How husband-and-wife team Keone and Mari Madrid found choreographic fame via YouTube
Photo by Little Shao, Courtesy Go 2 Talent Agency
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl start dancing together. They fall in love, create epic dance collaborations, go viral on YouTube, get married and perform together on Times Square billboards.
Though it’s not the most common love and success story, it’s the story of Keone and Mariel (Mari) Madrid. Often compared to commercial choreographers (and fellow husband-and-wife team) Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo for their sweet lyrical, hip-hop style, Keone, 26, and Mari, 29, have grown a worldwide fan base and become darlings of the urban choreography industry. Their YouTube videos have garnered several million views, capturing the attention of people like Ellen DeGeneres, who invited them to perform on her show.
It all began when Keone’s students at San Diego’s Culture Shock Dance Center filmed his combinations and posted them on YouTube. “I thought YouTube was just for comedy videos and cute kittens,” Keone says. “Neither Mari nor I uploaded our first video.” It was essentially because of those early videos that Keone and Mari finally met. After seeing their work online, the dance workshop Urban Legends invited both of them to teach in Temecula, California. Afterwards, Keone asked Mari to teach for Future Shock San Diego, a competitive crew he had danced in, and the pair eventually began dating. But it wasn’t until six months into their relationship that they began collaborating. “Our styles meshed surprisingly well,” Keone says.
Keone and Mari’s popularity surged when videos of them teaching together were posted on Movement Lifestyle’s YouTube channel (which serves to bring additional exposure to working choreographers). In May 2010, they conceptualized, choreographed and professionally shot their first video, “Smooth Operator,” which utilizes large-frame shooting in lieu of quick cuts and fancy angles. The zoomed-out camera lets viewers see the whole picture as they would during a stage production—Keone and Mari passing a single rose back and forth as they alternate between intricate footwork and seductive slow dancing.
Soon, Keone and Mari started posting more videos on their shared channel, and their popularity steadily progressed over the next few years. In 2013, their video to Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” quickly went viral after it was posted on Urban Dance Camp’s channel. “Getting a million views at the time was unreal,” Keone says. It prompted an e-mail from—and eventual live performance on—“The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “That was when we realized our viral reach,” Keone says. “From there, the jobs kept coming.”
At first, they were mostly booking teaching gigs. The duo teaches each summer at Urban Dance Camp and also gets calls from conventions and studio owners who want the pair to choreograph their family-friendly material on their students. “People call us and reference our videos,” Keone says. “Our work online is like our resumé.” They’ve also booked Korean pop videos and a Hyundai commercial and choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“Their style was very smooth, very lyrical, with hard-hitting movements and creative storytelling,” says “SYTYCD” executive producer Jeff Thacker, who hired them after seeing the pair online. “But Keone and Mari had no egos, no drama. They created something that was still uniquely them and was right for the show.”
It’s easy to see why the world is drawn to their videos: Watching their choreography is often like watching two people fall in love over and over again. In their “Is This Love” routine, they portray an old couple, linking arms as they transition from basic step-touches to perky, interlocked or mirrored partner work. “We’re not just dancing together—we have a life outside, too,” Mari says. “A general person will be like, ‘Oh yeah, the married couple that dances!’ “ says Keone. “It’s an easy thing for people to connect with.”
Keone and Mari’s choreography became a hit in an industry where partnering is often basic and predictable—and rare. “Many partner pieces in the urban dance realm were very traditional,” Keone says. “The dancers would just do opposite choreography facing each other. We wanted to try and do something different with the technicalities and intricacies in our choreography.
Yet that partnering remains wholesome and all-age-appropriate, in part because of their shared faith. “We’re both Christian, and there are certain things we don’t want to do,” Mari says. “This is genuinely who we are.”
Keone and Mari’s next venture takes their videos to a more personal level: They just opened a private studio called Building Block in San Diego. The goal is to offer private intensives to individuals or small groups. “Like personal training for dancers,” Keone says.
In the future, Keone and Mari say they would love to get into theater and film projects, or work with a musical artist. And they don’t plan to stop dancing anytime soon. “We’re going to be dancers as long as we can—as long as our bodies allow,” says Keone. “Even if that just means dancing together in our living room,” Mari says.
Alison Feller is a freelance writer in New York
Keone and Mari’s Video Success Secrets
Use your resources. “We’re not film experts,” says Keone. “But we have a lot of friends who are.”
Keep it simple. Two of Keone and Mari’s inspirations are Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. “We looked at how things were shot during those days,” Keone says. “It’s all very basic. We’re not into lots of slow-motion shots and quick cuts. We want viewers to see the dancing.”
Be passionate. One of Keone and Mari’s most popular videos is their chilling eight-minute piece about youth homelessness for the Choreo Cookies crew. It won first place at VIBE Dance Competition earlier this year, and the routine was an immediate viral sensation, garnering more than 2 million YouTube views. —AF
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
It is a great tragedy for dance history that iconic ballet partnerships like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov weren't able to document their backstage shenanigans on social media. (Okay, maybe not a great tragedy, but you have to admit that you're curious.)
Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: