As So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) begins its second week of auditions, many dancers hope to impress Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason DeRulo and earn a spot in the Vegas Callbacks.
One dancer that conquered Vegas Week and advanced all the way to Season Four’s Top Six was Chelsie Hightower. The 25-year-old Utah native sparkled so brightly on stage that a certain ABC dance show took notice and offered her a role as one of the show’s professional partners.
For seven seasons, Chelsie challenged her partners: Ty Murray, Louie Vito, Jake Pavelka, Michael Bolton, Romeo, Roshon Fegan and Helio Castroneves as they took the Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) ballroom by storm! In addition to teaching her students, she partnered with fellow fan-favorite choreographer Derek Hough to deliver an impeccable Paso Doble that earned an Emmy nomination.
After exiting Dancing with the Stars, Chelsie joined forces with former DWTS pros Edyta Sliwinska and Karina Smirnoff and fellow SYTYCD alums Ryan Di Lello and Benji Schwimmer as they brought the infectious competitive ballroom energy to fans all across the country as a part of Dancing Pros Live!
In this edition of A Conversation, Chelsie reflected her time on SYTYCD, the challenges she faced on DWTS and her intriguing collaboration with furniture company Lovesac.
Jacob Elyachar: How have you grown as a dancer since you first appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance” seven years ago?
Chelsie Hightower: Since first appearing on SYTYCD, I have grown as a dancer in so many ways, including sharpening my skillset, honing in on choreography and also improving my mentality. In terms of choreography, the projects I have been working on have required that I explore my creativity and learn how to do the same moves in different and interesting ways, which has been challenging, but rewarding. In terms of mentality, the more you stay in this business, the more you learn about how it works and how to overcome the challenges it can pose.
JE: You had the opportunity to return to SYTYCD twice as an All-Star. What were some of your favorite memories performing as an All-Star?
CH: I have super fond memories from returning to SYTYCD as an All-Star. Two that stand out are getting to see my partners (Marko Germar from Season Eight & Aaron Turner from Season 10) succeed in another style and also creating what will hopefully be lifelong bonds with my partners through that intense experience.
JE: For seven seasons, you danced on “Dancing with the Stars.” What were some of the challenges that you faced when you created your routines? How did you overcome them?
CH: The biggest challenge you face, as a professional on DWTS is that you are paired with someone who – in most cases – does not come from a dance background and cannot dance very well. Your job is to make them look the best you can possibly make them, by highlighting their skills and strengths, as well as hiding their flaws. Sometimes, this is easier said than done (smiles). But, that is the constant challenge you face while choreographing for beginners who need to perform in front of millions of people!
JE: One of your highlights on “DWTS” was when you and Derek earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for your Paso Doble/Malaguena routine. What was your reaction when you found out that both of you were nominated for your work?
CH: It was my birthday and I was teaching at the Sugar and Bruno dance camp when I found out that Derek and I had been nominated for an Emmy. I could not believe it; I was elated! We didn’t go into that performance thinking that we wanted to or planning to get nominated, it just happened. But, I believe that’s when the best work is created: when you just let it flow. It doesn’t hurt to have the right choreography and dancers!
JE: Recently, you finished another tour with “Dancing Pros Live.” What were some of your highlights from your time on the two tours?
CH: Dancing Pros Live was a great experience. My favorite part was the opportunity to share the stage day in and day out with experienced current ballroom competitors who are constantly training, improving and perfecting their craft. It truly inspired me to work on my skillset and get better each day as well.
JE: Last month, you collaborated with Lovesac to premiere its Sactionals at the Dwell on Design show in Los Angeles. Could you describe the Lovesac to my readers and how did this collaboration come about?
CH: Lovesac is such a great brand. They make great looking couches called Sactionals that you can do anything with: change their shape, size and color to fit into a new space, need, trend or mood. It has such a great thought behind it, not just in making a really cool and functional product, but in providing a place where we can share and laugh and have fun and be together.
As a dancer, I am always looking for a new challenge. So when Shawn Nelson, the Founder of Lovesac, approached me with this idea of making Lovesac Sactionals dance at Dwell on Design, I was intrigued. We have all used furniture as a prop before, but never as a performer.
We could have just moved a couch from place to place, but we wanted to show how different combinations of Bases and Sides could come together quickly and easily, in a choreographed performance, to become something new, while still being rock solid enough for us to dance on. The result is a love story told through dance that spans a lifetime. We performed all weekend with Lovesac at Dwell on Design and created a video with some behind-the-scenes moments that we are excited to share.
JE: If you had the chance to meet with dancers who want to have a career in the entertainment industry, what advice would you share with them?
CH: For dancers who want to pursue dancing as a career, I would encourage them to look at the entertainment industry with two eyes wide open before diving in. When you choose to pursue this career path professionally, you have to take the bad with the good. While there are downsides and tough days, there is nothing more satisfying than pursuing and fulfilling your dream. Once, you decide this is what you truly want, you need to go all in. Do not hold back; do not have fear. Be realistic and be crystal clear in your mind about what exactly it is that you want, how it feels, and what it looks like. Then, most importantly, believe that you can make that happen. The clearer you are, the more attainable that goal becomes. Work hard, take control of your future, and always have a good attitude.