Teaching was never part of Kelly Sweeney’s career plan, but when her choreography started blowing up online, she had to reconsider her priorities. Now, she is thriving as an industry triple threat—a professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer all in one. What’s more? She’s helping her students go viral online.
Sweeney began dancing at 10 years old at Center Stage Dance Academy in Monrovia, California. At 13, choreographer Molly Long invited Sweeney to join her dance studio, Project 21, in Yorba Linda, California. Sweeney competed with the dancers there for one year before deciding she wanted to focus more intensely on her hip-hop training, and shifted to drop-in classes at studios like Millennium Dance Complex and Playground LA. Around that time she signed with MSA Talent Agency and started working professionally as a dancer at 15 years old. Since then she has worked with Nappytabs on projects for Disney and Jennifer Lopez; performed at the Oscars in the “Naatu Naatu” routine; danced in “The Little Rascals Save The Day”; and much more.
It was during the COVID-19 lockdowns that Sweeney began exploring choreography and discovered her own unique style: “I combined what I’ve learned from my technical and commercial training and made something that fits into the realm of jazz funk but feels like something specific to me.” She posted her choreography on social media, and was quickly invited to teach for a Zoom dance program called Groove Interactive. “I realized then I had a great passion for teaching and a good personality for it,” she says. When studios reopened in person, Sweeney added classes at Millennium and Playground LA to her schedule. “It was crazy to be teaching at studios I had trained at for so long,” she says. Since then, she’s choreographed on Shakira’s 2022 dance competition show, “Dancing with Myself”; choreographed for the Laker Girls; and set choreography at studios all over the country.
While working with studios, Sweeney began filming and posting content from her private lessons online. To her surprise, they went viral. “My student Aubriella ZaRaé was 9 at the time, and had just learned a really fast combo in under an hour and looked exactly like me in the video we took of it,” Sweeney says. “I had the idea to post the video with details about her age and how fast she learned it and people couldn’t believe it.” The video did so well that Sweeney and ZaRaé were interviewed on Access Hollywood. Since then, spotlighting her students on social media has become part of Sweeney’s regular teaching routine. “It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to help give my students opportunities,” she says.
If there is one thing Sweeney hopes her students take away from working with her, it’s to stop caring about what others think of you.
“Don’t let other people’s opinions or thoughts on your art affect the way you portray your passion,” she says. “Embrace your uniqueness, and you’ll go far. That’s what I did. When I started creating from my heart, opportunities started coming.”
Her pre-class ritual: “Before class I get together with my assistants, figure out my counts, and go over my sections. Then, I do my warm-up with my students.”
Go-to teaching attire: “I always teach in Nike shoes—I have a pretty cool collection. For clothes, I love wearing Free People Movement.”
Favorite foods for long teaching days: “I’m vegan and so I eat completely plant-based. I have a lot of beans, tofu, and a lot of carbs. I especially love pasta and avocado toast. I also love an iced coffee or an iced Yerba Mate. I definitely need a little dose of caffeine.”
Beloved nondance activities: “I love cooking for my friends, spending time with my family, bike rides, hiking, and going to the beach.”
Her ideal day off includes: “Sleeping! I work a lot, so when I have a day off I just chill.”
The Instagram account she can’t get enough of: “I love Smac McCreanor’s account: @smacmccreanor. She’s a dancer who will put an object by her side, and then form into it with her body. For example, if there is a chair next to her she will do a chair pose next to it. She is very creative.”
How she relaxes after a long day: “I love taking a long shower, doing my skin care, and talking with my family on FaceTime.”
Her guilty pleasure: “Watching ‘Dance Moms.’”