Pop Culture

An Unexpected (But Surprisingly Appropriate) Career Transition: From Dancer to Pro Wrestler

WWE diva "Naomi" in the ring. Photo via wwe.com

Although the dance world has its fair share of divas, there is a different type of diva that's coming out of the dance studio.

"Diva" is the coined term for a female professional wrestler in the World Wrestling Entertainment organization. More than a few dancers—as well as gymnasts and cheerleaders—have taken their training and applied it to successful careers in this comical yet physically grueling art form.


pro wrestler Naomi performs a dance-off in a squat

Dance-offs are all part of the fun and games

Newsflash: It's not all Hulk Hogan-style gimmicks.

Despite its reputation, professional wrestling is more similar to the dance world than you might think. It has a mix of intricate physicality and partner work with high levels of performance and storytelling.

Although wrestling is generally regarded as fake, a better description might be "scripted." Yes, the storylines are planned out, but the physicality is real. Professional wrestlers flip, dive, jump and fall—having undergone grueling training similar to that of dancers.

Professional wrestling has a huge cult following, viewed by millions of fans around the world. But a lot has changed since the 1980s golden age. It's no longer about over-the-top gimmicks and steroids. Today the WWE is comprised of some of the world's fittest athletes, including Ronda Rousey, an Olympic medalist and UFC Hall of Famer.

Professional wrestling is also currently in its self-proclaimed "women's evolution" era. WrestleMania, the super bowl of wrestling, featured a female matchup as its main event this year, the first time in its 35-year history.

Wrestling offers a new kind of performance venue.

"Naomi," aka Trinty Fatu, one of the top WWE Divas, used to be a backup dancer for hip hop artists like Flo Rida, and she performed with the Orlando Magic Dance Team. One day, the WWE came to the Orlando Magic's arena and she saw their show.

"When I saw the women perform, I was in awe," she says. "I didn't know much about wrestling, or even that women could do it." She realized it could be a perfect mix for her dance training and love of performance and athleticism.

Fatu does not shy away from her dance past. Like most dancers-turned-wrestlers, she uses her dance skills in her dramatic entrances into the stadium.

"When I first debuted, dancing was part of my gimmick and my character. It has helped me so much with wrestling," she says. Sometimes she even wears her dance uniform for matches. In-ring dance-offs between rivals are also common, such as the duel between Fatu and her noted rival and fellow dancer "Lana," aka Catherine Joy Perry.

Dancers may find the environment feels familiar—just less graceful.

Performance is an essential part in the training of professional wrestlers, which is echoed through its many reality wrestling competition shows. Two-time championship winner "Layla El"—a former dancer with Kayne West, P. Diddy and John Legend—was swept up in the world of WWE when she was convinced to try out for the WWE Diva Search in 2006. Although she did not win on the reality competition show, she was a fan favorite, and in the end, was offered a contract.

The family-like atmosphere of wrestling also feels familiar for dancers. "Coming from the dance world, you have to deal with locker room etiquette, big groups of girls and knowing how to respect each other," says Fatu. "To be able to get along with so many other different women and personalities, it's not always easy. I feel that is something that people struggle with more so than the physical part. I've just always been in that environment, so it wasn't a hard transition for me."

Fatu's advice for dancers interested in making the jump to wrestling? "I think dancers make the best wrestlers. The only hard part is, when you get to wrestling, it's time to not be as graceful. You have to become the complete opposite of graceful. But I think dancers pick it up quicker than anyone else."

Broadway
Amber Gray and Patrick Page. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Hadestown

There's a rare moment in Broadway's Hadestown where the audience is able to breathe a sigh of relief. The smash-hit success is not well-known for being light-hearted or easy-going; Hadestown is a show full of workers and walls and, well, the second act largely takes place in a slightly modernized version of hell.

But deep into the second act, the show reaches a brief homeostasis of peace, one of those bright, shining moments that allows the audience to think "maybe it will turn out this time," as the character Hermes keeps suggesting.

After songs and songs of conflict and resentment, Hades, the king of the underground, and his wife, the goddess Persephone, rekindle their love. And, unexpectedly, they dance. It's one of the most compelling moments in the show.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
News
Amber Star Merkens, Courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group

There's always been something larger than life about choreographer Mark Morris. Of course, there are the more than 150 works he's made and that incisive musicality that makes dance critics drool. But there's also his idiosyncratic, no-apologies-offered personality, and his biting, no-holds-barred wit. And, well, his plan to keep debuting new dances even after he's dead.

So it should come as little surprise that his latest distinction is also a bit larger than life: The New York Landmarks Conservancy is adding Morris to its list of "Living Landmarks."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox