When the pandemic hit last March, Los Angeles–based commercial dancer Kelli Erdmann found herself in the unique position of having both lots of time on her hands and a husband who dabbled in video editing. Naturally, she joined TikTok.
Erdmann (whose professional dance credits include Wicked on Broadway, “Glee,” and “Hairspray Live!”) and her husband, Freeman Butler, were taken by a social media trend that incorporated sticker cutouts (still shots of a portion of a dancer’s body which float across the frame before rejoining the rest of the body). So, they decided to try their hands at it. With 12 followers, they posted the video. It was an overnight success—by the time the two woke up, it had about 200 thousand views (the current count stands at 2.8 million, and their TikTok-follower count is at 1.5 million.) On Instagram, Erdmann was hovering at around 12 thousand followers before her TikTok success. Today, she has 639 thousand.
Energized by their success, they kept making videos. “It became just a fun thing to do together,” Erdmann says. “Freeman has learned more about editing along the way, and it’s become this crazy, silly whirlwind.” Their many videos star Erdmann dazzling with lively choreography, a range of vibrant colors, and even a few celebrities (most recently Derek Hough and Todrick Hall!).
Dance Teacher asked Erdmann about her newfound social media fame, her dance life during COVID, and how her training experiences helped her achieve TikTok renown.
The inspiration behind her viral TikToks: “We saw these videos as a way to bring positivity and light to people during a dark and isolating time. We wanted to create things that made someone’s day or made them laugh or smile. I really love fun colors, and I thought the brightness of these videos was a great way to do that. There is power in lifting people’s moods through being silly, positive and wholesome all at the same time.”
On the biggest turning point in her dance education: “I grew up dancing at a small, local studio in Washington state. When I was 13, I changed studios to Westlake Dance Center, where I trained in ballet, jazz, contemporary, lyrical and hip hop. There, I was able to focus on training, and learning different styles rather than prioritizing the perfect competition dances. I rounded myself out as a dancer and performer, and I really blossomed. The school ultimately got me to a place where, after high school, I was able to move to L.A. and do the EDGE Performing Arts Center scholarship program and sign with Bloc Talent Agency.”
The worst piece of advice she’s ever gotten: “When teachers have told me I needed to look a certain way or dress a certain way. If you aren’t comfortable in what you’re wearing, you won’t perform your best. At the end of the day, going with what is authentic to you, and what you feel good about, will help.”
On her most influential teacher: “Definitely Kirsten Cooper. She helped me shift my mentality to realize what I was capable of doing as a dancer. She took me to L.A. for the first time and showed me that I could potentially have a career there. She was always bringing in different choreographers to work with me. She is just an incredibly motivated, passionate person and that rubbed off on me.”
On life during COVID: “When the pandemic hit, it was very difficult to go from dance classes and auditions to so much free time without anything to do. Social media has become a huge blessing for me to continue creating. It’s great to have the freedom to do what I want, learn, grow and stretch myself. This is my focus from here on out, but I’m eager to be back on set.”
A correction that’s made all the difference: “To always engage my core and move from there. When you do that, you have the freedom to do anything with your movement. It’s like having a solid foundation.”
On the support she’s received from past educators for her current success: “They have all been super-positive. Kirsten loves to share my videos on Instagram. They seem to be very proud of me and my accomplishments. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my teachers.”
Her biggest piece of advice: “Be yourself. There are so many dancers out there and it’s easy to try to fit the mold to be someone you admire, but the thing that is unique about you is really the best thing you have to offer. When we’re authentic to who we are, that shines through in our performance. So, one of the things I’ve tried to embrace about myself is my silliness and my quirkiness, and I think it’s paid off.”