At just 20 years old, Sienna Lalau is the living definition of "dynamite dancer": bold, confident, almost addicting to watch, and, at her core, overflowing with pure passion. From her work with The Lab Studios to Video Music Award–winning choreography for BTS, there's no stopping this starlet from bringing her love of dance to the global stage.
"Dance is something that can truly connect people," Sienna tells Dance Spirit. "It's a universal language. We may not speak the same language physically, but when we dance, there's a connection where we understand each other on another level."
Photo by Joe Toreno
All for the Love of K-Pop
That sense of a universal language is a large part of the reason Sienna has felt so deeply moved by K-pop and its influence on the dance world. A longtime fan of the genre—a love so deeply rooted that Korean dramas have become her obsession throughout the pandemic—Sienna's first experience choreographing for a K-pop group was with Exo. With one day to put together the full routine ("I was up until about 5 am," she recalls), it was a stressful experience, but one that showed her the possibilities that could arise ahead.
That moment eventually led to her work with global superstars BTS, with whom she's developed a close relationship over the years. "Being in the same room with them is just so amazing to witness, because you instantly feel their passion and their energy, and you feel how much they care about their fans and their work," Sienna says. And as she talks about BTS, her voice lights up with clear admiration for what the group has accomplished, and for how proud she feels about the work she's created with them, as she rightfully should.
"It was so amazing to see her work with BTS and help bring them to life through her choreography," says Valerie Ramirez, founder and creative director of The Lab. "Even with a language barrier, it was pretty amazing to watch her work with them and see what she could do with their art form."
Sienna clearly has great synergy with the boys, given her similar sense of love and passion for dance and the art community as a whole. "Just seeing people that have never even heard about it before starting to listen to it now and starting to appreciate these different groups and the music itself, even if they don't speak the same language as us, is so wholesome to me," Sienna says. "And I think K-pop has literally just taken over the world."
Growing Roots at The Lab
Sienna's work with BTS largely stems from her roots at The Lab, a training studio for world-class dancers. She began working with The Lab back in November of 2016, while still living in her home state of Hawaii. Traveling back and forth between the island and California, Sienna began to grow her reputation with the organization before officially making the move to the West Coast in late 2017, after helping The Lab win Hip Hop International's Varsity Division.
"She's always been special and brilliant," says Ramirez. "Her ability to create with a team of peers at The Lab has allowed her creativity to fully bloom."
Making the move was far from an easy decision, though. Sienna's mom deeply wanted her to finish high school in Hawaii, but didn't want to discourage any opportunities that could come her way. And while moving to L.A.—or New York City—is often a young dancer's dream, it comes with an unspoken level of anxiety that Sienna experienced firsthand.
"I came up here by myself at first, and the first month alone was pretty tragic," she remembers.
Photo by Joe Toreno
Thankfully, Sienna's mom went out to L.A. a month later, but that time period—stripped from her family, home and everything that felt so natural to her—was an immense challenge in and of itself. In that moment, she turned to God for comfort.
"I knew that if I kept having faith, and I knew that if I just put my trust in God and really leaned on Him, I knew that he was going to provide for me, and he was going to take care of me, and I didn't have to worry about it," she says. And looking back now, that couldn't have been truer.
Sienna's work with The Lab quickly picked up steam, with headline-making moments popping up what felt like every couple of months. And still, it's impossible for her to pick a favorite. When pushed, though, she reveals that there's nothing as special as preparing for a competition with her fellow dancers.
"When we're preparing for a competition, it's so, so, so stressful, but it's helped me grow the most. The one thing that we really cherish at The Lab is our chemistry with each other," Sienna says, "There's days where we're literally just cleaning the same eight-count for hours, and still, the energy that you feel in the room is so amazing because everybody has each other's back. It really feels like a family."
She adds, "It feels like it's been a long ride, but I look back now, and it hasn't even been five years. But with the number of things that we've been able and blessed to do, it feels like the best crazy long ride."
And that ride is only getting started. Ramirez only sees success in Sienna's future, saying, "I think a world tour would be something that she is so ready to create for. She's ready to express herself on a higher level and a bigger magnitude of creativity."
The Future Couldn't Be Brighter
Despite the ways 2020 has thrown the dance industry into a spiral, Sienna is staying positive and hopeful, knowing that the universal language of dance will never fade. Through the pandemic, she's been able to choreograph for Black Pink, Treasure, and for a visual album for "Changes" by Justin Bieber. And as if that wasn't spectacular enough, she also found the time to choreograph a special promo for March Madness to Selena Gomez's "Dance Again." Clearly, not even a global shutdown can stop Sienna's star from rising.
Like most of us, her go-to form of self-care during this troublesome time has been a Netflix binge. She's resting a lot more, as well, an uncommon thing for a dancer normally constantly on the move.
When it comes to the album she has on repeat, Ariana Grande's Positions instantly comes to mind. And when she's in the mood for some more K-pop, "Dynamite," by BTS, is the first to come on shuffle.
Photo by Joe Toreno
Looking ahead with so much up in the air, one thing is clear in Sienna's mind: Dance has never been so important. "Dancing in general is more important now than ever before, because it's something that makes people feel good at the end of the day and brings a lot of joy. And we all need that right now."
As dancers, we all have our vices—those little technique cheats that we know are incorrect, and we try our best to fix whenever we can remember...but at the end of the day, we just can't seem to banish them for good. After all, these cheats usually appear to help us: They can get our legs higher and our petit allégro a little faster, not to mention help us crank out that one extra rotation in a turn we dream about. Unfortunately, cheating proper technique also sets dancers up for a myriad injuries caused by improper alignment and undue stress on the body.
The good news: Every cheat can be beat. That is, when you know exactly what muscles and mobility pathways you need to strengthen in order to execute the step correctly. To help on that front, Amber Tacy, personal trainer and founder of the dancer-focused fitness community Dancers Who Lift, is here to guide you through a series of exercises designed to help you overcome the most common dancer cheats.
The Cheat: Jumping without fully landing your heels on the floor
Equipment You'll Need: Step or yoga block, mini loop, TheraBand
- Stand barefoot on the balls of your feet with your heels hanging off a step or yoga block. Hold on to a wall, doorframe or barre for balance, if necessary, but don't use your arms to help you.
- Lifting one leg off the ground, perform single-leg relevés with the other.
- Move through a complete range of motion, from as low as you can go hanging off the step to your highest relevé. Try to do as many as you can with a full range of motion.
- Perform 8–10 relevés, then repeat on the other leg.
Amber's Note: If one leg is too challenging, complete the exercise with both legs simultaneously performing the relevés.
Split Squat Jump + Pause at Bottom
- Step one foot back and sink into a deep lunge, bending both knees as if you're going to half-kneel down on the ground. Make sure your front heel doesn't pop up as you lunge back.
- Explode up and jump into the air, using your arms to propel yourself upward.
- As you land, assume your same starting position, and sink down into a deep lunge.
- Pause, without wobbling.
- Repeat 5–6 times per side.
Amber's Note: Practice rolling through your feet as you take off and land.
- Assume a kneeling position with the front foot elevated on a book or yoga block.
- Wrap 2-inch wide band around the front ankle joint, and have it anchored behind you so it's applying a backwards pull.
- Gently lean forward, pushing the front knee over the toes, hold for 2–3 seconds, and return to the kneeling position.
- Keep the heel completely glued to the floor, and avoid popping it up throughout the exercise.
- Perform for 30–60 seconds per side.
Amber's Note: This mobilization should be a priority for any dancers who spend a majority of their time in "plantar flexion" (pointed feet, like on pointe or dancing in heels), as it gives your Achilles tendon the opportunity to safely go into a fully lengthened position.
Coming across a @cost_n_mayor TikTok on your "For You" page is like meeting a new bestie at competition: You instantly connect. From creating (and crushing) viral dance challenges to sharing the #relatable struggles of dancers (and couples, and dancer-couples) everywhere, the social media duo appeals to pro dancers and amateurs alike—and it shows, considering their 1.5 million-and-counting following on TikTok.
Between gracing the official @Hamiltonmusical Instagram with #Non-Stop grooves to collaborating with Matt Steffanina and @Happykelli on TikTok, quarantine has kept Austin Telenko and Marideth Batchelor #BookedandBusy. But this charismatic (and newly engaged!!!) couple—and professional dance duo—is just getting started. Dance Spirit got the chance to chat with them about how they're leveraging the TikTok universe to springboard their careers IRL.
Dance Spirit: How did the two of you meet?
Marideth Batchelor: We met in 2019 doing a Halloween dance contract at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, NJ. It was an amazing, 20th-anniversary show choreographed by Theresa Stone.
Austin Telenko: After that ended, we kept showing up to all the same classes and auditions back in NYC.
MB: And we were both actually on the cleaning crew together at Broadway Dance Center, which I think is where we really bonded, staying there until midnight cleaning studios together.
AT: So we started dating around February 2020. When COVID first hit and everyone was leaving the city, Marideth suggested we go stay with her parents in South Carolina. We hadn't been dating that long so it was kind of odd, but like everyone, we really thought it was only going to be two weeks...and now here we are.
DS: What led to you two starting a TikTok together?
AT: We were very bored.
MB: I remember my mom actually saying "All the kids are dancing on 'the TikTok' these days, why don't you guys try it?" So we started learning some of the dance trends that were popular at the time. As dancers and choreographers, we couldn't help but put our own flair on everything, and then eventually we started sharing our own original choreography.
DS: What was the first video you can point to that made your account go viral?
MB: It was actually a trending dance at the time, Nathan Lusts' "Funky Town," but we tacked on this foundational locking ending of our own. It was so quirky and everyone seemed to love it.
AT: After that, our "Magic in the Hamptons" video went viral. It was a big trending sound at the time, but we came up with our own dance to it, and it was the first time that other people started trying to do our choreography. The more we were credited for that choreo, the more traffic it brought to our page. That's when we got more into creating our own dances for others to try.
DS: Do you have a specific audience in mind when you create new TikToks?
MB: We've had really simple dances go viral, as well as really difficult ones. We definitely try to keep a balance between what's impressive and what's accessible, which is something our followers seem to appreciate.
AT: We never go into choreographing a dance with the goal of it going viral. But if we hear a sound, and it sounds like something everybody would enjoy and want to try, we'll try and put in some easier grooves, just so everyone has at least one part of the dance they can feel good about.
DS: Do you ever feel any pressure to be perfect on TikTok, since you're both professional dancers IRL?
MB: Sometimes I get so wrapped up in things looking perfect and forget that TikTok isn't that serious. Doing easier dances reminds us both that we do this for the fun of it, and a dance doesn't need to be super-complex to be considered "good."
AT: What I love about TikTok is how, even with harder dances, people feel comfortable enough to try it out and tag the creators, and put themselves out there, which takes some of the pressure off us. It's a lot different than Instagram, where it seems that everything has to be filtered and look perfect.
DS: Do you ever get "TikTok block" and not know what to post next?
MB: Sometimes it's hard to keep doing stuff that's unique because we're pumping out so much choreography at such a high volume. But having two of us definitely makes things easier—we push each other to try new ideas and keep moving forward.
AT: What we've seen a lot of others do, and what we've utilized as well, is reimagining our most popular TikToks in different ways, like switching outfits or locations.
MB: It's like how as dancers, if a teacher does a combo you love, you'd want to take that class again.
AT: Basically, we try not to force anything, because if the creative juices just aren't flowing that day, it's not going to turn out well.
DS: What does your offline life look like?
MB: This question always exposes us...we're so uncool! Think of anything a 9-year-old would enjoy doing in their downtime and that's basically us.
AT: We've been playing through video games first on our Wii and then on Nintendo Switch. We also like working out together, and being outside going for walks or hikes.
DS: What have been some of your favorite TikTok collaborations so far?
MB: We got to go to L.A. recently and work with @HappyKelli and her husband. We related as dancers instantly, and they were so fun to work with because Kelli's done it all, from "Hairspray Live!" to Broadway. We also collabed with Matt Steffanina to redo some popular choreography of ours to his remix of "Milkshake" and "Losing It" by Fisher.
DS: Do you have any networking tips for dancers on TikTok?
MB: Networking happens pretty organically on TikTok, which I love. The more you're creating, the more you'll find the people that are in your same niche and creating similar things, which leads to following each other, and so on.
DS: Who's your dream collaborator?
MB: Nappytabs. They're our icons forever.
DS: How have you leveraged your TikTok following for your own dance careers?
MB: We might have a lot of followers and a big platform, but we never set out to be "media influencers" or anything like that.
AT: No matter what, we're dancers and choreographers before anything else.
MB: That being said, since we started on TikTok together, we've developed this comedic and quirky choreographic style that we really like. And that's led to all these conversations and opportunities; like, what if we choreographed for an animated series or did something with motion capture? We've broadened our thinking about the direction our careers can go. I never really considered those things until we were forced to get off the stage and get onto a two-inch screen.