'DWTS' Troupe Member Britt Stewart Has Big Goals Beyond the Ballroom
Updated: Apr 13
Britt Stewart has graced the Dancing With the Stars ballroom since Season 23 as a troupe member. However, her career was already well established before she joined the ABC show with turns in High School Musical, the Fame remake and touring with Katy Perry for three years.
Stewart, who hails from Colorado, grew up at the same dance studio as dancer/choreographer Tony Testa.
“We were each other’s first dance partners. I was nine when I first met Tony. We danced together until he graduated high school,” she reminisces. “Then I followed in his footsteps and came out to LA. We just did the Grammys in February. He was the choreographer and I was the associate choreographer on a tribute to the Bee Gees.”
She’s worked professionally since the age of 13, yet Stewart still has major goals to accomplish.
Dance Dish: Let’s start right off with High School Musical. This was a pop culture phenomenon.
Britt Stewart: It was very serendipitous for me on how I got involved. I was at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals and I was competing. One of the choreographers, Bonnie Story, came up to me and said, “You are what we’ve been looking for. I’m filming a movie in Utah with Kenny Ortega and we are looking for one more female dancer. You’re it.”
I already had something lined up with Brian Friedman and I told him about the opportunity. He said, “You have to go. There’s no way you cannot do this. Kenny Ortega gave me my first job in movies, you have to do this.”
So I went straight from New York to Utah, had a quick little audition for Kenny and started rehearsals the next week. I was in the right place at the right time. I believe this set the right tone for my career.
We were in production for six to eight weeks, it was a small budget, a small production, it was filmed in Utah and we were all working as locals. It turned out to be this huge phenomenon and no one expected it.
It brought musicals back to the younger generation and back to television. It led to High School Musical 2 and High School Musical 3, which was a feature film.
DD: You attended Loyola Marymount University for a semester and left in your second semester to do High School Musical 3. Were you auditioning while you were a student there?
Britt: I grew up as a competition kid. For the most part, I was fully in except for traveling on the weekends with West Coast Dance Explosion. I was also double majoring in natural science and dance, so I was a bit of an overachiever.
If I look back on it now, I would have done it in a different way so I could really experience school for what it was. But for me, traveling with West Coast Dance Explosion was my way of still working as a dancer.
DD: What was your next big gig after High School Musical 3?
Britt: After we filmed HSM3, I officially moved to Los Angeles — got an apartment, living an adult life and turning 19 years old. After that, I auditioned for the remake of Fame, choreographed by Marguerite Derricks, and I got it. Marguerite is amazing and she keeps a family of dancers that she reuses on each job she gets.
DD: Did you realize the impact of working with top-level choreographers at such a young age?
Britt: I did realize what I was doing when I was that young, but I have a new understanding after being in LA for 10 years and dancing professionally. Not everyone gets that same experience when they first move to LA or NY, but I’ve worked really hard to stay present when I’m dancing for these top choreographers. I’m fortunate that I got the opportunity at such a young age and they are still in my life.
DD: Did you ever audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
Britt: I never auditioned for it. At 18, 19 and 20, it was the perfect time to audition for the show and a lot of my peers did. At the time, it didn’t seem right for me. I was just off of HSM3, Fame and then I did a short tour in Europe and I didn’t want to stop the momentum.
SYTYCD has done beautiful things for other people’s careers and I really respect that show for what it’s done for the dance community. SYTYCD and DWTS have made dance accessible to people who didn’t know much about dance. It’s opened people’s eyes to contemporary, ballroom and Latin dance.
DD: What was it like working with Janet Jackson at the American Music Awards in 2009?
Britt: I cried after that performance because it was surreal and Janet treated everyone so well. It was a mix of “Control,” “Nasty,” “Rhythm Nation” and I got to learn a lot of the original choreography as well. Growing up, I was such a Janet girl.
DD: The Katy Perry Prismatic World Tour was epic. What is it like touring with a major artist?
Britt: I was with Katy for almost three years, so it was the promo for her Prismatic album, then rehearsing for the tour, a year-and-a-half world tour and then private shows for six months after the tour. This was the first time I was on the same show with the same artist for three years.
First of all, there was a lot of learning to do and then you have to stay present doing the same show every day. I had to find the beauty in the experience of different vibes for different shows.
We went to almost every continent, which was so amazing. It was insane to be in Thailand dancing and doing what I loved to do. But also it’s not as glamorous as people think. It’s a lot of hard work; you do a two-hour show and dance through the whole thing in a new city every day. You travel on tour buses or a plane and then are expected to use your body at maximum capacity, so it’s really tiring.
Being on tour and experiencing different cultures and seeing how much people love the music, you get to give back to them and entertain the audience. There’s also the adrenaline rush of performing for 10,000-20,000 per show — I would get chills before every performance.
DD: How did you stay in shape on tour — outside of that two-hour performance each night?
Britt: Everybody’s different and while a lot of dancers went to the gym, it wasn’t the place where I kept my body in shape. I did yoga and Pilates to keep my body in tune. I would lay down a towel and do yoga practice in my hotel room.
We would also do a good warm-up before the show. I would do cardio like jumping rope or jumping jacks to get my body warm and then another yoga-based stretch. We also had a physical therapist to keep our bodies healthy.
DD: Were you worried about being gone from Los Angeles for so long? As an artist, there is fear that casting directors and choreographers will forget who you are.
Britt: Before Katy’s tour, it was actually one of my biggest fears; being gone for a long time and people not remembering who I was. When I got back, I had to work harder than I had to right before I left.
So, realizing that I had been gone for three years, I had to remind people that I was available again. I had to reach out to people, which is outside of my comfort zone, and let them know I was back in town.
I also went to every audition; I didn’t care what it was. It was simply to let people know that I was back in town and off of the tour. I met with my agents as well because it’s important to check-in to make sure we are all on the same page and have a game plan of what we want to do next.
DD: How did you become involved with DWTS? I know everyone has a different story about they became a part of the show.
Britt: About a year ago, Derek Hough was hosting the Disneyland 60th anniversary and Mandy Moore was choreographing the opening number. Witney Carson was partnering with Derek and she missed a few days of rehearsal because she was on her honeymoon. We were filming the rehearsal so Mandy could send it to the Disney/ABC executives for approval. Out of nowhere, she looked at me and said, “Britt, at the end of the ballroom section, dance with Derek.”
From there, I believe that’s how DWTS noticed me. For Mandy to do that, I am so grateful. Then producers reached out to my agent and had me do an audition with an on-camera interview and I learned a Latin routine and performed a solo of my choice.
A season went by and then they asked me to come on before Season 23. It was so last minute, I remember signing my contract on the way to the rehearsal for the opening number. It came out of nowhere. I know they were interested in me for Season 22, but it didn’t work out. I thought maybe my time had passed.
DD: How much ballroom training do you have?
Britt: I’ve always played around with partnering and my best friend, Italo Elgueta, is a ballroom dancer and he’s been teaching me ballroom. I was upfront about it when I auditioned. I was honest that I had always played around with ballroom and I consider myself to have some knowledge, but I hadn’t had any formal, technical ballroom and Latin training.
I came on to the show and I started training. I immersed myself in the world of competing and did two competitions last fall with Pro-Am competitions. I learned about the ballroom world. That’s why everyone is so amazing — Val, Artem, Sharna and Peta — all of them have competed in ballroom and won championships. Those people are so talented for a reason.
I’m still training and I’m happy to be learning this new skill set. I think I bring a style to it with all of the training I’ve had since I was three years old. I’m having a great time.
DD: Do you hear from fans how happy they are to see a woman of color represented on the show?
Britt: I believe I am the first woman of color to be a regular on the show. I absolutely recognize the significance of that and I am very honored. I want to be successful on the show and I think it’s special. So being a role model for not only women of color, but also anybody who is unique or different, that they should feel encouraged. I am happy to take that on.
I am grateful to the people who have reached out to me. It’s really special to be inspiring people.
DD: What was it like being a dancer in the film La La Land and following the journey all the way to the Academy Award stage?
Britt: Mandy Moore, that woman is such a special soul — as a woman, as a creative, as a leader — she is really spectacular. To be a part of a film that she choreographed and then to be able to see it take the stage at the Academy Awards. It was a featured piece; it was more than just a dance.
It’s those moments in your career when you have to step back from everything and look at it from the outside in. Sometimes when you are in it, you are so focused, so it’s easy to lose the magic. But you have to find moments to step outside it because those are the moments that give you chills.
DD: What are your future goals for your career?
Britt: My current goal is to become a pro on DWTS, but beyond that one thing I strive for is to be completely limitless. The person I look up to the most is Debbie Allen. She’s a dancer turned choreographer turned actress turned director turned producer and community activist. If anyone’s career is limitless, it’s Debbie Allen. That’s where I would like to see my life and my career to go.
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