No Limits: How Janelle Ginestra Is Building a Dance Empire
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Becoming a Beast
Ginestra's desire to dance sparked at age 2, and she took classes at a local studio in her hometown of Santa Clara, CA, until she was 7. At that point, she moved to L.A. with her mom so Ginestra could pursue another dream: an acting career. Though she landed some commercials and jobs on TV shows, she and her mom decided to head back to Northern California once Ginestra entered high school. "My mom wanted me to have a normal high school experience, so she moved us to Modesto," says Ginestra.
Photos by Toreno
The only problem? Modesto wasn't exactly a dance destination. "The dance schools there weren't serious enough for me," Ginestra says. Instead, she got into competitive cheerleading, which was popular in the area. She trained at Starstruck Cheer & Dance, and also joined a local pom team, whose precision helped her dance technique become "clean and polished," she says. And she connected with a local rap artist named Jiggy, who enlisted her as a choreographer and backup dancer for various events and concerts.
But the magnetic pull of Hollywood was strong, and Ginestra returned to L.A. soon after finishing high school. In those early days, she auditioned for "anything and everything," she says, training at Millennium Dance Complex and EDGE Performing Arts Center. Her cheer cred soon paid off, earning her roles in Fired Up! and Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. But her true focus was on becoming a working hip-hop dancer.
Unleashing the Beast
Though Ginestra says it took her "a while to get in the groove" professionally, the work came fast and furious once she found that groove. Movies like Alvin & The Chipmunks and Honey 2 and TV shows like "Glee," "The X Factor," and "Bunheads" gave her the chance to dance on camera, as did Nicki Minaj's music video for "Anaconda." She also toured with P!nk and Jennifer Lopez, and danced with Beyoncé during a Billboard Music Awards performance.
Photo by Toreno
Ginestra realized early on that creating a YouTube presence could help her get noticed in an even bigger way. She posted the first video on her channel in March 2010 (a solo to "My Chick Bad," by Ludacris). Around that time, she also met Adams at a rehearsal for L.A.'s monthly Choreographers Carnival event. Soon enough, the two were attending each other's classes at IDA Hollywood and posting joint class videos.
Adams was immediately drawn to Ginestra's larger-than-life personality and hard-hitting dance style. "I love that she'll try anything, whether people approve of it or not—her attitude is, 'This is me. Take it or leave it,' " Adams says. "That type of mentality can be very rare in Los Angeles, where everyone is trying to fit into the industry."
As the two began working together, Ginestra's style began to evolve. "Will has been my biggest hip-hop trainer," Ginestra says. "He took me from corny white girl to decent hip-hop dancer. Dancing next to such a strong man allowed me to mimic and take in that kind of energy."
Photo by Toreno
In 2013, Adams and Ginestra co-founded their dance company, ImmaBEAST. "Once you fulfill your dreams of being a backup dancer, you end up back at square one," Ginestra says. "Will told me, 'We can build something bigger than this. If we do this together, that's better than doing it alone. Let's create a brand and make it blow up.'" That's exactly what they did. The duo assembled a killer group of young dancers, including Larsen Thompson, Taylor Hatala, Jade Chynoweth, Kaycee Rice, Josh Killacky, and Gabe de Guzman. Ginestra let her choreographic imagination run wild, crafting super-creative concept videos and short films for YouTube. She struck viral gold with "IDFWU" (4.2-plus million views) and "Run the World" (7.8-plus million views), featuring Larsen and Taylor.
Feeding the Beast
Seven years after meeting, Ginestra and Adams are still going strong, both personally and professionally. In May, the couple got engaged at a surprise party Adams threw for Ginestra's 28th birthday. (True to form, the proposal can be seen on YouTube.) They've also grown ImmaBEAST into a full-fledged brand that includes apparel, the Beast Network (an online collection of videos and tutorials), and IMMA SPACE (a dance studio in North Hollywood).
In 2015, Adams and Ginestra mounted the first BuildaBeast Experience (BABE), expanding their annual company audition into a five-day immersive dance event. Seven hundred and fifty dancers came from 22 countries to learn from dance notables like Stephen "tWitch" Boss, Blake McGrath, Nick Demoura, and Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer. In the two years since, the event has continued to grow. This summer's BABE featured everything from inspirational speakers to pop-up performances to krump battles. "We eventually want to turn BABE into the dance and entertainment version of Coachella," Ginestra says. "We have very high goals for it."
Photos by Toreno
Ginestra also has her sights set on creative direction. In 2016, she and Adams directed a Delta commercial starring Serena Williams (as well as some familiar faces from ImmaBEAST), and Ginestra has also created a fashion-minded look-book video featuring rapper Cardi B's music. She's hoping to get back into acting, too.
No matter what, Ginestra will always keep mentoring young dancers. "Being a positive influence gives you a sense of purpose in a different way," she says. "When I see Kaycee doing an amazing job in class and know that I've helped guide her life in some way, it's such a rewarding feeling. I have lots of big plans, but I'll never stop teaching, because it's the most beautiful way to give back and inspire."
A version of this story appeared in the November 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "No Limits."