Photography Juan Veloz

photographing l.a.'s most inspiring young dancers

i-D hits the streets of L.A. with photographer Juan Veloz to capture nine young dancers chasing their dreams.

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Jun 25 2018, 7:01pm

Photography Juan Veloz

Dancing is something anyone can do and everyone does, whether in the privacy of their own home, or on the dance floor one drunken Saturday night with a stranger. It’s fun, it’s expressive, and it carries no rules or obligations. But as with every art form, there are those who can exceed any two-step done in front of the bedroom mirror. There are those who can twist, turn, and bend the body in extraordinary ways, moving with such grace to rhythm that our eyes are glued to their limbs. There are those who simply were born to dance and are spending their lives doing just what they were destined to do. i-D hit the streets of Los Angeles with photographer Juan Veloz to capture nine young dancers in the showbiz mecca. We asked them to find out just why they chose dance (or how dance chose them), their biggest accomplishments to date, and how social media has helped them along the way.

Alexandra Carson, 26

Why dance?
Dance is the one thing that is truly everything I could hope to do as a career. It challenges me physically and emotionally, it’s constantly changing, it can bring joy on the worst days, and just when you start to feel comfortable, it’ll make you feel like a beginner all over again.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
Booking my first tour with Janet Jackson! It came at a time where I was ready to give up and this audition was going to be my last attempt at turning dance into a career. I was living in New Zealand, but flew to the U.S. for my very first audition. Within a couple of months, I permanently moved and was in rehearsal with one of the biggest artists in the world.

How has social media impacted your career?
To be honest, I haven’t really taken advantage of social media for my own skills. It’s definitely something I need to work on though. I think it’s had both positive and negative effects on the industry. I’m just trying to find my way of approaching it so I can really make an impact the way I want.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Just go for it! Pave your own way because there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you see a class you want to take, a camp you want to attend, a competition you want to enter, no matter how far, find a way to make it happen! You never know what it will lead to. Stay passionate and true to what YOU want to do and you will attract the right opportunities.

Hollywood, 31

Why dance?
I didn’t chose dance, dance chose me [laughs]. It’s liberating!

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
Dancing for one of the greatest entertainers, J. Lo.

How has social media impacted your career?
It really has expanded my audience and given me the opportunity to be known worldwide.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Stay motivated, positive, and work hard!

Cierra Nichols, 19

Why dance?
Dance definitely chose me. It helped shaped my confidence — to be able to look in the mirror and love everything I see. It’s taught me about discipline, consistency, loyalty, and so much more. And there are some extra perks, like meeting big artists, and traveling around the country and the world. But the most important why is that it’s my first love.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer?
Auditioning for Nicki Minaj was a milestone for me. It was my first audition in LA, and although I wasn’t booked, I made it to the point where I was standing there in front of her, pushing through. It sucked not booking after working that hard, but it was rewarding to know I was good enough to reach the point I did. I knew it could only go up from there.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media has become a very big business tool over the last couple of years. It brings a new level of exposure and I can for sure say I’ve booked a handful of jobs through social media.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
The best advice I can give is to try as hard as you can to keep the same fire that made you want to dance in the first place. If you can hold on to that, along with always being a student to your craft, you’ll never plateau and the results will be life changing.

Denzel Chisolm, 27

Why dance?
I dance because I love it. It felt the most natural to me before I knew what I wanted to do. It’s an outlet for everything I’m feeling. I have no clue where I would be if I didn’t dance!

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
My biggest accomplishment as a dancer was getting to dance and choreograph for Janet Jackson. Hands-down one of the best things I will probably do.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media plays a big part in what I do. If it weren’t for social media, a lot of people wouldn’t know who I am. I wouldn’t be able to share what I do for the world to see. I love sharing and inspiring, and getting inspired by the next person. It has its moments when you need a break from it, but I’m definitely grateful for it as a tool.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
My advice is to go after what you want to do. Work hard as hell and believe in yourself. Meet fellow dancers to share and train with. Try new things and different styles. Your future is much bigger than you’re even thinking it can be right now. You can do anything you want to if you put the work in. Don’t limit yourself.

Jose “Boy Boi” Tena, 23

Why dance?
I’ve been dancing since a very young age. I love music and I couldn’t stay still as a kid whenever I heard it. Dance was the one thing that I wasn’t shy about. It felt natural. I watched so many great artists that imitating them kept me active and focused. Dancing has always made me happy and kept me feeling free.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
I love the growth that I have achieved throughout my years, and I am happy that I have no regrets after I leave a rehearsal, a stage, or a job. I do my best to practice hard and train thoroughly. Because of my work ethic, I have collaborated with many artists and am proud of the work I do. And that keeps me happy overall as a dancer.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media has introduced me to a lot of people around the world. I can monitor my growth and often notice connections between dancers in this industry and myself. Some of it is beyond my control too — I can inspire people from across the world in one clip and that is really special to me. As a choreographer, I see the importance in having a social media presence as well. I believe in sharing and that the world should experience the things I love to create.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Dance because you love to. Love your body and explore the many ways you can move it. Continuously love the things you can do and work on them. Listen and learn from many and take your time. Dancing can be hard, but the love for it will help you grow beautifully. Don’t stop fighting.

Deena Popper, 25

Why dance?
Dance really has helped me through so much and I couldn't imagine not having that outlet and voice. I started as a gymnast, but ended up breaking my leg and could never return in the same way. I continued to focus on sports throughout school, but dance was starting to command my attention. I would come home after school and stare at music videos for hours on end trying to learn the moves. When I finally started dancing and taking classes, I finally found what gave me the same feeling I once had as a child in gymnastics.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
My overall accomplishment of moving to LA and turning my passion into my career. It really is a dream come true! If I had to pinpoint one specific accomplishment, I would say dancing in a film for my very first time. I got to work under one of my good friends and choreographer Dexter Carr. The film is called Crazy For The Boys and should be released soon.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media definitely has its ups and downs when it comes to the industry, but all in all I really think it’s great. It has allowed me to share my work and my passion with people on a global level I may have never reached as fast without it. It makes everyone and everything just a bit more accessible which is great for inspiration as well as putting yourself out there.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Keep your mind open to everything and keep learning! Learn the business, keep training, and always remember your why! Don’t ever let it become just a job or lose your magic because there are going to be times when it gets hard and you have to keep your faith.

Steven “Guero” Charles, 27

Why dance?
To be honest, I played baseball for almost 15 years of my life. The sport runs in my entire family and that’s all I knew. I always felt I was artistic, but never really knew where or how to channel it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I randomly watched You Got Served and as cliché as it sounds, I felt something in my gut while watching that movie that I never felt before. I remember saying to my friends and my mom “I want to do that.” And I’ve been dancing ever since.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
In terms of work, I would have to say dancing on tour with Janet Jackson. She’s a legend and an icon I’ve looked up to forever, and she has always shown so much appreciation towards dancers. In terms of personal growth, meeting so many people who come from all walks of life — with different passions, views, cultures, and religions — helped me learn there are no limitations. That was huge for me because I feel like before I started dancing, I was so narrow-minded and naive to certain aspects of life.

How has social media impacted your career?
It’s definitely a newer craze for me that has its benefits and downfalls. It’s so easy to post online and have someone across the world see your work, which is a great thing. On the other hand, it’s so convenient to post from your own home without taking classes and travelling that a lot of culture is being stripped away from dance. I try to separate the two, and although I do use social media as an outlet, I try not to let it get the best of me or completely consume my work or myself.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Invest in you. Learn as many styles and about many cultures as you can. You have to train and put in the work to reap any of the benefits, and the more styles of dance you know, the better equipped you are as a dancer. Also, don’t forget your love of dance. Keep your “why” secured somewhere so that if you ever feel yourself drifting, you can remind yourself and always get back to that place of why you love to do this.

Swagg, 22

Why dance?
I dance because it is my destiny to entertain a crowd in anyway shape or form. It’s the best way to communicate without any words. I’m sure there are emotions we don’t know how to formulate in sentences, and dance gives us that language.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
Being booked for Janet Jackson. She is such an icon in the industry and an artist I would never have thought I would dance for. So many people would give anything to perform with her still, and I was blessed to have that opportunity to get it poppin’ with Ms. Jackson and the fam.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media has given me the platform to showcase my work, who I am, the kind of things I’m up for in life with dance, and where I am taking my career. It has given me the opportunity to reach others from all around the world and inspire them to become passionate about something and seek that. Social media has given me an opportunity to spread positivity and purpose for those that follow my journey.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
The advice I would give to up-and-coming dancers is to stay focused, find who you are as a person and bring that to your training. You’re not going to book every job, however you will book a job and that will be all worth the wait.

Mishay Petronelli, 31

Why dance?
Dance is a universal language. It is an art form that many can understand and relate to. It is vulnerable and raw in a world where people still hide how they truly feel. I have had such a passion and drive for dance since I was 13. The feeling and release I get with performing and expressing myself is like nothing else in the world for me.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer so far?
Everything I have accomplished so far is a big achievement for me. Each show or job prepares me for what is next or inspires me to move into the next phase of my life. I thank God everyday. I still can't believe some of these dreams have come true, such as singing, dancing, and acting in The Greatest Showman, and dancing for one of my idols and icons, Janet Jackson.

How has social media impacted your career?
Social media hasn't personally impacted me. However, I respect it for what we have it for. I think we should use the platform to continue to inspire, share/spread more love, art and awareness out into the world.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming dancers?
Be honest. Be you and believe in yourself and in your dreams. Anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. Don't forget to be humble, be grateful during your journey when there are ups and downs. It will make you stronger at the end of the day. Be kind. Have courage.