Witney Carson, Belle of the Ballroom

It was a routine that’ll go down in “Dancing with the Stars” history: Witney Carson gave her partner, Alfonso Ribeiro, a sweet kiss on the cheek, which prompted Ribeiro to bust out his signature “Carlton dance,” a holdover from his years as Carlton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The audience went wild, especially when Carson began Carlton-ing herself. By the following morning, the clip had gone viral—thanks to both Ribeiro’s charisma and Carson’s spot-on choreography.

Carson and Alfonso Ribeiro nailing the "Carlton dance" on "Dancing with the Stars" (photo by Adam Taylor, courtesy ABC)

While the dance world already knew Carson from her Top 6 run on Season 9 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” the 21-year-old’s partnership with Ribeiro on “DWTS” this past fall made her a household name. But even before that boost in recognition, Carson, who’s been involved with “DWTS” for four seasons now, was having the time of her life. “When I was younger, ‘DWTS’ was the show I really wanted to be on,” she says. “This whole experience has been a dream come true. Sometimes I take a step back and think, ‘Wow, I did it!’ And I’m so grateful.”

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

A Solid Foundation

Carson took her first dance class at age 3 at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT. She started with tap and jazz, and later added ballet and hip hop. At age 9, she found her way to the ballroom. “I remember watching ballroom dancers on TV and thinking, ‘I want to do that,’ ” she says. “I liked that it allowed me to express myself in a different way. I could be soft and gentle, or exciting and upbeat.”

When her teacher Rick Robinson—who also trained Julianne and Derek Hough and Mark Ballas—left Center Stage to start VIBE Dance Studio in Lindon, UT, Carson followed him there. But even as she became more serious about ballroom in middle school and high school, she continued studying and competing in other styles. “VIBE was a very versatile studio,” she explains. “We went to competitions like New York City Dance Alliance, JUMP and NUVO, as well as ballroom competitions around the world.” Her student company also performed in China for Chinese New Year and competed on Paula Abdul’s 2011 reality TV show, “Live to Dance.” Those experiences cemented Carson’s love for her art form, and led her to a life-changing moment: In 2012, she decided to audition for Season 9 of “SYTYCD.” She ended up making it all the way to the Top 6.

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

A National Stage

Just 18 years old and fresh out of high school, Carson found herself in a whole new world. “I’d never experienced anything like ‘SYTYCD,’ ” she says. “It was so stressful, but it also helped me mature and grow. It made me more independent. I was used to competing with a team or a partner, but now I was trying to launch myself into the professional dance world on my own.”

Carson was partnered with eventual winner Chehon Wespi-Tschopp for the first half of the live shows. One of her highlights was when the two of them performed a Stacey Tookey contemporary routine to “I Will Always Love You.” “That piece showed America that I could do more than just ballroom,” she says. “People knew me as that fiery cha-cha girl, so it was really special to show that I could also be vulnerable.”

A Dream Job Offer

“DWTS” came calling as soon as Carson finished the “SYTYCD” Season 9 tour. She performed with the show’s dance troupe for two seasons before being promoted to professional status in Season 18, when she danced with Australian pop singer Cody Simpson. “Cody and I had a great time,” she says. “I learned so much about teaching. I’d never really taught before, and ‘DWTS’ is all about turning someone into a dancer.”

(Photos by Joe Toreno)

Her positive experience paid off the following season, when she was paired with fan favorite Alfonso Ribeiro, a front-runner from Week 1. “When he walked into the studio that first day, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s Carlton!’ ” she remembers. “I was so thrilled to work with Alfonso. Every day, he inspired me with his work ethic and his natural ability. We grew to have a brother/sister relationship: I would teach him about dance, and he would teach me about life.”

Ribeiro has nothing but praise for his partner. “We had a blast working together,” he says. “The best teachers can adapt their teaching style to the way their students learn, and Witney was able to do that for me. I’m very visual and analytical, so she learned how to demonstrate the male side of each dance for me, all the way through.” That hard work, as well as the sheer joy they brought to the stage, propelled the couple to the top of the leaderboard week after week.

Carson and Ribeiro rocking their first routine on "DWTS" (photo by Adam Taylor, courtesy ABC)

A Bright Future

Carson’s blend of talent, dedication and magnetic stage presence has earned her the admiration of fans and fellow dancers alike. So what’s next for the breakout ballroom star? Carson has begun taking acting classes, after catching the drama bug while starring in the independent film Dancin’ It’s On last year (with Wespi-Tschopp as her co-star and love interest). But mostly, she’s happy to live in the moment. “ ‘DWTS’ has been my dream as long as I can remember,” she says, “so while I’m here, I want to make the most of it!”

Fast Facts

Birthday: October 17, 1993

Middle name: Capri

Favorite color: blue

Favorite foods: sushi and steak

What she’s listening to: “Currently, it’s all country songs and music for ‘DWTS.’ ”

Hidden talents: “I can make my tongue into a flower…and I can kind of sing.”

Favorite book: “I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars. It was amazing!”

Signature dance step: “You can never go wrong with a good hair whip.”

Advice for Dance Spirit readers: “Stay true to who you are. So many people in this world will try to change you, but stand firm in what you believe in and live the life you want.”

Ballroom BFFLs

On Season 9 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” America fell in love not just with Witney Carson but also with another blonde ballroom beauty: Lindsay Arnold, who made it to the Top 8. The kicker? Arnold and Carson have been good friends since training together at Lindon, UT’s VIBE Dance Studio as kids. “We’ve known each other since we were 5!” Carson says. “She’s my dance sister.” Today, the dynamic duo are still dancing side by side as pros on “Dancing with the Stars.” “Having Lindsay with me through this whole journey has been such a blessing,” Carson says. “When things get stressful, she knows exactly what to do—and understands that, usually, the remedy is taco soup and a movie!”—Margaret Fuhrer

Carson and Lindsay Arnold as baby ballroomers (photo courtesy Witney Carson)

Lindsay on Witney:

“I love watching Witney because she’s always so full-out. She brings a ton of personality to every dance style she does, which means she really stands out in a crowd.”

Witney on Lindsay: “Lindsay is unbelievably gorgeous—an amazing dancer and performer. She also choreographs almost every ‘bumper’ routine—the pieces that frame commercial breaks—on ‘DWTS.’ She has a great eye for choreography.”

From “SYTYCD” to “DWTS”

Witney Carson isn’t the only familiar “So You Think You Can Dance” face now on “Dancing with the Stars.” The ballroom show’s Season 19 alone featured “SYTYCD” alums Lindsay Arnold, Allison Holker, Artem Chigvintsev, Jenna Johnson and Brittany Cherry, and “SYT” vets Lacey Schwimmer, Chelsie Hightower and Dmitry Chaplin are also former “DWTS” pros.

Why is there so much crossover between the two shows? In part, it’s because being on “SYTYCD” prepares dancers for other television gigs. “By the time I finished ‘SYT,’ I was in the mindset of working hard and learning things fast, picking up new dances each week,” says Arnold, who partnered with boxer Victor Ortiz in “DWTS” Season 16 and has performed in the “DWTS” troupe. “ ‘SYTYCD’ also prepared me for things like TV interviews. I learned a lot of skills that translated.”

Still, the two shows offer different experiences. “On ‘SYTYCD,’ you’re trying to make sure you look good,” Carson says. “But on ‘DWTS,’ your job is to make a celebrity look good, even if he’s never danced before. It’s not only about dance, but also about the celebrity’s journey.”

While worrying about a non-dancer partner can be challenging, Carson and Arnold are quick to emphasize that “DWTS” is still a dream job. “It’s a lucky thing as a dancer to be able to showcase your talent and have fan support on a weekly basis,” Arnold says. “It’s an amazing, unique experience.” —KH

Latest Posts

Because all dancers have experienced it at some point or another (Getty Images/patat)

How Dancers Can Beat Zoom Fatigue

Now that we're more than nine months into the pandemic, there's a big chance you're feeling Zoom-ed out. Read: Totally overusing the video-conferencing app for school and dance classes—and everything else. And according to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, there's good reason for that: "Managing your environment in a virtual space is taxing on the mind, and therefore taxing on the body."

Hornthal attributes these feelings, in part, to a mind–body disconnect that happens when we use the app: Your body knows you are alone in the room, but your mind sees a group of people on screen—and managing this COVID-era reality can be, well, exhausting. But we can also feel Zoom fatigue, Hornthal says, from having to "constantly be present to the third 'person' in the room: the Zoom camera." Uh, relatable!

So if staring at a grid of fuzzy faces—or into the abyss of that cold, dark lens on your device—has you feeling less than energized, here are some ways to cope.

Take breaks from tech throughout the day

Tamia Strickland, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA dance program, trains both in person (with a mask, of course!) and online but says there are unique challenges that come with the latter. For one, she says, it's hard "to stay focused and motivated when you are in your basement or living room staring at a computer screen all by yourself—and all day long." These feelings can lead to frustration: You want to stay engaged with the class, but after staring at your computer screen for so long, you start to feel unmotivated.

As a remedy, Hornthal suggests taking breaks from your tech devices when you can. "The last thing you want to do," she says, "is exit a Zoom session and then immediately jump onto your phone." Instead, take a breather from everything virtual, and give your mind—and body—time to recalibrate. "Create space to connect or reconnect with your body when you are off technology," Hornthal says. "Take a walk, practice mindful breathing, embrace nature."

Move for yourself—and on your own

Another way to overcome feelings of online-class fatigue, Hornthal says, is to find time to move on your own—away from the camera on your device. As you begin moving for yourself, try to recognize and notice your own body wisdom. As a dancer, this could simply mean taking stock of what feels good and natural to your body as you, say, indulge in an improv sesh.

Tim Roberts, a Maryland dance studio owner and former performer, says giving his students time to turn their cameras off and work through their own movement has helped keep them motivated. "Opening that space for them is so necessary­ and beneficial, and helps them appreciate the time they do have with me," he says.

If you're not feeling up to a movement break, consider cooling down the mind and body by taking some time to stretch out and take up space in the body, Hornthal says. By encouraging greater body awareness, stretching can help give you more insight into what your body needs at any given point—a physical check-in before you head back into The Land of Zoom.

Tap into your other senses

When you're on Zoom, you're constantly using your eyes—to learn choreography, to support fellow dancers, to catch physical cues from teachers—so it's important, Hornthal says, to give yourself screen breaks. As you give your eyes a rest, take time to whet your other senses: Squeeze a stress ball; smell the outside air; gulp a tasty green smoothie; listen to your favorite playlist. The key here is to take in stimuli that trigger your other senses, rather than continuing to use (or overuse) your sense of sight.

And as a golden rule for your overall Zoom-life health, always remember: "It isn't just dance that is happening online—our entire lives are virtual," Hornthal says. "That means we have to be intentional with our downtime, and turn off technology, so we can tune in to ourselves."

Because honestly, what could be better than dancing alongside your mom? (Getty Images/undrey)

How You Can Support the Beginner Dancer in Your Life

Plenty of us have been dancing since we were teeny-tiny tappers and trinas, but walking into a dance class as an older beginner can be seriously intimidating. Luckily, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it's easier than ever to try out a two-step without even stepping into the studio—virtual classes seem to be everywhere we click nowadays.

Is one of your friends, siblings, parents, or grandparents interested in starting to dance, but totally unsure about where to begin? As the resident dancer in their lives, there are plenty of ways for you to encourage them. Here are just a few of the ways to support the newest dancer in your life.

Roll Out the Recommendations

The pandemic has opened up a whole new world of dance classes that you can stream right into your living room. By now, you're probably a seasoned Zoom dance pro. So start by asking your aspiring dancer what their goals are. Are they looking to just become more active? Study a specific genre of dance? Find a new creative outlet? Take that info and help them narrow down what kinds of virtual classes they might enjoy. Then, recommend some studios you know and love.

Be sure to give your friend or relative an impression of what to expect from their virtual class. Don't forget to offer Zoom-specific tips, like where to place their camera, or how to rearrange their furniture to provide enough space for class. And if they're nervous (or don't want the pressure of being on camera for their first few classes), let them know it's okay to leave their camera off until they're ready to try class with it on. After all, if Hugh Jackman can do it, so can they

Join Their Journey

Maybe you'd also like to broaden your dance horizons, or your friend is looking for an accountability partner. Try taking a beginner level class with your friend in a style you're unfamiliar with. Plenty of studios offer workshops for beginning dancers in a variety of styles, like Broadway Dance Center's Absolute Beginner Workshop seriesAbsolute Beginner Workshop series, which offers a series in every genre from ballet to street jazz.

Another option is to find a dance class video on YouTube, like Kathryn Morgan's at-home class series, and take it at the same time over a Zoom call by sharing your screen. That way, you can pause the video if you need to answer a question from your friend. (And try your best to remain calm when they ask you, for the fifth time, what "plié" means.)

Cheer Them Through Challenges

Most importantly, be there to support your friend or relative in their new dance journey. You know that there can be bumps along the road, but you also know that nothing compares to the feeling of nailing a hard combo, or accomplishing your next dance goal. The newest dancer in your life has all those milestones to look forward to along the way. Don't let them get discouraged when it's difficult —and help them celebrate their accomplishments, big or small.

Photo by Anaiah Simons, courtesy Taylor Jade Edgin

How Dance Helped Me Achieve Success in My Nondance Career Path

Like most kids, by the age of 4 I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up…a dancer. And sure, every kid picks a career to play along with—doctor, veterinarian, princess. But from that young age of 4, I was determined to turn my dream into a reality.

I spent my adolescent years in multiple dance companies, training to make the move to L.A. And then I got it: glimpses of my big break. I began working for and with the choreographers on my bucket list, got accepted into dance companies I'd tirelessly watch on YouTube, and even made it on that national commercial that my friends, family (and don't forget the frenemies!) got to see on repeat.

But then, suddenly, I felt a shift. Was I, the dancer who spent 18 years of blood, sweat and tears (and a crap ton of money) getting burnt out from the everyday hustle of my industry?

If I'm being honest, I always felt like the odd one out in my profession. It took me about four years of paying my dues in L.A. to realize that everything that was different about myself—and my mind—would serve as the catapult towards my new career path as a creative director.

Just Outside of Dance

While grappling with my sudden change of desire, I reflected on where it all started. I remembered being 10 years old, listening to the Black Eyed Peas' Elephunk album in the car, closing my eyes and visualizing a whole music video in my head. And while I thought that meant I would just be the choreographer or the dancer performing in the video, I never realized it might also mean I could be the person to bring the music video to life.

I flashed back to my various experiences on set as a dancer. I remembered how I always took interest in communicating with other departments and learning about their industries, and realized that it's OK to pursue creative endeavors beyond dance. I also paid close attention to how I was treated on set as "talent," taking all the things I learned and didn't like into deep consideration.

Growing Into the Role

Opening my mind allowed for a lot of fun opportunities, like the time I got to star as the lead in a music video that I was also hired to choreograph and direct, or when I started working with my teenage idol and mentor D-Trix, who taught me how to simultaneously choreograph and direct a piece for the camera. Combining my passions just felt right, but the coolest part about developing my knowledge as a creative director was that I got to do it in spaces I was already familiar with. Creating in the dance industry without actually dancing helped me discover that even though I'm focused on this new, creative role, I can still maintain my deep connection with dance.

I've spent the last four years continuing down the creative-direction path, developing artists, producing music videos, and marketing for friends. A favorite moment for me was working with Nya Bloom, a friend and upcoming artist who I convinced not only to create a short film for his first project, but also to hire me as a director.

After six months of brainstorming together, we pitched our ideas to an investor who loved them and granted us a budget. From there, I was hired as set designer, choreographer, stylist and director for the project, which granted me the opportunity to hire all my friends, from dancers and actors to DP and editors. We paid everyone their full rates and ran our production in succinct timing, wrapping everyone 30 to 60 minutes earlier than planned.

I was ecstatic to use all my skills from previous jobs as a dancer on set, and everything I had observed from my previous experiences, to put my skills to the test and produce a visual that turned out even better than we could've imagined.

Edgin getting comfortable in the directors' seat (Avo Guedekelian, courtesy Edgin)

Dancing to My Own Beat

I pride myself in not underpaying or overworking dancers and (subtly) brag about being the person to book you for a 12-hour day, release you ahead of schedule, and still pay you your full day rate. It's really important to me, as someone who has been in the positions I'm now hiring for, to make sure the talent is as comfortable and happy as possible.

As I've gained more experience in my role as a creative director and taking on artist development, I've realized that having a dance background made finding success in these nondancing roles so much easier. So, whether you choose to join a prestigious company as a full-time dancer or become a freelance creative director who dances whenever they feel like it, just know that dance is a tool that can help you achieve success in spaces you may have never imagined.

I'm so grateful for my now 21 years of dance experience for introducing me to my true calling in life. There was never a moment wasted, and I can dance to the beat of my own drum now.

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search