How Nick DeMoura went from “the little cute boy in the crew” to become one of the most sought-after choreographers in Hollywood.

 "It can be a pretty glamorous life,” says 27-year-old Nick DeMoura, best known for his work with pop star Justin Bieber. “You’re on top of the world—being on tour, taking a private jet around the world with a huge artist—but then the tour ends. You can go weeks or months without work out here. The hardest part is staying on top of the world.” So far it looks like DeMoura has that part down. Known for his tireless work ethic and drive, he just signed on as creative director for 21-year-old hit vocal artist Ariana Grande.

The story of how a self-trained street dancer in Boston went on to become the choreographer and creative director for Justin Bieber sounds like a fairy tale, but DeMoura has worked hard for his professional success, starting when he was barely a teenager. “From the beginning I pursued choreography and posted tons of videos on YouTube to get my work out to the world. I always knew I wanted to choreograph, but I knew I needed to be a dancer first.”

Mentor Napoleon D’umo first saw him at a Monsters of Hip Hop convention. “His look wasn’t necessarily what the commercial world was all about,” D’umo says. “He was small, he didn’t have a cool haircut and didn’t really dress the part—but he was an awesome dancer. He was so compact, but his style was precise and yet totally smooth. He worked hard, and he went to every one of our classes. He wanted it so bad—he just needed someone to give him a chance.”

DeMoura never formally trained in a studio, opting instead to start a crew called Movement Specialists. Often recognized as “the little cute boy in the crew,” DeMoura was younger than the rest of his dancer friends, and together they performed at local shows and school dances. After one performance, the owner of Artistic Dance Studio in Fall River, Massachusetts, asked two of the boys to start teaching hip hop to her students. DeMoura was 16 at the time. “That’s when I found out about dance studios. I could never afford to go to a studio growing up; it was never an option. It was me and my friends dancing in my living room or in the CVS parking lot.” Soon, he was teaching open classes two or three times a week and had saved up enough money to start attending conventions, including Monsters of Hip Hop and The PULSE On Tour.

He was taking the train to New York City a few times a month to take classes, and he received a scholarship from Monsters to travel to Los Angeles and train with big-name choreographers, including Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo and Marty Kudelka. “I went to L.A. with $500 in my pocket,” he says. “After the Monsters closing show, my friend convinced me to stay. So I didn’t take my flight home. I spent a year living on my friend’s couch, working at a restaurant and at RadioShack and taking the bus everywhere until I got on my feet.” Although he landed a few dance jobs, including a stint on “The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll,” a part in Walk Hard and a few music videos, booking one or two dance jobs a month wasn’t enough for DeMoura to call himself a full-time professional dancer. “Music videos are the worst jobs on earth, with the longest hours and the least amount of pay,” he says. “With commercials and films, you get a residual check a year later for no reason!”

After almost two years in L.A., DeMoura booked a four-month tour with R&B singer Keke Palmer and could finally ditch his side jobs. He also assisted the D’umos during several seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“I learned so much from Tabitha and Napoleon: choreographing, staging, preparing for a job, submitting for a job, how you even get the job. A lot of times, your presentation before the job is everything—how you speak to people and react to their challenges. It’s not just about making steps. It’s a business.”

Here’s what Napoleon D’umo has to say about it: “Some assistants show up and say, ‘Tell me what to do.’ But Nick would stand beside me, like a partner, helping me see my way through the movement. It’s not like in the convention world where assisting is just standing on the stage and looking good doing choreography. We had Nick doing 100 other things, helping us run the room and running a productive rehearsal.”

Then came his big break. A friend was embarking on the My World Tour with Justin Bieber and called to say they needed an alternate male dancer. DeMoura learned the choreography, and just two weeks later one of the dancers quit. He was in for the entire world tour.

“Justin would always ask me to show him moves,” DeMoura says. “He liked the way I danced and freestyled. During a stop in South America, Justin and his manager Scooter Braun came into my dressing room and said, ‘Yo, you choreograph?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why?’ and they said, ‘We watched all your YouTube videos last night! Why didn’t you tell us?!’ I said I was just there playing my position, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” A week later, Bieber and Braun asked him to choreograph Bieber’s performance for the MTV European Music Awards.

The transition from dancer to choreographer was a natural one for DeMoura, who learned from the D’umos that choreographing for an artist isn’t necessarily about having a specific style. “It’s about choreographing for the artist, not for yourself,” DeMoura says. “You have to know how he likes to move, what his strengths and weaknesses are. It’s not about making the best steps; it’s about what’s going to make the artist look the best. When I choreographed the New Kids on the Block tour, we didn’t do anything crazy. I just had to make these guys in their 40s look good.”

When asked if his young age poses a challenge to any of his working relationships, DeMoura replies it was challenging at first but that age doesn’t matter. This is particularly true in his teaching at Movement Lifestyle in L.A. and with Monsters of Hip Hop. “In L.A., everyone is here to be a professional dancer. They range from 5 years old to 40. I don’t think about whether the students are older than me or younger. I’m just teaching people who want to dance.”

And though he counts so many colleagues as friends—some of whom were friends before they worked together, others who became friends during the creative process—on set, he knows there’s a line between being buddies and working professionals.

Justin Bieber (in 2010)

Ariana Grande

“Justin and I are friends—we’ve known each other for years and have grown up together—but I don’t choreograph for him because I’m his friend. If I was whack, he never would have hired me to begin with. I love him and owe him a lot for believing in me. In the studio, we know it’s time to work. He’ll tell me what he likes or doesn’t like, or he’ll throw a move in and then I can help make it better. We always have the same end goal.”

“Nick is stubborn, loving, energetic and honest,” says dancer Mykell Wilson, who has worked with DeMoura on several jobs and considers him his best friend. “He has these motivating characteristics that make you want to do your best.”

And just when you thought it may not get bigger and better than working with Justin Bieber, it did. At press time, DeMoura was preparing for Ariana Grande’s world tour, kicking off in early 2015. The Billboard Hot 100 music sensation is known for her wholesome look and four-octave vocal range. “I’ve been dying for a female artist,” DeMoura says. “With males, you have to be creative, but ultimately they have to be cool guys. With girls, you can be beautiful, flowery, edgy, sexy—there are so many more options. I can’t wait.” DT

Alison Feller is the former editor in chief of Dance Spirit.

Photos (from top) by Jino Abad; by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images; by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

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

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox