Building the Las Vegas Dance Community - Tristen Sosa

Samantha StoutFebruary 17, 2021Ballroom Chat: Episode #40
tristen sosa ballroom chat

Tristen Sosa discusses growing up in a dancing family in Utah, and his dance journey in both competitive ballroom and the performance industry. Tristen and Samantha debate the longevity of virtual dance instruction, and the struggles of building an inclusive and accessible community for all dancers.

Tristen Sosa is a 4 Time Youth Latin Champion. He appeared on So You Think You Can Dance and Paula Abdul's Live to Dance. Tristen is currently the Ballroom Director at Summerlin Dance Academy in Las Vegas, is a choreographer for the Hallmark and Disney Channels, and is a principle dancer for the Donny and Marie Show in Las Vegas.

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat, a podcast dedicated to sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today I'm joined by Tristen Sosa. He is a four time youth Latin champion. He appeared on So You Think You Can Dance and Paula Abdul's Live to Dance. He currently serves as the ballroom director of the Summerlin Dance Academy in Las Vegas. He's a choreographer for the Hallmark and Disney channels, and he is currently a principal dancer for the Donny and Marie Osmond program in Las Vegas. Please enjoy my conversation with Tristen Sosa.

Well, thank you Tristen so much for being a guest on today's podcast.

Tristen: Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Samantha: So for those in the dance community, probably have heard of you, in a couple of different places before, but can you give us kind of the background of how you joined the ballroom community and kind of what your dance journey looks like thus far?

Tristen: Cool. Absolutely. So I guess when I was about the age of 11, my mom put me into like hip hop classes, like at, at my home studio in Utah, called Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. I love those guys. but hip hop was cool and at the time, like I was a little bit immature and childish. So I have that mentality, like dancing is just for girls and da-da-da or what not. So I did hip hop at first for a couple months, and then there's this cute girl, that asked me to dance ballroom with her.

And I was just like, Sure why not give it a shot? Like I get a dance that the girl hold her hand, like that sounds fun, right. And then I ended up getting hooked and falling in love with that. when I got more involved, I would say was my next partnership after that, was with Jensen Arnold. you guys might know them, the Arnold family. Like Lindsay Arnold, like she's super amazing, uh, Jensen as well. Brinley and also Riley. They're also really good friends of mine and close family friends. But, I got more involved as soon as it started my partnership and relationship with Jensen, because from there they opened up the doors for like me and my family to the whole ballroom community, the whole ballroom world.

And we were like training with like, with a lot of great, amazing ballroom coaches like Shirley Ballas, Corky Ballas, Ricardo Cocchi, and like the list goes on. but that's when I first really, truly started to like, be introduced and then into the ballroom community. And then from there, it just like, it just kind of like took off. So yeah.

Samantha: That's awesome. So I do want to kind of talk about the idea of these like powerhouse families in the dance industry, especially in the Provo and Orem area of Utah. it's yeah, we we've talked about it a couple of times on the podcast, but I always love to get, different people's opinions on it.

so when, you know, I had, Krista and Kasey Treu on, they talked a little bit about growing up with this kind of dance family and how it was both supportive, but it also had, you know, sibling rivalries from time to time. So, starting in hip hop and then moving to ballroom, were all of you interested in ballroom primarily, or were you, did you each have your own avenue that you were interested in within the dance world?

Tristen: That is, that is a great question. So for me, my brother and sister, Ezra and Stephanie, so I'm the oldest of the three. And then Stephanie is the middle child. Ezra is the youngest. He's the baby. also the six-foot giant. we all started in different avenues at first, before getting introduced into the ballroom community. So for like, for example, for my sister, she started off with, being introduced to, singing and acting and the, and the theatrics of that, over at center stage and same with my brother, then from there, they transitioned into other styles and then ballroom was like, along the way, but they started at a good, decent young age.

The environment at home, especially for a powerhouse family, I guess like with ours, like, it was very intense in the sense of, we were very, very competitive. Like we supported each other, like 100% all the way, like to this day I am a huge fan of my brothers and sisters. And they're like, I feel like they're the same for me, hopefully, but, We always are constantly pushing each other to the point where, I feel like my parents had a great role in this where, they, helped accumulate a, a routine at home where it was like we would come home.

We'd eat, train, and sleep and dance. and that actually made us like more hungry or more passionate about it. And also amongst me, my brother and my sister, we actually, along the way, like a lot of people don't know this, but due to financial means and such, we couldn't always afford the training. Like ballroom is not, a very, it's not a cheap. avenue to, to pay for. So, I would S I would dance with partnerships after my partnership with Jensen. I would partnership with, girls that would help cover for me in the sense financially and help me along the way.

And I'm very grateful for that. but the extra training got from that, I would go ahead and pass it down to my brothers and sisters, just to help with that end of things. So for like a good couple of years from the age, I would say from, from like 14 to 16, I was low key training, my sister and my brother as well.

But, but regardless of that, like, we were still very competitive, especially amongst each other. Like sometimes we to compete against each other, like we will not talk to each other, but Hey, and then once we were done, we were like, okay, that's over, we're back to normal now. Um, but it was, uh, it was definitely a very like competitive environment at the house when it came to us in ballroom. but because of that, it just made us so much more stronger and it prepared us for so much more opportunities and things that we're now doing. but yeah,

Samantha: yeah. I mean, you, you hear from top past champions that, you know, the environment that you're in makes a huge difference about whether or not you're successful, because you want to have kind of that positive rivalry where you're always pushing each other to the top, whether that's inside your house or inside your studio or inside your community at whatever level, you kind of need that, Outside force to push you to the next step. So I think it's, you know, it's a testament to the fact that all three of you were very successful in the dance, industry that you all kind of worked off of each other in a, in a positive way.

when it comes to the fact that. Really all three of you are also in the performance industry as well. It's not just competitive dance. It's commercials, it's TV. It's, it's very much for film and for performance. was there ever a point where you guys were going up for the same audition and that became an issue, or did you all kind of have your own interest, which, which made it a little bit easier?

Tristen: You know, I'm glad that you mentioned that because, we would always growing up, go to the same auditions cause we were like, we're kind of close in age. Right. So, and then we kind of look alike. So we were, sometimes we were competing for the same jobs and such like, for example, we, and this was like a very amazing experience that we had. we were going for an audition for a new, Disney Netflix movie called dear dumb diary. It came out like a while back ago.

but we were just going to audition, but led a known, did we know we were auditioning against each other. and then after we auditioned a month later, we got the call that all three of us took the job as principal dancers. And they only selected eight dancers for that movie. And there was like over a hundreds and hundreds of people that audition. So. There's been instances like that, where we've actually booked jobs with each other and be able to work on set with each other, with whether it's a movie or film or like an industry job. but yeah, a lot of the times too, like we would end up auditioning against each other and sometimes like, Hey, my brother would get the job or my sister would, or I would, And honestly like, yeah, you want, of course you're so happy for your, your sibling to receive that opportunity and that job, but also the same time, you're just like, dang, I wish I could be there with them to experience this as well.

Not so much of like a jealousy thing, but so much of like, You just don't want to miss out that opportunity in life with them as well. but yeah, that, that happened a ton, especially with, So You Think You Can Dance as well cause I auditioned about three different times and the last time I auditioned with my sister and she was also auditioning with me and she made it further than me.

But I was actually very, at that point, I was just very happy and like super excited that she was able to like fulfill what she wanted to do and like get further and such like that. So, but it's also been, it's also been a great energy amongst us three when we audition and stuff against each other or for certain roles, because it honestly just pushes us to a whole nother level to be just hungry and like actually want to get it.

and we want to like, make each other feel proud to the point where we'll like work our butts off to like, make sure like, we'll get that job. And that way we can say, okay, at least one of us Sosa siblings got this or got this. And then just like, it feels like we just feel like as a big family, we're just like building this, this list of like accomplishments that not just us individually would make, but as a family as well.

Samantha: Yeah. Do you, speaking for yourself or for your family if you kind of know where everybody else lies on this, do you go into the types of auditions that you go for, or the types of work opportunities that you choose to select from a building, a business perspective? Or from a, this is something that I'm interested in, this is a artistic expression that I haven't tried. I think I'm going to push my. Is it more internal or is it more business mindset?

Tristen: Oh, I'm glad you said that. Honestly. For us, for my family and for me as well, personally, it's always been, a personal, like artistic side of a creative choice as to why we're wanting to audition for this part.

because with every audition that I've done, I've, I've said no to certain auditions because I just felt like that role or that, or that part or whatever artists you be dancing for wasn't really, for me. And I feel like I wouldn't be able to really like connect on it with that deeper level, because with every job that I've done, I feel like I've needed to really fully be passionate about for it to be very successful for me at the end of the day, cause if my heart isn't it and my soul, isn't it then I'm going to be able to do great things with it on that's, how I've always looked at. Picking certain like different opportunities and stuff like that.

Samantha: What are you excited about right now? What direction either from music or physical expression or, artistic direction excites you right now in this moment that you want to pursue more?

Tristen: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that. especially with like COVID being such like a difficult year for a lot of people and it being such a tough year for the dance industry in general. for me, I feel like because of my influence that I have here in Las Vegas, I thought I have a responsibility to have to help the dance community with events, with competitions, or just like with training the youth, or just trying to get, concept videos, things together, just to keep the ball rolling.

And, recently been working a lot on, I'm the ballroom director over at my dance studio at Summerlin. So I run that program with my students, and just helping them be more prepared for competition and such, but besides all that as well, I've been working with the school districts out here and Clark County. and we've been working on if COVID didn't happen. I was going to be the first person to help, build a ballroom curriculum at all the high schools in Clark County school district, kind of like in Utah where it's like Mecca, like every high school has their ballroom elective. That's kind of the same thing we were working towards. but I'm still working on that. Uh, we went to virtually doing that already and definitely is a tough process. It's not the funnest, but, and at work we're, we're getting through it. so I've been working on that, just trying to get the ball rolling with that, out here with the ballroom community, and then also, been working on many personal projects, artistically to help, I guess fulfill my soul. because besides ballroom dancing, I'm also cross-trained so I'm constantly working on like contemporary hip hop, jazz, lyrical ballet, all the fun things that I've, am working on a new dance company that me, my good friend, Nick Karosy have been working on called Essence the company. and it's a dance company out here in Las Vegas where it's 18 and plus dancers only. And as many for all those dancers here in Vegas that are not working, they feel like they've lost their way because COVID has affected them with dancing, and just to give them some sense of purpose, again, and so just trying to get all those dancers together in a room and to be able to build upon that energy of working towards something that is greater than just booking jobs, and stuff like that, but for the purpose of the love for dance. so I, so I love to have like my creative projects and that's like a big one for me right now, along with trying to help with building the ballroom community out here. But it's definitely been a process but all I'll have to say is I've been through a lot of difficulties throughout my entire life.

I feel like it prepared me for when COVID hit. So instead of just being like knocked down all the time, I'm a type of person, and this is just kind of how my family raised me and built me upon whether it's just, whenever something gets tough, you work harder to get past it. cause even during COVID everything was happening.

I was also working on so many different. Projects and things to keep the dance community going, even though there's days where it just like kept knocking me down and kept saying like, this is not happening right now. but I just kept trying to push forward and through just because I know at the end of the tunnel, like, if I can help, like those people that need that help and need that inspiration, then I'll do it for them. cause I love to just give to people and to help them and to give them more of a purpose of like, why, why they're doing what they're doing, but also for the love, I guess, for dance. So, yeah,

Samantha: so there's a lot that I want to dive into deeper there. let's start with, with that last piece that you just mentioned, which is this, this kind of feeling, feeling called to build a stronger dance community and give back to the dance community in Las Vegas. you're relatively young. I mean, not super young, but relatively young. and certainly there are established dance studios and dance schools and dance academies in Las Vegas.

What, Either in your, in your past and your history or kind of where your mindset is right now is, is driving you to be the person to step up and be like, no, I, I can see these areas that I need to change, and I'm going to be the one to do it rather than sitting back and letting someone else take care of it?

Tristen: Gotcha. I love that question. especially out here in the Las Vegas dance community, it's before COVID even happened, there's always been a, a like separation amongst the community out here, cause everyone's so excluded with their certain dance studio and et cetera. And for me growing up, I actually grew up in a studio where like, the doors are open all the time.

So if you wanted to go train here, you could go do that. If you wanted to go do this job, you can go do that. but out here in Las Vegas is very like, they hold on to you and they don't want you to go anywhere else. They don't want you to experience anything else, but what their studios offering and, you know, like I'm not one to judge or anything. and I get it that works for some studios and that, helps them with their business side. I get that. but also the same time, I feel like, for me, With all this, I need to, and it's not so much of me trying to like go out of my way to step up to the plate. I've always recently too, I've had so many things fall in front of my lap where I'm like, Oh shoot, okay, this is here.

And I'm like, do I take it and work on it and help out with things here in Las Vegas? Or do I just like, let it be and just kind of like, just do my own thing and I guess be more selfish in a sense if that makes sense? And there's like nothing wrong with that either, but because of those things I have falling in front of me, I'm a kind of person where if the universe is saying like, Hey, this is in front of you, then I'm going to do it.

And I'm going to try my very best to make sure like it happens or attempt to make it happen if that makes sense. So I love that question because it, it's not so much of like me going out of my way to say, Hey, I'm here trying to help. It's so much more of like me, of the universe saying like, Hey, we're giving you these people in your life right now, or these opportunities or these things that you could help build the Las Vegas dance community, even more with ballroom and other things as well. so please do something about it. That's kind of like how I think of it and look at it just because that's just how my life has been. I have never been the person where I just like try to go out of my way to make things happen just like out of, out of not luck, but out of like blessings and such, things just falling in front of me, especially with my family as well.

And we've feel the responsibility to do something with it and just try to make it great.

Samantha: Yeah. That idea of if the door is in front of, if the door in front of you opens, let's walk through it and see where it goes. And, and if I, if opportunities present themselves well, let's, let's take full advantage of it.

Yeah, absolutely. you mentioned the fact that you had intended to start a high school program in Clark County. We, you mentioned that you were doing some things online with that. What is a positive experience or a negative experience that you had growing up in Utah with that high school program? And how has that shaped your desire to want to bring that either in a better way than you experienced or in the same way that you experienced to other high school students?

Tristen: Gotcha. I mean, growing up in Utah, I feel like because ballroom dancing was more exposed, especially for youth there. it also was exposed in a way where it was financially more, like how do I say, like financially more acceptable in the sense, like, it was more affordable to, to do it.

And so I was grateful for that experience because, if it wasn't for that, then I probably wouldn't be doing as much with ballroom, because ballroom and can be a very penny coin type of sport, you know what I'm saying? but regardless of that, I just want to be able to, I guess offer the youth out here in Las Vegas community, the similar experience like, Hey, there's this amazing dance style or amazing elective ballroom.

And you don't have to worry about the financial aspects of it as much. You don't have to worry about like the, the complications of it. You just got to go to class, go and take it. And if you like it, then yes, you can, there's different avenues outside of it that you can take to pursue even more.

So that's, I guess I want to accumulate the same energy and this same type of, opportunities for the youth out here, because a lot of people still don't know what ballroom dancing is. even though it's very like commercialized and televised and like. And us, no offense, like all the time people say this expression all the time, the dance world like is so small.

Right. So it, like, everyone knows everybody in the dance world. Like literally, like you will run into people that you haven't seen in years and years, like, Oh, wow. We just met up again. That's great. And that just tells you how small our world is, but at the same time, too. I want to try to grow that world in the sense of getting it more exposed.

And so I feel like doing this route, especially with ballroom, with getting the ballroom electives here in Clark County school district. It will help get kids more involved and also help just maybe help grow the dance community even more on a, on a bigger level. So

Samantha: definitely, yeah. I feel like, the ballroom dance community, you know, we, we have a couple of hurdles. One the cost, by and large is prohibitively expensive, right? unless you have a non-profit foundation or you have, or you can take a lot of group classes or you have something through the school system, you know, it it's expensive to train, especially at a very high level. And then you get into competitive experience and you have the dresses and the tan and the hair and the makeup and the travel and everything else.

We're also running up against this idea of, it being old-fashioned or it being just for adults and not for youth. In the U S especially, you know, we think of ballroom dance as Foxtrot and Waltz very, you know, proper and prim and European. And we don't talk about the fact that it's also Cha-cha and Samba and Salsa as much. That's not the connotation that we have with the ballroom community. And then the other thing is quite honestly, ballroom has done a terrible job of, embracing 21st century music, right? Like if you put on something on the radio, you're going to want to dance West coast or hip hop or contemporary or salsa or bachata, you're not going to want a dance swing or tango, you know. That's not the music.

So how do you, because you are, cross-trained in so many different styles, how do you adapt your ballroom training to more modern music, to a more modern audience, to a more youth focused group?

Tristen: That I love that question. just because, for me because I am cross-trained, when I listen to music and this is like a curse. It's also a great thing, but it's also a curse.

I only look out for the timing of the music and I think of which styles I can dance to the music for this certain song, especially if it's something more commercialized, poppy, more modern, more, trendy. Right. so my mind quickly goes to that, place where, okay. I need, I'm choreographing this certain style in ballroom, and I'm trying to make it super cool trendy poppy, but also keeping all the syllabus, all the technical aspects that ballroom is at the same time to not take away from it, but also to put it into it, to make it fun.

You know, I'm saying to, to be more current with the times and such and I, and I understand the old-fashioned aspect and I respect that with ballroom dancing, but also I feel like at the same time, we need to change with the times too, just as everyone else does. and that's why I appreciate to where, I know over in Europe and stuff, like they have certain DJs for certain ballroom competitions and they make their own tracks.

Or they over track different popular songs at the time. And so I appreciate that they do that. I just wish that they would do here more often, of course, in the States. but for me, like I do that stuff all the time. Like, cause besides training, technically strictly in ballroom, sometimes here in Las Vegas, I will have some industry commercial classes for ballroom and that's when I get to play with that, like all the time.

And honestly that's like a fun place to be in because it takes the, it takes like the side of ballroom that ballroom dancers usually don't go to, brings that into focus and then you get to just like add maybe different elements to it as well.

Samantha: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit more about the difference between the, you know, syllabus competitive, traditional ballroom versus what you're doing for more commercial production for the stage or for TV. What, what do you see as the biggest difference between the two and how do you as a dancer kind of navigate, changing the style or changing your choreography for the two different settings?

Tristen: Gotcha. I think also with that question, the two different settings, it also has to do with the audience that is watching it. So for, for the competitive ballroom world, the audience usually is more highly trained ballroom dancers, judges, and coaches that have been doing it for years. And I feel like with the ballroom competitive side, you're looking more for the quality of what dance you're doing, the technique behind it, the connection in and out with your partner, the stylization, like all that stuff to the point where you're thinking more of the sense of ballroom being more of a, like, like a flavorful, like how should like Ratatouille dish, does that make sense?

Yeah. Even the Ratatouille is not like the greatest dish to eat. It's still very like flavorful in the sense of like how structured it can be, if that makes sense. but with the commercial side, the audience of course is just normal folks. So for normal people day-to-day that look at competitive ballroom dancing. They're probably going to look at it for the first time. They'd be like, that's a little weird, you know what I'm saying? Sometimes they don't understand it. Or sometimes they're like, wow, that's really cool. Like, I don't know what they're doing. So I guess for the commercial and industry side for ballroom, it's more of the fact of trying to of course add elements of ballroom, but also add elements that will relate to your audience viewer.

With the commercial sites. So say you're doing a Cha-cha, you're doing a basic. Two three cha-cha-cha. Maybe you add a body roll into that. And then all of a sudden you go into like some type of like choreography where it's just like very like dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, and it matches the music. If that makes sense. and that commercially will look more appealing to the commercial side of the audience, viewers. Yeah. Whether for ballroom dancing, we, for the competitive world we probably couldn't do that. and I have actually a funny story about that, where I had a friend of mine, who competed at a BYU nationals one time and he wants to experiment with it. so he decided to like add lock and pop into his ballroom dancing while competing and the idea of that sounds cool. But when it was on the actual floor, the judges are like, what are you doing? You know what I'm saying? You just, because. That is not what we're, that's not what they're used to seeing. That's not what they're looking for. So, yeah. I hope that answers that question.

Samantha: Yeah, definitely. I, I I'd love, to go even a little bit further with that. So when you are now, choreographing for either your classes or for productions, Do you start with the idea of the scene? Do you start with the idea of, the story that it's telling? Do you start with the music? What kind of influences the steps and the patterns that you're pulling and how do you compose a piece that is made for commercial, viewing?

Tristen: Good. I love it. I love that you asked that question. and everyone's different in this process. And I do believe this is a very creative process that a lot of dancers and choreographers tap into.

I'm the type of person where I will choose a song and I will let the energy and the music, tell me how I'm supposed to choreograph, how I'm supposed to take steps. And of course of my vocabulary for dance is so huge. it goes through this process for, Oh, I'm like, Oh, and this part of the music, this fits perfectly.

So I'm going to take this and use it for that, if that makes sense. But also at the same time too, I want to try to make sure. At my very best that I'm also telling my movement, and complimenting it through the music and matching it and also trying to bring to life, a certain story. so when I'm choreographing, like for commercial stuff, I try to do that all the time.

I come from a place from the heart in the sense of trying to feel the music, let it, tell me what to do. And then I showcase and present that. so yeah,

Samantha: Yeah, so a conversation that we had, when Brent Mills was on was the idea that, he choreographs very much the same way that I choreograph, which is you turn on the music, you kind of play around with some stuff.

You give it to the group, either the ensemble or the class or the instructor, the students. And then you're like, okay, here's, here's eight counts. Play with that for a little bit. And then listen to the rest of the music. Okay. Based on how they took the first eight counts, here's another eight counts.

And it's kind of this collaborative process of seeing how they move, feeling with the music is where you're at that day. And kind of going from there. We juxtaposed that with the idea that from a balletic perspective, from more of a hip hop perspective, the instructors that we've encountered before, come into the class, they've got, you know, the full minute and a half of choreography worked out. It is what it is. There's a game plan. We know where we're going. Where do you find yourself? Do you find yourself more? I need the game plan in my hand, or let's just see what happens on the day and kind of create something collaboratively in the room.

Tristen: Cool. I'm glad you asked that question. I feel like with that, most of the time for me, I've done both. I'm not going to lie. I've done both. but most of the time for me, I'm a kind of person where I will see how the day goes and how I'm feeling. just because some of my greatest work that I've created has been, I've been able to tap into that process more. and it, for me, it's just more of a, of like an artistic feel of like, cause usually when I choreograph stuff, I'll listen to the music once or twice, and then I have the entire two to three minutes done.

Just because. I don't know. I don't want to say when you're in that space, the Zen, the feel of the music, you just, your body feels it so much to the point where it just like takes control over your body. And then you just start to do certain movement without even having to think about it. and so usually when I choreograph for things in that aspect, I can have it ready within two to three minutes of just listening to the music.

And that's because of my upbringing and training with other cross styles, that's also helped enhance it in that sense, but also, too, there's instances where I'll come prepared, we're all like have a whole week where I'm just working on this one, one piece for whether it's competition or for performance or for like a music video or whatever it is.

And honestly, sometimes that works and then sometimes overthinking it for me doesn't work. so yeah, so I, I just feel like it's, it's just a different process for everyone when it comes to that. And I don't think there's a right or wrong way on how to do it just as long as if you can do it great, then whatever your process is then good for you, you know?

Samantha: yeah, definitely. Um,

There's something that I want to ask, but I want to figure out how to phrase it.

Tristen: Oh okay,

Samantha: so, so being a performer, having performed on TV, having done the news circuit, the interview circuit before. Do you filter how you answer questions based on the interview? Cause I don't know if you've realized this, but almost all of the questions that I've asked, you've said, I'm so glad that you asked that question and then went into answering it. So I'm wondering if, if you have a filter that you go through, when you feel like you're in an interview situation.

Tristen: And then this is what I say. I'm glad you asked that question. Um, yeah, so honestly, in a sense I do. just because, and S and, you know, like everyone's different, like, of course be your true, authentic self. just for me personally, when I've done interviews in the past that I was unprepared for, I didn't know how it's work. I was just like a hot mess. So like, for me, I've kind of structured something for myself to kind of like, be more, not approachable, but be more like, Oh, we can actually listen to this dude without him, like sounding rough. You know what I'm saying? so I guess throughout the years, and just having a lot of experience with interviews and such, I've learned from my mistakes from them, and I've also learned what works and doesn't work.

And I kind of just like accumulate something that does, I don't know if it's a good or bad thing, but that's just kind of like what I do, cause like, There's been interviews where I've, haven't filtered stuff before, and then when it gets on air and I'm just like, did I really just say that? And I'm like, so cringed and just like, so like, ah, I really don't like myself right there in that moment.

And that's happened a lot, so I, I guess I go through a process of filtering, But, yeah.

Samantha: Do you, do you do the same thing in your dance then? Or because it's your body movement in dance, do you feel like you can be less restrained? Like you can actually show layers of your authentic self that you wouldn't be able to in an interview or in a, in a conversation.

Tristen: You know, honestly, I don't, I don't filter at all. I, when it comes to dance and me choreographing, me performing and all that. I honestly just, I would say me when I dance, that is the most free state of mind and place where my soul is, where I don't have to feel like I need to filter. I need to hold back.

I need to restrict anything that I'm feeling. I'm just feeling it and I'm just letting it out. And I feel like that's why dancing is such great avenue for artists and for, for, for other purposes. Cause just, just because of that alone, because you get to be in that free state of mind and I almost feel like, when you're going through things sometimes like dancing is a great avenue to release, like negative energy or, or just release something that is been building up inside of you that is not helping you move forward with life. and I feel like dance can definitely be a healing, aspect and tool in that sense.

And it's helped me, so, so, so much, like if I didn't have dance in my life, I would probably, I don't know, I'd probably be doing a lot of stupid stuff for sure. and it's helped me keep on a path where every time I do it, it just cleanses me if that makes sense. And, you know, and I feel like that could be the same for other dancers. and there's different ways that you can help heal and cleanse yourself, but for me, dance has definitely been that element for me,

Samantha: I would have a hundred percent agree and I have a feeling that most of our listeners would absolutely agree with that. I know for me personally, when I'm on the dance floor, it, it lets me get out whatever emotion I'm feeling, whatever energy, it lets me explore deeper levels of happiness or sadness.

Along with that though, because, because you have hip hop and contemporary and jazz, as well as your ballroom, do you find that there's a difference in your free expression when you're a solo dancer or, or an ensemble dancer, but you're in your own space versus the commute expression when you're in a partnership? Because it can feel very much, at least in my experience when I'm dancing on my own. It's like I have command of the space. I can, I free myself to do more with my body more with my emotion, but when I'm in connection with a partner it's suddenly almost similar to an interview situation, it feels suddenly like, I don't want to share everything with my partner and my partner isn't necessarily sharing everything with me.

Tristen: Gotcha. You know, and I'm, I'm glad, I'm glad you brought that up. There is again. but, um, When I'm dancing solo, of course, I feel I have all the freedom in the world's just feel what I'm feeling, let it out, let it in all the energy in that sense. and yeah, of course, with when you're with that partnership, I do.

And I don't know if this is the right correct word to say, but I do feel like there is a restriction when it comes to that, in this sense, because you're. When you compete, you're not really competing in the sense of like, being free and feeling good and all that stuff. most of the time, I I'm, I'm, I'm speaking for myself and I'm not trying to speak for others, but, but I do feel like a lot of times for myself personally, like when I'm competing, there is that sense of freedom, but it's just, it's barely there just because I'm thinking of this and this and that and that and that, trying to execute this with my partner, you know, like there's so many things that you're trying to do with your partner.

But, but there has been a few occasions that like, when you are very well, well, well connected with your partner, years and years of training, you know, each other's bodies very well, you know, each other's energies very well. I do feel like there's that sense of when you go on the floor, the freedom will overtake because your muscle memory of everything is just so on point that you don't have to worry about all that stuff. so I feel like there's been a fear rare times where I've competed, where I just, like, I don't feel like I'm competing. I feel like I'm just like enjoying my, my dance that I am competing with my partner. And we're both on the same energy level.

We're both on the same artistic level, we're both on the same, just like competitive level in the sense of like, we are just there. If that makes sense,

Samantha: yeah, can you go a little bit deeper into, into one of those moments? Like you mentioned the fact that it helps to be really prepared to really know your partner, to have that communication. But what about either the music that was playing or the energy from the audience or just the, the energy place that you were in, in that moment allowed you the comfort level to be in your body in that moment, communicating with your partner on a different level?

Tristen: I'm glad you said that. I, I thrive personally. I thrive off of uncomfortable situations, uncomfortable settings and let's be honest, when you're out on the floor competing with other couples that is a uncomfortable setting. As much as you're like, nah, I'm fine with that. No, it's uncomfortable. So, when that happens, I, my body and my mind and soul just kind of like, tune into this state of mind where it's just like, okay, its just you and your partner. And that's it. Nothing else matters. You just like block everything out. I would say like one of those moments that I had was probably my last national title that I won. I was with my partner, Estelle Carson and we were doing the Paso Doble and we were both frustrated because we both knew our, our past previous dances, Our Rumba and our Samba wasn't as well as we thought.

And so we finally, when we got out for Paso, we kind of gave each other a look where like, okay, we need to step it up. To the point where it kind of like connected us in to the point where like, everything just went away. And then the, once the music came on, like that feeling the drive, it just motivate us so much that like, that was probably the best time I've ever competed, like a Paso Doble before.

Just because of that sense of connection with my partner. And we were both on the same page, but also because of the music and the drive it had behind it. And just the energy that we both had with each other. because they're like every couple has different energy, of course. but. it just depends on how you want to tune into that energy or not to tune into that energy. So within that, within that moment, I definitely tuned into it.

Samantha: Yeah. Well, and Paso is such a great, Paso is such a great dance to take out any frustration that you have, right. Because it's, it's intense. And the, the body position is just like back and forward and aggressive and, and it gives you that ability to be like, you know, I did not like that last dance. So. Wah.

So something that we haven't talked about, which I'd love to get your opinion on too is, and you can kind of correct me if I'm wrong. You know, I, I have my own biases and my own perception that I'm bringing to this. but when you're dancing for more industry, your TV or commercial purposes, it's very like.

This is the scene. This is the number. This is the dance. So you can chart your emotional progress over the course of minute and a half, two minutes, three minutes, however long the project is. switching to competitive dance though, you have a minute and a half of super sensual Rumba, and then fun Cha-cha and then flirty swing. And, and you're kind of moving between these different emotional colors and emotional pallets. So do you feel more comfortable going into a commercial atmosphere where, you know, what's going to be asked of you on the day and you can kind of stay in that head space? Or do you like being able to turn it on, turn it off, switch, play experience a full range of emotions over the course of a five dance competitive experience?

Tristen: Gotcha. You know, with that question, it also has to do with what kind of, what kind of avenue you want to go with in the sense of like what you feel more comfortable with and what you feel will fulfill your heart and soul in that sense. I've done both. and honestly, sometimes yeah, when I'm doing a contemporary piece or a hip hop piece, or just a different style other than ballroom, and there's a specific avenue. it's nice to just have a direction and being able to really focus on that direction and be able to bring it more to life because you're just focusing on that.

So that's always nice, but then also sometimes always having a direction will always not allow you to have the freedom to feel like you can explore with dance sometime too. And I feel like with ballroom dancing, like you have that freedom to explore, because you're not, you're not set on like Cha-cha, we're just going to be smiling and being, and just being happy. And then on this moment, I'm going to flirt with you and you're going to look at me.

No, like all that doesn't really, I know some couples do that and I think that's fine. Yeah. But I feel like that just takes that authenticity of what you're feeling when you're performing a Cha-cha or whatever dance you're doing. so I, but personally for me, like, I feel like it's good to have that balance.

Cause I feel like the balance of having the direction is good because it is training me and helping me in the sense of like, okay, now when I do something like this, again, I'm more prepared in the sense of like, I can quickly go into that space of like, This is the concept. This is what we're trying to go for. And this contemporary piece where we're feeling, we're feeling lost and sad because of a heartbreak or whatever it is since you're focusing on that. But then with ballroom dancing it's and especially competitively, it's nice to not have a direction because you can have multiple directions. And that's what like brings the personality from every couple. That's so unique and different.

Samantha: Yeah. I want to circle back to the work that you're doing with the school systems and, this idea of making all forms of dance, but especially ballroom dance, a little bit more accessible. you mentioned the idea, or you mentioned the fact that you were doing a little bit of virtual classes during this pandemic time period. and there's pros and cons to, to virtual lessons. You know, we've, we've talked about it before on the podcast that, you know, it, it lets you focus a little bit more on the details and the technique, but you lose the touch, you lose the connection, you lose that physical reactive, experience that is so interesting for partner dancing. Do you see a longevity to virtual lessons? And if so, how do you see that impacting the way that we teach dance, moving forward?

Tristen: the longevity with like virtual classes or lessons or whatever you're doing. I hope it's not a continuous thing. and the sense of. Because in the sense of when you're just with other people and any kind of room, any kind of setting, feeling that energy from others is just, I feel like it's something that is like unspoken, but I feel like it's something that, us as human beings need in our lives sometimes. And maybe some people are just like super anti-social and I get that. That's fine. and maybe COVID has been a great thing for them in that sense, but yeah, I just virtual lessons and virtual classes, there are the pros and cons.

Longevity wise, I don't think it's a very, In my personal pain, I don't think it's a very doable. Aspect of trying to get everything, your needing in one training session done, just because you're working with a camera, you're working with a tv like a screen, and then that's it. And then you're seeing the person there. And, and there, you know what there's been instances where I've taught virtual lessons and in classes where I can feel the energy through the screen. And that's been very like rare, but also at the same time too, for us ballroom dancers, like, we're so like, I don't know if this is the right word to say, but we're so hands-on when we're teaching, you know what I'm saying?

So like, say. You can see that, that dude's posture is super crooked in some certain way. And you try telling them through the screen, like ok, lift up your shoulder, lift your elbow, express your arm out, shape it out more, make sure your chest, you know what I'm saying? You can say a lot of things, but then sometimes you just have to go over there and be like, it's right here.

You know what I'm saying? And it takes away that aspect of. It's right here and it makes it difficult sometimes to teach, but at least we still have the Avenue to teach. So, I'm grateful that we still do. Cause if not, we definitely couldn't be in thankfully for technology nowadays, like we can do, we can still be connected on that level. Yeah. It definitely longevity wise. Yeah. I don't think it, it will help in the sense of trying to make, especially for dance. I feel like I just won't help it in the sense of like trying to get it to the next level with dancers, if that makes sense, just because there's so many restrictions in place with, with learning virtually and you know, maybe I could be wrong.

Maybe there's people out there that, can learn just as good or better virtually and get better that way. but for me, my personal experiences growing up and such, My experience of learning is like, if you're there in the room with that person, and they're helping you with A, B, C, D, E, you can hear it, you can feel it, you can sense it, adding all those senses and it just helps it. that's just my personal opinion. So,

Samantha: Sure. Sure. And I, and I think that's the constant struggle, right? That we, that we're having right now in this time period is, you know, I see virtual dance as a huge benefit. because I think it opens up avenues for individuals that have always been interested in dance, but either don't feel comfortable coming in to the dance studio for the first time, don't have access to a dance studio, can't afford an in-person lesson.

If you think about, you know, highly advanced training, for us to get Shirley Ballas in the studio now that she's back in the UK, that's a lot of money. That's not cheap. That's so, so, but if, if someone like Shirley is willing to do virtual lessons, is it the quality of coaching if she was in the room?

No. But is it still getting a lot of that same information across? Yeah. Do I think virtual lessons are going to replace in-person lessons? Absolutely not. For all of the reasons that you just said, you want to build a community where you're feeding off of each other's energy. There are some physical things that it's easier just to have hands on the body and move people into the position and then talk through, okay now, what does this feel like? And, there's always lag time with virtual lessons, right? If you're in the same room with someone, you can be going back and forth and feeding off of each other. But if you're across screens, there's pausing, that has to happen.

Tristen: Yeah. Story of my life, especially with the, with the lagging stuff. Oh my gosh. It, it it's like. Like, I, it took me a while to get used to at first where I play the music and then I watched them do the combination or routine that we're doing. And they're always, it's always delayed two seconds and I'm like, okay, the music is like, is not with them, but I need to try to think ahead, you know what I'm saying?

So that there's that difficulty, but I do love what you mentioned though. about virtual has been a big benefit and getting it more across to people, feeling more comfortable to take it and going, not, not being able to go to in person cause they're, you know, there's people that have their anxieties and insecurities of like doing stuff in group settings or by themselves just to even step foot in a studio.

So I do think that is a wonderful aspect of virtual has brought where it's brought more attention to those kinds of people that don't feel as comfortable to actually want to actually come in and take it out. They're like, Oh, now I can, because A no one's really watching me. B, I don't, like, no, one's really seeing that I'm looking silly and stupid in that sense.

And, and see, its just more at your home. And of course, when you're at home your home, you're just, that's the most comfortable place you can be in, right. So I totally agree with you on that. and I feel like with the social aspect of all that, it, it honestly, maybe is helped grown in ways that we don't know yet. But yeah. Yeah.

Samantha: before we wrap up today, I do want to talk about something that you brought up that I feel like is incredibly important to highlight, which is the impact of this last year and the ongoing pandemic on the entertainment industry. you mentioned the fact that you work out of Las Vegas, that industry obviously has been hit really hard, especially for dancers and performers that aren't performing, aren't working during this time.

And you mentioned kind of trying to create outreach opportunities, trying to create classes and workshops, to keep people motivated, to keep people working. can you just talk a little bit about your lived experience being in that city, being in the entertainment industry, how this past year has impacted you, how it's impacted the community and what we, outside of the entertainment industry or outside of Las Vegas can do to really help support dancers and performers during this time?

Tristen: Okay. Well, wow. That's a really nice question. I really love that. It, so especially here in Las Vegas with a dance committee, it's taken a big hit just because Vegas alone in itself is a tourist town and entertainment town. so for COVID to hit us hard and to, for us to be just.

For the entertainment and the tourism, just to be like drop so low in a level where it's just like, left people scrambling, it has been difficult. Especially with a lot of shows on the strip, like, Vegas, a lot of dancers that are out here that train out here and grow up out here. A lot of their, a lot of times their goals are to one day, work on the strip and perform for either Cirque or for like an artist show or residency or whatever it is. so for that to be taken away has been detrimental in a sense. but also at the same time too, it it's just been like a ghost town with the dance community out here too, because of that.

And it's, and it's sad because I I'll be honest with you. Like, I feel like the whole year of COVID and still ongoing, I feel like I'm just fighting against this higher power of whatever this COVID is. And it's just been a constant war and battle to try to keep the ball rolling here in Las Vegas. and that's why I'm doing so many different things in so many different projects is try to help with the youth out here.

But, as many times as I try to help, I always feel like there's like something that just knocks it down, knocks it down. And luckily there's been a few, a few things that have prevailed and been successful during COVID. me and my, friend, Ryan Maw, we started like one of the first virtual dance competitions.

So that helped out here in Las Vegas, keep like dancers motivated and going and such. But then on the performance side for dancers that are no longer working, like, I have so many friends that work for shows on the strip and stuff, and they're, they've been hitting me up like crazy, like, Hey man, can we teach, can we do this and such? Yeah. And I trying my best, like I'm trying my freaking best to try to help them give them work and give them opportunities to still perform and stuff. And that's why I started this company as well with my friend, Nick. but I think overall, and I, and I just feel like in general, the dance community, doesn't like to mesh together all the time. If that makes sense. I feel like during these times, I feel like with the dance community out here in Las Vegas or an LA or wherever, just in general, everywhere that's getting affected with COVID. I think we need to put our differences aside. I think we need to think of more of bringing the community together and being able to help support everybody.

And different avenues, whether it's competitively, whether it's, industry, whether it's commercially, whether it's just like opportunities like that. and get out of the mindset of like, Like everyone you're dancing against is your competition because that's, I feel like that's just a little bit unhealthy to have that mindset all the time. but I feel like if we just put our differences aside and just be more supportive with one another and just like, be like, even if it's as simple as like you're watching a dance video and you're like, Oh, this was filmed in LA or whatever. Like a simple comment on like, oh, that was awesome. All the way from like Utah, you know what I'm saying? Stuff like that, like small stuff like that will help, but also at the same time, too. supporting your local dance studios, supporting any, anything that is around you locally that is trying to help keep the dance community going, support it. Like even though if you think you're the best dancer in the world and you're like, no, I don't need to support that.

Like yeah. Put your differences aside, like help support, help, give love to one another help bring the energy together. Because if we, I feel like if we mesh a little bit more as a dance community right now, and bring that love with each other and support, I feel like we'll be able to become stronger once COVID is over, but also help us get through it because, to be honest like, we're not doing a good job at that. And I feel like we could do a lot better job at that. and that's just me personally, just saying that, but yeah,

Samantha: yeah, yeah. And, and every, every city, every community, you know, is going to have their different lived experience when it comes to, how the different dance schools and dance disciplines interact with each other. But I do, I do see the divide that you're talking about. and it's always, Like, like you have said, it's always kind of struck me as odd that we have, we all derive the same benefit from movement. We all like our movement for the same reasons. We all find either emotional catharsis or physical expression or, competitive drive out of the experience of dance. So it's always a little bit weird to me that ballet and hip hop and contemporary and ballroom and, you know, social Latin or social swing, they all live in their own separate houses. And there's almost a sense of judgment if you move from one house to the other. And it's like, no, I just, I just want to move my body.

And I want to learn from the way that, you know, a b-boy moves. I want to learn how a prima ballerina is in such control of her core. And, you know, I, I want the freedom that West coast gives me because as a follow for 10 plus years, That's scary. The idea, the idea of making up your own mind in West coast. No, thank you. but yeah, so, so bringing the community a little bit more in a way that can support each other, I think is only going to benefit, be of a benefit to everyone in the community.

Tristen: Yeah. Yeah. I like that. And I like that because, too, I just feel like, not just like, not just with certain styles of dance where you're just being exclusive with that. Like also just give love onto other styles as well, because for me as a dancer and because I'm, I've had the opportunity, to be cross-trained and a lot of dancers have had that opportunity, but it, in the professional that I am now, I view all dance, like one movement, like, and I, it happened like years ago where I was just dancing. I'm like dang, this flowed into this and that to this and that, like for me, dance is just one big movement. and for others to like separate every style and being so like, Oh no, this is hip hop. And I'm sticking with that. Oh no, this is ballroom and I'm sticking with that. But in reality, like it all derives from the same origin and that's just movement.

We're all moving together. And, and I feel like if people are more supportive in the sense of like, they view dance in the sense of like dance is dance, not just like separate dance styles. And I, and it's good to have that too, because if you're on certain pieces of stuff, it's good to structure of like what you're working on with that style. But I feel like just overall the love and support of just dance for dance. I feel like if we get that together, it would help a lot.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Well, anything else that you want to make sure our listeners are aware of or thinking about before we wrap up for today?

Tristen: yeah, I guess, even though times are still hard for a lot of people just always remember that, dance is a tool to help for good, not to, not, not to hurt, not to, not to, not the opposite of that. so make sure to use it, because it's, there. Dance is always going to be there, for people that are going to use it, to help with whatever they need helping with.

And just, I guess for me, I'm just going to throw that out there for myself. and if anybody, every wants to reach out to me or just talk to me even just to talk or to even needs help with certain other things. Like I'm there to help. especially during these times, I've I feel the need and responsibility to help, as much as I can. So don't be, don't be afraid to reach out. I'm a friendly dude. but other than that, I love dancing and dance is my passion for sure. And, I thank you for having me on this podcast. It's been a great session talking with you. and we discussed on some really cool and topics and some deep personal conversations as well, but, we all, we're all related in the sense of dance.

So thank you.

Samantha: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for being a guest today.

Tristen: Of course, thank you for having me. It was great. So

Samantha: Thank you against to Tristen for being a guest on today's podcast. If you want to follow his dance journey, you can do so. Using the links in the description box below.

Once again, I am your host, Samantha, with Love Live Dance. You can find all of the podcast versions of these episodes at and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. If you're not already done so, please do make sure that you are subscribed to this YouTube channel and that you have hit the thumbs up if you want to hear more conversations like this one with Tristen.

As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.