Dance Teachers Trending

The Man Behind the Persona: Choreographer Brian Friedman Gets Real

" There's no better feeling for me than knowing that I've helped someone else achieve their dreams," says Friedman. Photographed by Lee Cherry, styled by Marian Toybina

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.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox