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If you were a hardcore *NSYNC fan, you’ll probably remember their choreographer Wade Robson, who became a star in his own right. And then there’s Laurieann Gibson, who got “boom kack” stuck in your head while starring on Diddy’s “Making the Band” series on MTV. These days, however, it’s not as easy to name a star choreographer, but Ian Eastwood is about to change all of that.
The 21-year-old, who hails from Oak Park, Illinois, started dancing when he was 10 years old, and has already worked with Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino and Vic Mensa.
That’s only the beginning though. He hopes to innovate the way we see choreography with his upcoming dance mixtape called Adult Lessons, which will arrive this summer. Here’s what MTV News learned about Ian Eastwood during a recent interview:
After binging on music videos (like we all did), Ian would create his own mini dance routines and show it to his parents, who eventually decided to enroll him in dance classes. “Both of my parents are artists so I can have full dance conversations with both my mom and dad, and they can fully keep up with everything,” he said.
Oh, and his parents generally sound pretty awesome. “My house literally looks like an art museum. We’ve got whole walls that are painted like the sky and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is painted on the floor.”
N’SYNC videos really piqued Ian’s interest in dance, but it took him a while to figure out why he was so attracted to what he saw. “I was inspired by N’SYNC but didn’t really get what it was,” he admitted. Then, Michael Jackson really solidified things. During his first dance class, his teacher taught choreography from “Thriller” and blew his mind.
“I’d heard MJ on the radio and had never really gotten into him but I walked out of the classroom like, ‘This is what I want to do now.’ I was just so blown away by it, so the next step was my mom and dad getting me the ’Michael Jackson History’ DVD for Christmas with all of his music videos. Once I saw ’Smooth Criminal,’ I realized I wanted to do this.”
Ian recalled attending a dance convention when he was about 10 years old called Monsters of Hip-Hop, which was flooded with reputable choreographers. The first time didn’t go so smoothly – “I wanted to leave in tears because I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up with all the other kids” – but he kept going back and eventually met Marty Kudelka, who had worked with N’SYNC and Janet Jackson.
Watching Kudelka move made him realize that he needed to create his own routines and teach, instead of just aspiring to become a tour dancer. “I was 11 when I was already starting to choreograph, so I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be a choreographer and not a tour dancer.”
Ian always wanted to participate in his elementary school talent show and it wasn’t until 5th grade that he’d finally discovered his big talent. He thought it would he harmless enough to use one of the routines from his dance class, until his teacher went ballistic on him.
“I didn’t know better – I’d never been taught that you can’t use other people’s choreography, so I was completely destroyed,” he said, recalling that distressing moment. “So my parents told me, ‘You’re going to go downstairs and choreograph your own routine, and it’s going to be better than the one you did in class.’”
He definitely followed their advice. “So the first time I choreographed was by default, because I got yelled at.”
Ian continued to work at his craft and before long he was teaching and creating routines across the globe. “I was already traveling the world by the time I was 16,” he said, “I was teaching in Russia when prom was happening.” But, as fate would have it, he ended up working with artists who grew up in Chicago, just like he did. Through mutual friends, he was eventually connected to Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa (who’s co-manager happened to be his next door neighbor).
“The first track I heard from Chance’s Acid Rap mixtape was ‘Good Ass Intro’ and I thought it was amazing,” he explained. “But I didn’t know he was from home until I looked him up, and it turns out we’re born on the exact same day: April 16, 1993, so I thought it was meat to be. I choreographed a routine to it and put it out there.” And, sure enough, Chance saw the footage and reached out to work with him.
“Chance hit me up on Twitter and wanted to link up. We were supposed to work together about four or five times before ‘Sunday Candy’ finally happened,” Ian revealed. When they finally found the time, they created an amazing piece of art for the Social Experiment.
“I’d choreographed it and had been teaching to my version of that song for two or three months already, and he knew that. So he and Austin [Vesely] came up with the original concept and I was only supposed to choreograph two sections, but because it was a one-shot video and I direct my own videos all the time, I ended up choreographing it from beginning to end.”
He laid down a foundation for Chance and allowed him to tweak some of the movements to what felt comfortable, so everything you see in the final version was crafted with care. “I give him a framework of moves that looked really cool and then he fell in and out of the choreography that I give him.”
Ian was a big fan of Childish Gambino and took it upon himself to choreograph a routine to his mixtape track “U Don’t Have To Call.” Gambino was clearly impressed, because he did call, and together they ended up working on the dances for his Woodie Award-winning “Sober” video.
“The sections where he’s dancing were supposed to the be the only section I choreograph, but I came up with some super cool ideas, so I ended up choreographing from the beginning, when he stands up, to when he sits down again,” Ian explained, adding that he played off of Donald Glover’s strength as an actor. “Whether it’s the way he walks to the chair, moonwalks, or mimes and pulls his brain out, all of that was me and Donald choreographing.”
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a dance mixtape, Ian will change all of that very soon.
“It might take everyone a while to figure out, but I’m working on a dance mixtape called Adult Lessons, which is a play on the word ‘adolescence,’” he explained. “I feel like dance is too heavily dependent on YouTube right now and it needs to exists they way other art forms do.”
As an example, he compared it to Beyonce’s recent, self-titled visual album (A.K.A. her music videos), but minus the musical artist. The 10-track project will be approximately 25 minutes long, and will include an intro, outro and interludes scored by producer Peter Cottontale.
“There are no household names for dancers or choreographers anymore – like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire,” he said. “The format of how dance is digested needs a renovation, so what I came up with is delivering dance like a musical artist.”
“It will be three storytelling tracks and seven dance tracks, and it’s a combination of a short film and mixtape…but visual, for a dance choreographer.” He’s funding this all out of pocket, and you’ll probably catch a few of his famous friends in there.