Site Network

What It's Like to Dance at the Super Bowl

Dancer Tony Bellissimo on the field at Super Bowl LII (via Instagram)

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!

What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.


Getting the Gig

Timberlake is a true dancer, and his dancers are extensions of his signature style. The crew has become a kind of family: You'll see the same core group of dancers alongside Timberlake at all his performances. (Fun fact: Timberlake was the first major recording artist to protect his dancers under a SAG-AFTRA touring agreement, a major stepping stone toward improving the working conditions of professional dancers.) "The respect for his camp is remarkable," says Bellissimo of Timberlake.

The leader of that camp is Marty Kudelka, head choreographer for Timberlake, who has a close working relationship with Bellissimo. "I didn't audition for the Super Bowl, but I did audition for Justin's 'Filthy' video," Bellissimo says. "I had to freestyle for Marty after hearing the song for the first time, although it didn't take long to fall in love with the layered waves of music in that track." Being part of Timberlake's pack and working with Kudelka on previous projects helped Bellissimo secure a spot on the biggest stage (ahem, field) in the nation.

Timberlake with his camp of dancers at Super Bowl LII (courtesy Bellissimo)

Focus and Hard Work

The Super Bowl LII dancers worked every day for nearly three weeks to prepare for the halftime performance. Bellissimo compares Timberlake's work ethic to that of Michael Jackson, who was famously engaged in rehearsals. "Justin came into rehearsal and put in the work with us. He'd be in the mirror working to get what was already amazing to be outstanding," says Bellissimo. "He'd chime in on certain moves or musical accents that work for him."


Once the Red Light is On

You can imagine how the dancers felt moments before "Filthy" blared through the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. "Right before we walked on the field, JT gave the most amazing speech to motivate the dancers and the band," Bellissimo says. "We all yelled and screamed. I could've run through a wall, I was so hype!"

The key to surviving the routine's demanding choreography, Bellissimo says, was to channel that energy. He was required to run constantly from stage to stage, with countless cameras following the action. And then there was the knowledge that hundreds of millions of viewers were following his every step.

"The Super Bowl brings an added pressure, because it's a different crowd that you'd get at an award show or go to a concert," says Bellissimo. "Most people are tuned in because they're watching the game. You have to give them what they didn't know they wanted."

Bellissimo (right) feeling hype with fellow dancer David Moore at Super Bowl LII (courtesy Bellissimo)

Dancing with Your Idol

Bellissimo is clearly a huge fan of Timberlake. (He admits that the first time he saw Timberlake, practicing with Kudelka on the set of "Suit and Tie," he blurted out, "THERE'S JUSTIN!" To which Timberlake replied, "HERE I AM!") Still, when you're dancing alongside your idol, it's best to not lose your cool. When working with celebrities and role models, Bellissimo's advice is to remain professional.

"I've heard stories about dancers saying the wrong thing, getting too hands-on, or overstepping their position," Bellissimo says. "That will get you fired, replaced, and shipped out before you can tie your shoes! Remember that it's a job, so if you want to keep it, find the right time to have fun in between the work."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: I own a studio in a city that has a competitive dance market. I've seen other studios in my community put ads on Instagram and Facebook for open-call auditions in April, long before most studios have finished their competition season and year-end recitals. Is this fair?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox