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Making the World Dance Together Through COVID-19 | SXSW 2021

Ryan Heffington
Dancer and choreographer at The Sweat Spot
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SXSW 2021
March 19, 2021, Online, Austin, USA
SXSW 2021
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About speakers

Ryan Heffington
Dancer and choreographer at The Sweat Spot
Rachel Handler
Features writer at Vox Media, LLC.

Ryan Heffington (born June 7, 1973) is a dancer and choreographer based in the desert two hours outside of Los Angeles. He was nominated for two Grammy Awards for choreographing the music videos for Arcade Fire's "We Exist" (2013) and Sia's "Chandelier" (2014), winning a VMA Award for the latter

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About the talk

The last 12 months have constituted the most intense sense of social isolation most of the world has ever known. Rather than succumb to this seclusion, Ryan Heffington made it his goal to make the world dance together. Through online Instagram dance classes, Ryan pivoted his business and passion to bring others together. Join this session to learn how community was created despite isolation and how meaningful business pivots are paving the way forward.

About SXSW:

SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. An essential destination for global professionals, this year’s online event features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, professional development and a variety of networking opportunities. For more information, please visit sxsw.com.

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Call M, Rachel hammer feature writer at nearest magazine and holster and I'm very excited to be here today. It's going. Well, I got to say, yeah, I just saw at my house in the desert sand. Yeah, I'm okay right now. Thank you. I was doing your your daily text me when it's when it's all began for you where the idea came from Sure. I was working on a film in New York when the pandemic hit production, halted and I came back to California and La where I was renting and have someone staying there.

So, I decide to go to my desert house and I never left actually and I don't know, I just It was going to be a moment of tension, I think and we could just feel it in New York. It was only about like a week or so that it really came heavily. The condition of what we were about to jump into and yes I got home and I miss teaching and I knew I wouldn't be able to do it at my studio. So I just had this idea to teach online and to do a class that would be more inclusive for people that don't have technique. And I was like, I'm going to do one class and by

the end of that class, another class that's in another class. And, you know, I don't know, six months later, it was still doing classes for a while watching 500 a week and it just became the source of happiness. And connectivity and it really just kind of worked for the time that you know, we were having in. Quarantine I never expected to do, it really literally at the chazen for dissecting my friends in La, my students to take and then the world last logged in and it was a great surprise.

What do you think, certain sense of style? Your classes apart? White like white people across. I think I allow you to do you. I sure I give moves. I mean, you know, a my classes, you know, I love not to take herself so serious and so this is something that I wanted to do with this class as well. The moves, you know, the Scarecrow the booty grind. Like there's so many like moves that, you know, aren't typical Tech dance techniques, although they are now and I just it was literally a platform for people to feel good and not think about

the pandemic and distress in the money in his latest. Like log on, let's have fun. We played dressed up and it was more like feeling like The chicken and the microphones is singing and undeniable like the lack of pressure. There was in this class. Like I said, you know, I think it works because people were free and they're in their apartments and so they didn't have an audience or classmates. So it just allow people to feel safe because dance can be really intimidating and isolating and it seems like your skill level of. You know.

It was kind of the opposite. It was just like, do you do whatever you want? There's no judgment. And yeah, that's kind of how it was. Lions lined up for the audience. I asked him when he was in a horrible dancer for all of my life. I can confirm. Nothing is that? I've been doing it over a year. I was going strong, the momentum was inspiring to me in terms of how many people showed up, you know. From so many countries. I think that was the most surprising. Could it really have like an online presence and turn into a teaching? So, I was

bored, but how many people were attending and where they're from? And You know, I kept teaching him teaching, teaching and it was a, it was a great distraction for me, as well, in terms of what was going on in the world, you know, at least for that hour and then, you know, movements happen, black lives matter. And so became a little bit more of a Political platform, I guess without getting too political bias, one to raise money. So he started raising money to the class has always been free. And yeah. So who's engaging, it was, you know, hopefully,

we're dancing for a good cause or causes and then, yeah, I still teach every now. And then, you know, I was lucky enough to go back to work a little bit and also, you know, the burnout was a real. I never taught by glasses ever in one week and I was doing it and was prepping 3 hours at night. It became my wife for a while and I was having such a great time, doing it in the feedback and accept raising money for organizations. And and then I was like, oh yeah, self-care, you know, like I was giving and what I wanted to do it meant that I was like I need to

slow my roll because I felt a little burnout coming a little bit, so I just like chilled out on classes. Would you like two or three week? And now I do when I feel like it but you know, a lot of them live login and whenever they want to check them out and giving and then like, Keeping what, you know, you know, like I would have inside of me so I wouldn't burn out. So it's been an evolution for sure. Genius genius. How to change method. Great question. I think. My idea of what

dance is not. I've been teaching exploited classes, I missed you for like 10 years. So I knew that it was a, you know, Dances can be a bit more accessible than a how many we thought of it before. But this is put in a different route and I love that I could use it, like I said to raise money and be a little bit more political In times where I think it was needed. And, you know, I never really, actually, that's not true in LA in my dance, to do, we raise money for lgbtq I like we do. I don't know when where

students needed that money for whatever reason, like we do fundraisers. And I think, you know, knowing now that Is the world platform that? I had a voice through dance and I was using it and I never really I kind of tended to stay neutral before and But this is this is new for me and you know, I think maybe I lost a lot of students as well, of course but I know it's important for me to support love and community and individuals across the board and try to keep it as equal as

possible and speak my mind on that a little bit. You know, like I was just, I had a platform so that was that was like the biggest I think change in terms of me and my choreography in these classes and just yeah, is more important than ever before. I want to have a little bit of community that was created. Is there anyone? I mean. I don't know how often people were necessarily login. I mean I would submit friends at the beginning, scroll through and say hi. Anybody was just everyone, doctors on the front lines. Nurses were taking class Rockstar, and actors and producers,

and directors. It was just as wild as like, I feel like taking this class for a moment or once or twice at least. And yeah but you know, regardless of who's taking who wasn't with him up and numbers, but it was just that people, I'm going to say needed it or wanted it. So I felt indebted at this point. I feel like I'm, you know, I'm out here in the desert, very happy I have land and you know, to to walk so I know like what freedom I had and my capacity to like,

I'm still the situation may be a little bit differently, just for my space. So I was like harboring, like happiness and I was like, okay, I'm going to, I'm going to give this to people because I can and yeah, I don't answer your question. Who is the most exciting person that said, that you weren't expecting. 2, most surprising, I mean, I got to say like it. It wasn't necessary to celebrities who from me. It was like getting messages from nurses. I mean, this one in particular, talked about this before an interview, but she couldn't take class because she was on the front

line and to saving lives, but she would put her phone in her pocket and listen to it as if she's in class. And just like she said, it's the sound of the music. Just kind of like helped her through these times these really intense times. And that was probably the most touching thing for me or just like, I do not like people that were losing weight and he's never, they've never found a way to do, you know, encourage themselves to do Ed and by which means, and then I dance, I've lost 40 lb. I mean, people that maybe didn't have access to dance class from around the world were taking it.

So that was a little bit more. Uplifting to me, then I guess celebrities taking class for sale. Yeah, I did. I think I'm just so stressed check with what's going on in the world you know, because I don't have a physical studio anymore. So I think this is my only time means to the dance with people and to share and I'll do it on. But I'm at, you know, I think maybe my trajectory of the pandemic still different cuz I was doing this for months now it's kind of my focus. I

was really moving there and then like the isolation of being here I feel like my My Cycles been a little different. So at this point I'm really trying to stay grounded and stay positive and positive with people that, you know, our kind of going through my friends whatnot. So yeah, I think I will do it about listening to what I have to do it so but yeah I'll do it. I think I'll do it forever. I've always said I can always teach so in one aspect or another and you know this online actually reaches more

people than I had ever imagined and I've ever had in class so yeah I'll do it. Very emotional and think about these connections that you've made me to start moving and exercising and you know, sweaty super fun. And but there's something about sharing an experience like that, it's really communal. That always try to help people realize, like how many people are dancing together even though we're isolated in their own places but just like coming together and sharing a unique experience and I think for me, why why I do that?

You have learned it from mentors and teachers for people I think I lay down the foundation and you do all the work as the student and I think it's important that you take responsibility for that. I think sometimes young dance class in for you to realize what you've done. And how much light you created in your own body and that is possible through dance as possible. And then, you know, if you have extra shirt with people, you know, like the world stopped and or just keep it to yourself, you can access it whenever you want. So I think it was just

like, really Take me to seriously and not just a fun offer on dance class, but it's, it's like a spiritual generator, or spiritual like, lightness generator that we need no tools, really too to having to access. So, yeah, it's always just nice to, like, kind of hold that instead of just like the payday and not like knowing that we can Harper that for future use for the day, or a moment later, you know? So I was just kind of like this is bring it all and rather than letting it go as we do for the 55

minutes, that were dancing around and acting a fool says, it's like, you know, meditate a little bit on it, cuz it feels so good. I think that's when like a lot of tears came. So we're giving ourselves credit and, you know, I mean so much is going on outside the space that like, Maybe they didn't realize that happiness was right there or could be right there and accessible. So is it really important for me to like, named that? I mean, I did. When I got to 100 classes I'm like I need to repeat something like this is what I mean

every class I probably have at least at least three new song. I would just spend you know, hours at night making a playlist. You know what is DJing? So you can start at this level of and you go there and you go like a slow song and then you end my day and I love music and I think I'm really attuned to like vibrations and I'm also like Hey, listen to who my audience is like kids, I wouldn't use like any profanity or very little. I just want to like make sure everyone had a safe space and like no

one is offended and I do you know, maybe she'll fall care what people think and I think that's actually kind of shape my heart a lot. I don't mind that the people pleaser, but yeah, I don't know, I was just like listen to music or emotional music. And you know, it was see if this fits with the vibe sweat Fest but it it's very It's very specific, the music that I choose it, just going up Spotify in like, you know, artist connected to that artist this remix and just, you know, I'm a DJ, a DJ.

I won't touch on some of your more like out in the world. I mean it's a good one. Emotionally connect to a lot of my projects. I feel like I'm really lucky that. For the most part, each product is super unique and I get to do me. And so what that means is like usually usually some sort of emotional content. My like, physical voice. I get to like, put in like the eye movement and, you know, a style that I've treated over, you know, my lifetime and I mean, they've all been Exciting. You know, a lot of my parts like to get chills. I know my, okay?

This is going to be a special and Energetic and yeah I usually like look for that cute so I can get chills during this just a rehearsal and and if it's working like okay this is this is this is it like I'm connected to it and yeah, I get to enjoy a lot of my work. I really enjoy my life and my, my, my art form and The Clapper Asians, I get to do so, lucky that likes to work with amazing, amazing people. So attached to Yeah. What you think has been the biggest for me? I always think of you.

You know, what's funny? I was just on this job and this like more PA was on tonight. Chet Faker. Video is one of my favorite things I like. And what I love is like, I have also like, I feel like, I kind of like the difference media and so, like, you know, Papa's completely different. It's like sci-fi fantasy and then baby driver is like, you know, action-packed blood guts. Like, you know, everyone has a different connection, I think to, what I John and I love that. I love that. Like you know

these do these Bros like that's a stereotype but I just did but you know, I don't know. It's kind of like these different worlds and Yeah, I love that. Love that. I'm able to do that, you know, I'm not just like a pop choreographer to do like more like a bee and, you know, Siri, Conceptualize the singing commercial. yeah, I worked with Yolanda, the director, you know, Maria had a great Investment in this project. And it was so nice to listen to what she had to say about. How do I get more stamina? So I guess

like angle to it. just so many Beauty and Fashion commercials in Spanish commercials are like No bueno. You know, I care very like Antiquated and women are desperate as like and she's like, I can't do that. I think it was about a relationship and this romance, but I think, you know, there's so much more than like, you know, a slow down when the, you know, set, like it's got to be more for me, was like, I want them to be play the kids, and I want them to be intimate. I want them to touch and feel each

other, and I wanted to be a little bit more surreal. So you crazies gestures that are little atypical. And that's what I kind of like to do is like makeup make things that are relatable, but also like Give it death and represent more of a reality. I think about how we relate to people, and she's one another and like, play, and Steve like two grown people play together face-to-face. Like this is so much more than Lust or I don't know romance is like, what is romance, you know. It's like, it's such a, you know, death to it, I think then what we sometimes portrayed in the media or

projects, you know? So I try to go in and make it a little bit more bass than Humanity. Yeah, I'm what? Musical. Yes. Yes. Yeah, I mean I was so excited to do it. I don't know, FaceTime interview with Lance like listen I'm like I don't do Broadway and I do not for a reason that by bike. I have a different take on what this could be and I'm like, do you want to go on the street? If you want to go on this journey with me? And you know, that I talked about, you know,

the way I approached us and make sure we can create that, you know, let's do it. You know, down for adventure. And he's like, yeah, let's do it. And so, we did it. And I know there's something that was so nice because I think there was such a But there is something that was the musical rights, we all kind of have an idea what that was, and it was nice to jump into that box and play with those tools. Music is super musical theater, and sometimes it's really hard for me to get into that,

but this one I did, and it was really nice. Of course, cuz you know, the music was written by Jonathan Larson. And it just The Narrative of the musical pieces, really push the story forward. So they gave a death to what the numbers were instead of just such frivolous and Mike colorful you, no pallets that. We just swipe by for 3 minutes, that was nice. It was nice to like, get into like the narrative, so creative and now, hopefully, the little bit of like, having some signature on there. And, yeah, it was great. Experience.

Men's amazing. The actors are amazing. My car. Got the team were amazing. Yeah, it was great. And this is what I really appreciate you. Thank you for asking the question.

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