In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.
Bishop Briggs (photo by Eric Ray Davidson, courtesy Bishop Briggs)
Bishop Briggs<p><span style="background-color: initial;">When Galen Hooks and Tim Milgram released a class video set to Bishop Briggs' "River," it was instantly clear that the song would become a competition </span><span style="background-color: initial;">hit. Since then, choreographers at studios around the country have tried their hand at the song (not to mention the rest of Briggs' music), layering their interpretations</span> on top of her smoky pop beat.</p><p><strong>On discovering her dance-world popularity:</strong> "It's been surreal to find out what people have created out of my music. I'm really active on social media, so when I see dance videos set to my music, I watch them and comment on them. I stalk! I've met people completely out of the blue who've told me they've made a dance to one of my songs. That's the coolest thing."</p><p><strong>On making musical discoveries through choreography:</strong> "There are so many different beats that dancers pick up on that I wouldn't have thought of as the obvious choice. My favorite thing about the dance community is they're giving my songs new life. My original goal as a songwriter was to make people feel less alone. So the idea that dancers are taking a song and using it as their security blanket—or their reason to let go of that blanket and be fully themselves—it's just every dream of mine."</p>
Watch Bishop Briggs React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "River"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="67e19c51ddff411123658b02d6283df1"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i2ZYjYF4k20?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Ryan Lott (photo by Zenith Richard, courtesy Ryan Lott)
Ryan Lott of Son Lux<p>Son Lux incorporates elements of post-rock, electronica, hip hop, pop, and even classical—an ideal piece of clay for choreographers to shape. Songs like "Change is Everything," "Dream State," and "Cage of Bones" have blasted through competition speakers so often, we all know each detail by heart. Founder Ryan Lott is no stranger to the dance world, either: He collaborated with Travis Wall on Shaping Sound's show <em>After the Curtain</em>.</p><p><strong>On discovering his dance-world popularity:</strong> "My niece is a dancer, and at one point years ago, my sister told me she kept hearing Son Lux songs at dance competitions. Around that time, my wife, who teaches dance at a university, also observed that auditionees were dancing to Son Lux. Then we started getting requests to use our music on 'So You Think You Can Dance,' and our Instagram started to light up with young dancers moving to our music."</p><p><strong>On how he feels about said popularity: </strong>"I think it's rad! I appreciate anyone who spends their precious time listening to our music. And there's something even more special to me for those who choose to move to it."</p><p><strong>On making musical discoveries </strong><strong>through choreography:</strong> "Happens all the time! It's one of my favorite things about experiencing choreography to my music. Once it's made, it's no longer mine. Music lives its own life apart from its makers, and watching dance to my music often reveals this truth."</p><p><strong>On what makes his music so danceable:</strong> "There's an internal dynamism in Son Lux songs that is relatively uncommon in pop songs. And there are relatively few lyrics in our average song—the instrumental aspects are always doing most of the work. I know a lot of choreographers look for these traits when seeking out new music. I'm not a dancer, but I've been writing music for dance—apart from the Son Lux stuff—for a very long time now. There must be something about movement that has made its way into my creative voice generally, even when I'm not writing explicitly for dance."</p>
Jack Garratt (photo by Jake Wagner, courtesy Jack Garratt)
Jack Garratt<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Dancers around the globe gravitated to Jack Garratt's 2016 "Surprise Yourself," with its powerful message, soaring vocals, and intricate beats. Since then, competition studios have created innumerable pieces to a range of Garratt's songs. And Garratt loves the dance world right back. In fact, his campaign for his latest album, </span><span style="background-color: initial;"><em>Love, Death & Dancing</em>, features eight videos full of him doing nothing but dancing.</span></p><p><strong>On the role dance plays in his music:</strong> "Dance is a hugely important part of the reason I make music. It's always been part of my life, and is an important storytelling method. As someone who makes a form of dance music, the highest compliment I can get is to have someone choreograph to it."</p><p><strong>On his personal relationship with </strong><strong>dance:</strong> "I'm not a trained dancer, but I used to dance when I was a kid. I like music that makes me want to move. Moving is such a vulnerable act."</p><p><strong>On his dance-world popularity:</strong> "I was aware of it a bit, because people tagged me in videos on Instagram, where my songs were being used in dance competitions. They were geo-tagged in different parts of the world that I'd never even been to, let alone known there was an active dance community there."</p>
Watch Jack Garratt React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "Surprise Yourself"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d1c045d8b865466969c09497339585ad"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xtTLuI4gd9Q?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The latest popular TikTok dance challenge isn't the "Renegade," or set to "Savage," by Megan Thee Stallion—it's testing how much your friends and family really know about what you do in the studio all day.
TikTok user @kayausvlogs recorded herself asking her partner to guess what common ballet terms look like based on the way they sound. The results were...mixed, to say the least—and pretty hilarious. Naturally, the trend went viral, and now dancers everywhere are testing their friends and family and posting the results. Here are some of our favorites.
"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"
The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.
The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."
"Never Own a Dance Studio"<p>As the daughter of a dance teacher, Long spent the better part of her childhood in the studio. Her mom owned California Dance Academy, also located in Orange County, which later merged with another studio to become Dance Precisions, where the bulk of Long's childhood training took place. "My mom taught the minis, my aunt Leslie handled the juniors, and, when I turned 16, I also started working at the studio," Long says. "I was never the best dancer when I was younger, but I absolutely loved being there—it felt like home." She gradually took over choreographing for the minis, and saw instant competition success with a number of routines, including "My Boyfriend's Back," which featured a then seven-year-old Autumn Miller, and earned national titles at Hall of Fame Nationals and Showbiz Nationals in 2009.</p><p>After six years teaching and choreographing at Dance Precisions, Long needed a change. "I just remember clearly realizing that I needed to do my own thing," Long says. "Growing up, my mom constantly said to me, 'Never own a dance studio, it's the worst job ever' "—she laughs at the memory—"but starting a company felt like the right move for that moment in my life." Project 21 began its inaugural season in 2015.</p>
Photo by Quinn Wharton
Finding Her Footing<p>Long sums up the early days of Project 21 with one word: scary. "There were so many little things you don't initially think about, like billing, securing studio space, administrative tasks," she says. But beyond that, two larger questions loomed: What kind of dance teacher did she want to be, and what did she want Project 21 to represent? "I had a tendency to crowdsource opinions during those first few seasons, and I got lost in what everyone else had to say about running this company," she remembers.</p><p>Gradually, Long's confidence grew, and her vision for a company chock-full of driven, diverse, and versatile dancers began to take shape. Soon, Project 21's group and solo entries (often choreographed by Long) were earning raves at competitions, and her students were making waves in convention classes. "I noticed Project 21 dancers Selena Hamilton and Dyllan Blackburn in class at Radix pretty early on, because they were clearly taking responsibility for their own training," Bell says, "and that's really rare to see. Molly has this amazing way of creating drive without feeling like a dictator—people just want to work with and for her."</p><p>The hallmark of a Project 21 dancer is their work ethic. "It's my biggest thing," Long says. "I want my kids to walk out of class feeling like they've done everything in their power to improve that day." Long also encourages her dancers to express their opinions—and she really listens to them. "I try to nurture what they like and what they're interested in, because I think it's great when they're outspoken," she says.</p>
Long (far right) with her dancers. (Photo by Quinn Wharton)
A Fully-Formed Identity<p>Project 21 now feels like a family, and Long has put that sense of camaraderie on display in some of her viral-hit group routines, including "One Night in Bangkok" (Radix's 2019 Best in Show winner) and "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which has nearly one million views on YouTube). "All of Molly's dancers are great soloists, but they work unbelievably well as a group," Bell says. "They understand how to share this energy onstage, and it's definitely their defining quality."</p><p>That cohesive energy has attracted an impressive crew of guest choreographers. Many of them come to Project 21 to set pieces after working with the dancers at conventions over the years. (That route brought Bell and Teddy Forance to the studio in 2020.) Others discover the studio thanks to its competition and social media reputation, like Madison Hicks, who reached out to Long early last year<strong> </strong>and is now on faculty at Project 21. A Juilliard graduate and former member of L.A. Dance Project, Hicks, who is currently enrolled in the graduate dance program at CalArts, was blown away by everything Long and the students had to offer. "It's so beyond a studio," she says. "Molly is an incredible businesswoman, role model, and teacher. She makes sure that everyone who is at Project 21 wants to be there, and I think our small size and unity are what set us apart."</p>
A Foundation for the Future<p>While Project 21 has already experienced a ton of success, Long knows there's always room to grow. "I'd love to build a stronger technical program going forward," she says, "and while I'm not sure if expansion is in the cards yet, it would certainly be nice—I always dreamed of having a huge studio." Beyond that, Long's unwavering goal is to mold her kids into the most respectful, responsible, and hard-working dancers they can be. "We're not always going to win, and that's okay," she says, "because my kids know that at the end of the day, they have the work ethic to get them where they want to be."</p>
Photo by Quinn Wharton
Photo by Quinn Wharton
Photo by Quinn Wharton