Five Young Choreographers Using the Internet as Their Stage
Over the past few years, social media platforms have become launching pads for a new generation of choreographers. Many of these young artists grew up in front of the camera lens, dancing in the class videos of pioneers like Matt Steffanina and Tricia Miranda. Now, these familiar faces are flexing their choreographic muscles for huge YouTube and Instagram audiences, inviting subscribers to follow their journeys. Here are five up-and-coming dancemakers you should keep an eye on (literally).
Once one of the internet's favorite hip-hop littles, now–15-year-old Bailey Sok has been posting short freestyle videos to Instagram since age 8. "I was pretty insecure about my choreography at first," she says. "While I was used to online audiences seeing me dance, the thought of them viewing my own material hit me in a much more vulnerable place." But about a year ago, Sok garnered the confidence to share more of her choreographic journey—the highs and the lows—with her followers.
Sok demonstrating her choreography for a class (Jody Carter, courtesy Sok)
Like her mentors, Sok primarily posts class videos, and she interacts with her followers as much as possible. "I DM a lot of them, and they motivate me to push my limits as an artist," she says. Beyond her fans, Sok looks to music to inspire creativity, going on deep Spotify dives to find songs that spark feelings. Her channel's musicality caught the attention of singer Denim Nicole, who hired Sok to choreograph the music video for her song "Lemonade" in 2018.
As a young kid, Josh Killacky was more into tae kwon do and baseball than dance—but he did love watching dance videos on YouTube. At age 12, he started taking formal dance classes, and fell in love with the art form's creativity. He began filming and posting his material right away. "The best lighting in my house was at the top of my stairs, so I set up three shoeboxes in the doorway, draped a hoodie over them, and propped up my flip phone to film," he says. "Some of those early videos could be serious blackmail material, but I didn't care about how they looked. I studied them like a scientist, searching for ways to improve my freestyle."
Just two years after his first dance class, Killacky made the move to L.A., where he started taking class with influencers like Matt Steffanina. Eventually, he began collaborating with Steffanina and other artists, including singer Mike Posner. "I love the collaborative process because you get a different spark of creativity from each influencer," he says.
Ironically, this social media star tends to find inspiration when he disconnects. "Whenever I'm on an airplane, I like to turn off my phone and jot down 15 to 20 ideas," he says. "Some of the purest concepts come from being away from the world."
Well before 18-year-old Julian DeGuzman teamed up with Charlize Glass to become "World of Dance" Season 3's hip-hop power duo, he was a YouTube star. As a kid, he used his channel as a visual resumé, posting videos of himself dancing for everyone from ICONic Boyz to the Brooklyn Nets Kids. So once he began developing his freestyle into more structured choreography, he knew he wanted to share that process with his followers. "I grew up watching content from choreographers like Ian Eastwood and Brian Puspos, so it just made sense to me to post," he says.
Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy DeGuzman
DeGuzman sees social channels as vital tools for collecting feedback from fans. Encouragement and constructive critique from followers push him to post new material for them to see. "As a fan of other YouTube choreographers myself, I know what it is to be inspired, and I want to give that to my followers," he says. He also sees YouTube as a tool for self-reflection and gratitude. "I'm glad I've never been afraid to show myself, because it allows me to see my progress," he says.
Fifteen-year-old Taylor Hatala has been a YouTube star since age 11, when videos of her in class with choreographers like Matt Steffanina and Laurence Kaiwai reached the eyes of a combined 100 million viewers. (None other than Ellen DeGeneres sanctioned the young dancer's fame when she invited Hatala to perform on her show.) So once Hatala started teaching and experimenting with choreography, she felt it made sense to chronicle her process on the platform.
Documenting it all has helped Hatala realize that she has a gift for teaching. "When I go back and watch my classes, I'm always pleasantly surprised that the positive energy I try to create for my students shines through," she says. "When I started, I didn't realize how hard it would be to teach a combination to a room with such a variety of dancers. I began really studying my own teachers in class, observing how my favorites would break things down for us." When she looks back through her class videos, she sees the benefit of that study as she gets more and more connected to her students over time.
Sixteen-year-old Kaycee Rice also grew up as a viral dancer, standing out as a preteen in Tricia Miranda and WilldaBeast class videos, and appearing alongside Missy Elliott at the 2015 Super Bowl. Choreography seemed like a natural next step. "I want to expand my palette and discover more about who I am as an artist," she says. "I feel like the best way to do that is through choreography, exploring my own movement."
Rice teaching her first contemporary class in September 2018 (courtesy Rice)
When Rice shares her work on YouTube, she hopes fans will see that she's still learning. "Your imperfections are what draw people into your journey," she says. "They help viewers realize that you're human." That attitude helps give her the courage to be experimental with her movement, in keeping with her signature "weirdo" brand. "Instead of trying to do the normal trending moves, I like to find something new and different that feels strange on my body," she says.