a week, with training in hip hop, jazz, contemporary, ballroom, ballet, acting, singing, and Pilates. They also do body conditioning, learn about nutrition, and travel into L.A. once a week to take class with teachers including Brian Friedman, Talia Favia, Dexter Carr, Derrick Schrader, and Erica Klein. "I'm trying to bridge the gap from the competition world to the real-life industry," Krista explains.

The opening of her family's studio was a big "aha" moment for Autumn. "Before, I was more of a competition dancer," she says. "When we opened the studio, my parents brought in choreographers. I didn't realize how much more was out there!"

"Autumn is magical," says choreographer and teacher Mark Meismer, who's known Autumn her whole life and now teaches master classes at The Brea Space. "She is the most well-rounded dancer I know. Most dancers are strong in one element, but she's unbelievably strong in everything."

Her work ethic helps. "She's very humble, not entitled," Meismer says. "She's in there out-dancing her own self. There's no ego or entitlement; instead, she has a vulnerable quality." He adds that she takes "full-out" to the next level: "The music comes on and she doesn't know how to hold back!"

Photo by Joe Toreno

Life Online

Autumn's Instagram success actually grew out of her YouTube channel, Autie Freestyle Friday. Her weekly video posts were initially snippets of her dancing in a room at home, and evolved into competition videos, interviews, her morning routine, and of course, those incredible clips from class at The Brea Space. It was her dad who thought she should move onto Instagram, where she grew her following "from the bottom up." She's now at an astonishing 1.2 million followers.

"People are drawn to her online because she shows herself training," says Meismer. "She's not showing 'Here I am with Beyoncé!' She's a normal dancer who goes to class every single day and is working on her craft. She's not shooting all this fake stuff. People want to watch someone going after her dream."

Her realness recently paid off: Imagine Dragons found her on Instagram and asked her to dance in their "Bad Liar" video—no audition required. The band loved what they'd seen of her online, and material from her Instagram account ended up informing the choreography in the video.

But all of this fame and glamour does have a dark side. "Social media is a blessing and a curse," Krista says. "You are everything you post. Fortunately and unfortunately, whatever you put out is your brand, and you want to choose your brands wisely." (Autumn is offered sponsorships regularly, and turns most of them down.) Along with all the accolades and admiration, Autumn can get a lot of hate. "Our philosophy is 'Block and delete, don't engage' " Krista explains. Autumn has taken that to heart. "Someone is always going to love it or hate it," she says. "Everyone has a bad turning day. Some days you are going to forget the whole dance, and you grow from that."

With so many followers, there's also added pressure on Autumn IRL. Since her videos are regularly viewed hundreds of thousands of times, when she walks into class in L.A—which she does at least once a week—people are expecting greatness. " 'Oh, there's Autumn Miller. Let's see what she'll do today,' " she imagines them saying. "It's hard not to be hard on yourself if you mess up."

That said, she loves the platform, especially because her account is so clearly centered on dance. Her guideline for posting is to always "be true to who I am."

Into the Future

Where do you go when, at 18, you already have over a million fans? "In my dream world, I'd have my own TV show," she says. "The story of me"—a docu-series about her life, her family, and The Brea Space. She also fantasizes about dancing with Marguerite Derricks, Derek Hough, Ariana Grande, and (of course) Beyoncé.

But her mom is making sure she doesn't rush into anything. "It's OK to say no to things that aren't the right fit and not sell out," she says. Meismer agrees. "I feel like people in the entertainment industry are waiting to snatch her up—not for a gig, or a moment, but for a career. She's such a unique dancer that she could do anything, but there's something special waiting for her."

Photo by Joe Toreno

Fast Facts

Favorite Instagram filter: "Paris. It's the only one I use!

Current phone case: Wildflower's "Break up with your girlfriend, I'm bored"

Favorite song right now: "OMG, so many! I guess 'Undecided,' by Chris Brown."

Favorite TV show: "I actually hate movies and I never watch TV."

Good-luck charms: "A stuffed frog that sits on the side of the stage."

Celebrity crush: Zac Efron

Biggest pet peeve: "When people don't turn on relevé"

Her personality in three words: "Fun, humble, sweet"

Her dancing in three (OK, four) words: "Full-out, technical, emotional"

Weirdest thing in her dance bag: "My toes split a lot, so I have a whole bag of toe cream and New-Skin."

Self-care rituals: "I go to a physical therapist and a chiropractor, and a massage therapist comes to my house. I go to the beach, and I get my nails and hair done."

Advice for Dance Spirit readers: "Stick to who you are, and put your whole heart and soul into whatever you do. Give it 100 percent. It never hurts to try. Believe in yourself—everyone's worth it!"

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