I'm sitting in a small New York City office, staring out at the bustling street below trying to decide if the man I'm talking to on the phone is actually Brian Friedman. As a former competition kid, I'm familiar with his demanding teaching style—his direct corrections and high expectations ring loud in my recollection. So, I'm surprised by the breezy voice coming through the phone, going on about his zodiac sign and childhood love of the television show "Star Search." A quick scroll through Friedman's social-media feed shows him at one moment clad in high heels and fierce eyeshadow, serving some serious diva vibes in class; the next, makeup-free in a simple black hoodie and rain poncho on vacation with his parents and husband, Daniel Brown. The juxtaposition in tone between Friedman the teacher and Friedman the individual is so apparent, I can't help but ask, "Who are you really?"
"I'm a Gemini, there are many versions of me," he says emphatically. "If you met me in class you'd be scared of me. When I teach I'm a drill sergeant—I'm intense and scary because that's how I was trained [he grew up dancing at Leigh Cassidy King's Dancentre in Phoenix, Arizona], and I'm so grateful for it. But that's not who I am in the real world. As a person, I'm a people-pleaser who loves to make others happy."
I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that his personality is as multifaceted as his professional career. It's not hyperbole to say that he does it all. "I'm a choreographer, creative director, dancer, educator, stylist, editor and producer," he tells me, casually reeling off his titles as though he were reading his grocery list. He's owned a dance studio; performed for pop icons like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Cher; teaches on the dance convention circuit with Radix Dance Convention; is a regular choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance"; was the creative director and judge for Simon Cowell's "The X-Factor"; and has established himself as a viral social-media influencer. Over the course of his 25-year career, the landscape of dance has changed immensely, and he has been at the forefront of each shift, always ushering in the next big thing.
So who is this chameleon, this trailblazer, this dance connoisseur? Here are a handful of things Friedman shared in his candid interview.
He doesn't want people to misunderstand who he really is.
"I think people see my flamboyant, over-the-top dance persona and sometimes mistake that for arrogance. When I'm on the dance floor, I'm confident. I believe in myself as a dancer more so than I do as a creator. I am a dancer. When I'm on that floor I'm untouchable. Maybe in my 20s there was a level of arrogance to it, but I've gotten to the point where I just know that that's my gift, and I own it. I hope people know that's just the artist me. The human me is as normal as can be."
He spends his "normal, nondance time" recharging.
"I go to the gym, get massages, meditate and go on walks and hikes with my dog regularly. Danny and I like to go to the movies and have house parties with friends. Besides Disneyland, being at home and doing nothing is probably the most exciting thing for me right now."
Friedman with one of his valued advisors Tessandra Chavez.
He has a strong network of support.
"Mia Michaels and I are close and advise each other on our careers as friends. Tessandra Chavez is a meticulous, organized and methodical creator, and she's concise and direct with her opinions. She's very much like me and doesn't beat around the bush, so we're a good team together. My manager is amazing, my parents give me the perspective of normal people that I need and my man Danny is my sounding board for everything."
He talks to his students about social media.
"I talk to my kids a lot about staying levelheaded. A lot of them didn't have a following built when I took them under my wing, and I've watched them each explode into millions of followers. The whole thing is scary. When [social media] becomes the focus and the purpose of what they're doing, that's when I worry they're losing themselves in the game. It's got to be an enhancement to your brand. It cannot be the focus."
I was a flaming disaster. I had so much energy, terrible feet and no flexibility, but I would perform." Photo courtesy of Friedman
Being a choreographer on social media isn't easy.
"Oh, I feel the pressure, and I hate the pressure! It takes away from the art. I'll create something that's my favorite thing I've ever done. I'll be beyond proud of the work, and I give this big, beautiful shiny present to the world—and they hate it. Then another video will get millions of views right away, and it's something I debated even posting. It's hard to not pay attention to the numbers. It's hard to stay in love with your work when it doesn't receive the outside attention you thought it would. But you just have to stand behind yourself as an artist and really know what you believe in and not let your judgment get clouded by the public's reaction. Are you going to listen to the people commenting on your channel, or are you going listen to yourself?"
To read the full article, pick up a copy of DT's October issue.