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INTERVIEW: Hailey Stephenson, Professional Dancer

Hailey is a professional commercial dancer, performing all kinds of dance styles for entertainment purposes. Her job requires her to be versatile in many styles and specialties. She has been an NFL cheerleader, parade performer at Disneyland, danced backup for bands and vocal artists, been featured in music videos, and performed in a variety of stage shows involving ballroom dance, broadway style dance, aerial work, and Vegas showgirl acts. She is currently on board a cruise ship where she performs three different 45 minute shows, as well as in-theme night appearances in the lounges. When not at sea, you can find her in her hometown of Long Beach or traveling around the country.

What purpose do you feel in your career?

There is no greater feeling than experiencing the energy of an audience! I feel immediate purpose every time I leave a performance and see the smiles on each audience member's face. A performance can connect with each person in the audience in such different ways. It can make them laugh or cry, it can connect them to a deep sentimental memory or remind them of a loved one, it creates a shared experience with everyone in the room which is such a beautiful thing! Dance and performance is art and it is also entertainment, which has gotten society through the hardest times in history. I feel so lucky to be able to have a passion that genuinely makes people happy!

What is the most exciting part of your day-to-day work?

My day-to-day work is so drastically different to what you might imagine a “standard job’s” is. I first and foremost have to make sure that my body is in peak physical condition to be able to perform at a high and healthy level. It is a dream for me to be able to exercise, stretch, move, and feel healthy and great as part of my work! The most exciting part for me is getting to wear all the costumes and stage makeup, meeting like-minded co-workers and life long friends in my dance partners, being in front of a live audience regularly, and waking up in a different country everyday!

When did you decide you wanted to enter this field? What steps did you take to make that decision a reality?

I started dancing when I was a young girl, however I did not know that it was something I wanted to pursue professionally until I was applying to universities. Looking back at my relentless dress up shows for my parents and willingness to perform any thing and everything when asked, I can now see that I must have just ignored what was right in front of me for so long. When I was in High School (go bruins!) I got extremely involved in the dance department, choreographing numbers and trying to soak in every guest choreographer I could learn from. I ended up studying dance extensively at CSULB, getting my bachelor's degree in dance as well as dancing on the dance team competitively and at the basketball and volleyball games. In the summers while in college I apprenticed for the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, and also started auditioning for commercial jobs on television and music videos and took as many classes as I could in LA from hot choreographers.

What do you think the future of your industry looks like, let's say in 15 years? What impact will it be making? How will it be different from what you do now?

With the boom of social media platforms, my industry is rapidly changing! It is already so different from when I was a new graduate driving to LA for auditions. I can imagine in 15 years time social media will play a huge role in booking dance jobs and networking with choreographers. You can see now with the rise of people dancing on TikTok and getting work that way that it is a platform that is here to stay in the dance world. With Covid causing live performances to be canceled for nearly two years, artists had to really get creative with digital media and I can imagine we will see things like dance performance really shift to that medium for years to come.

What makes Long Beach a great place to live and work as it relates to your industry?

Long Beach is such an amazing place to grow up a dancer! Not only are there so many dance studios and varieties of cultural dance abundant in this city, but our public high schools offer the greatest dance programs I know! When I went to college and spoke to other dancers about their experiences in high school, I quickly realized how truly spoiled I was to have the opportunities and programs Long Beach offers within its Public school system. I loved that when I danced at school that I was able to dance with students from other studios and I had even more to sponge up from watching and dancing with them.

Are there any organizations, communities, or movements that create synergy between you and others in your field, here in the city of Long Beach?

Being a dancer and living in Long Beach is so great because of its proximity to all kinds of work! I loved that in one year I was going to Los Angeles for commercial auditions and classes, dancing in parades at Disneyland, Cheering for the Chargers (who at the time were in San Diego) and I was able to teach and choreograph at different schools and studios all over Southern California! It was ideal for me that I didn’t have to uproot my entire life in order to succeed in my field!

For any students, age 12-18 who thinks your job sounds interesting, what advice would you give them to help them learn/train/explore your field?

Advice I would give any young student looking to be a professional dancer would be always to work hard, be kind, and be brave! Every experience is a learning one, and you have to treat every dance class like you are learning something new, even if you are doing the same barre exercise for the millionth time. Respect and soak up everything from your teachers, you never know who they know and what sorts of opportunities they can set you up with in the future! You also have to love it so much. It is a taxing and testing industry from so many angles, but as long as you keep the joy in it and just love dancing and performing, it is so worth it when you book that dream job!



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