Photo by Joe Toreno

Two-Stepping: Keone and Mari Madrid's Dance (and Love) Story

From YouTube to the boob tube, Keone and Mari Madrid seem to be everywhere these days—and that's just the way we like it. Recent highlights for the husband and wife team include choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance"; receiving an MTV Video Music Award nomination for their choreo for Kendrick Lamar's “Never Catch Me" vid; and continuing to break the internet with their dance shorts and class choreo clips.

Even though their careers have taken off in a big way, the Madrids are still the humble, adorable couple that won our hearts on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show" back in 2013. And that wasn't too long after they fell in love themselves: They first met at an Urban Legends dance workshop back in '08 and married in 2012 following an uber-romantic surprise proposal from Keone. The pair have stayed true to their roots, opening a new dance studio called Building Block in their hometown of Carlsbad, CA. And they haven't deviated from the upbeat, fun-loving, smooth dance style that put them on the map.

Since Keone and Mari know each other better than anyone, we asked them to have a conversation rather than doing a typical Q&A. Find out what they had to say about their secrets to success…and whether a mini-Madrid might be on the way!

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

Keone: We have so many memories from working together—what's your favorite so far?

Mari: It would have to be the Hyundai commercial. We just thought we were making a YouTube commercial, but…

K: …a few months later, we got a Tweet from someone saying, “Keone and Mari are in Times Square!" It ended up being on a huge electronic billboard that played 24/7, right underneath the Coca-Cola sign. It was incredibly humbling, and pretty wild for us to have that opportunity.

M: I'd say the most challenging job we've done was definitely “The X Factor."

K: Same here, because it's live television. There were several times when we had to change the choreography on the stage, on the spot—in a span of 30 seconds. It caused some stressful moments, but also helped us to be prepared for the worst if we're ever presented with that challenge in a different dance setting.

M: It's also difficult to separate our work and our personal life. They tend to blend into each other.

K: That's the hard part—since we work together not just creatively, but also business-wise.

M: We always say we should relax and not talk about work, and then it turns into, “Did you answer that email?" Being married three years, we realize we have to make our personal life a priority.

K: That's why the Fourth of July this year was so great—we decided to just stay home with our dog, watch Netflix all day and have our own mini barbecue.

M: With Chicago-style hot dogs!

K: But 80 percent of the time, we're working or dancing. How would you describe our choreographic process?

M: Usually, we'll talk a little bit first and then just start moving; sometimes, we'll map out a piece to make sure it has good ups and downs.

K: Yeah, it's definitely a good mixture of freestyle and pre-planning. It's almost like a game of Twister, putting together different 'pictures.'

M: Yes on Twister! Sometimes I'll be in a terribly uncomfortable position while we figure out the arms, and I'll have to take a little breather. But it's all worth it.

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

K: I'd describe our choreography as urban dance—it's a fusion of styles with a strong base in hip hop, but definitely not pure hip hop. Storytelling is a big part of it.

M: It's also rooted in musicality, with lots of detail and precision.

K: Our choreography is all about grooves! The feeling is the most important. We brainstorm moments we want to bring out of the song, but a lot of times, the flow creates itself and new ideas come to the table.

M: One of the pieces I'm proudest of is “Orphans," which we performed with our dance team Cookies at the VIBE XX Dance Competition in January. We got first place and donated our winnings to World Vision, a huge charity organization dedicated to helping children and families. There was a ripple effect, with the team that won second place also deciding to donate. It was such a cool moment, seeing what dance can do beyond the stage.

K: Our faith plays a big part in the choices we make, the songs we choreograph to and the messages we decide to share. With “Orphans," it felt good to raise awareness and give a voice to people who don't have one.

M: Looking ahead, what would be your dream dance job?

K: It's hard to say—I think we're living it right now! We're getting into theater, doing more film stuff and traveling and teaching, so I can't complain. But having a family will be the ultimate prize. That's what all this dance stuff and the opportunities we take are for—to provide our family with a better future.

M: Yeah, that's the next big step, and the real dream job: being a mom and dad.

The Next NappyTabs?

It's no wonder people are constantly comparing the Madrids to Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo (aka “NappyTabs"). Married couple that works together? Check. Sick choreography? Check. “So You Think You Can Dance" creds? Check. “We totally get it, since they're also married and do hip hop and partnering," Keone says. “But we're in different worlds—they're very much in the industry, while we're somewhere in between the industry, the competition/community scene and YouTube."

Even though they draw a distinction, Keone and Mari are extremely flattered by the comparison. “We respect and are inspired by them, especially seeing how hard they work for everything they have," Mari says. “They've also shown us it's possible to have a family and work in choreography!"

In the House

For Keone and Mari, the creativity doesn't stop on the dance floor. Their home in Carlsbad, CA (near San Diego), is full of touches that show just how artistic these two are—from a wedding portrait Mari drew herself to artwork they picked out together. “Our place has everything from a poster of Marty McFly in Back to the Future to a giant map of the world to pictures of our dog," says Keone. “It's a mixture of things we enjoy and things that inspire us."

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

Opposites Attract

As with any successful partnership, Keone and Mari both bring different strengths

to the table—which make their work that much more awesome. Mari says Keone is particular, which helps take their ideas to the next level, while Keone says Mari helps him stay calm, cool and collected.

Mari: “Keone is a good initiator when we get stuck—he's always pushing to find out what the piece is supposed to be. He has a very high standard. At moments when I'd just settle for something, he'll push to go a little bit further."

Keone: “Mari is all about patience and allowing the space to just figure things out. She's really good with keeping things in perspective, and that translates to our personal life, too."

Mari on Keone

What's Keone's biggest food craving?

Meat and rice, always.

If Keone weren't a dancer/choreographer, what career would he have chosen?

Sports medicine

What's Keone's biggest phobia?

Heights

What song would Keone say is “yours" as a couple?

We have several, but Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight" was our first dance at our wedding.

If Keone were a superhero, what would his power be?

Flying, pending he gets over his fear of heights.

Who would play Keone in a movie?

Haha, James Franco.

(Photo by Joe Toreno)

Keone on Mari

What's Mari's favorite flower?

Rannunculus

What's Mari's biggest pet peeve?

Grammar, specifically "you're" versus "your" and "apart" versus "a part." And when I'm on my phone.

What item(s) of your clothing would Mari like to steal for herself?

My hats and hoodies.

What's Mari's hidden talent?

It's not really hidden, but cooking and writing.

What does Mari think is the best gift you've ever given her?

The "Raff the Giraffe" story book I made her. And marriage.

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For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

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Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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