photography by MARYLYN LINGE
Orem’s Chelsie Hightower has the fashion flair and texting ability of a 19-year-old (which she is). But she has the life experience and business opportunities of someone twice her age (which she isn’t).
Chelsie leads a life in Utah full of friends, family and fun, and another life in Southern California as star of “Dancing With The Stars” and standout starlet from season four of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Her two-step life has her being interviewed on “Entertainment Tonight” and answering “Mormon questions” in airports.
But her family and the mountains keep her in sync.
“The first thing I do when I get back to Utah is drive up Provo Canyon,” Chelsie says.
Ironically, our photo shoot took place in a dance-studio-turned-photo-studio in Orem. She remembers taking classes on the same wooden floor with friends whose lockers are still marked in the back of the studio.
“Oh, I love these girls!” she says as she touches stickers with familiar names.
As we snapped nearly 200 photos of this dancing queen, she asked us to turn up the music a few times or to change the song. Clearly, this is a story of “beauty and the beat.”
UV: What has the past year of your life been like?
Chelsie: It’s been crazy! I did the “So You Think You Can Dance” tour. And then “Dancing With The Stars.” It’s been a whirlwind. A year ago I never would have expected myself to be here. It’s definitely a blessing.
UV: What has been the most challenging part of this chapter?
Chelsie: For me, it’s been learning how to cope with my weaknesses. In my case, it’s my self-destructive thoughts. When I watch my dance videos, I’m always noticing what was bad and how I could have done better. But I’ve learned that at some point, you need to build yourself up instead of tear yourself down. You think it’s helping you to notice areas that need improvement, but it’s actually slowing you down. In the end, you need to focus on what’s ahead — not what’s behind. And you need to be positive at all times!
UV: So now do you have mostly positive thoughts about yourself and your dancing?
Chelsie: I try to. One week, Ty (Murray) and I didn’t have our dance done until Sunday — the day before the show. But I had to tell myself that everything was going to be OK. Sometimes I freak out inside when times are challenging, but I’ve learned that I need to be the strong one. I’ve learned to deal with mental challenges, especially in high-pressure situations. It is cool to feel myself learning and growing.
UV: What is your post-show routine? Do you watch the show immediately afterward?
Chelsie: I usually don’t even want to watch the show. I often have family in town, so we go out to dinner. And then I’ll go home and fast-forward to my performance, and then hurry and shut it off. I don’t want to overanalyze it and pick apart everything I did.
UV: What is it really like behind the scenes of “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance”?
Chelsie: It’s not all flowers and fairy tales. It’s really hard work, and there’s a lot of stress. There’s also a lot of injury that nobody sees. I used to watch the shows before I was on them, and it doesn’t feel like the same show now that I’m actually involved. It’s a lot more rigorous and intense than it appears.
UV: What have you learned from dance that you apply in other life situations?
Chelsie: Actually for me, the better question is what have I learned in life that I apply to dance. In life when something comes at you, you don’t wallow in it. So when it comes to dancing, if I get a bad score or a bad placement, you can’t just sit there and dwell on it. You’ve got to move on. You’ve got to figure out how you are going to make it better. And I’ve learned how to carry on when something happens that I wasn’t expecting.
UV: What reactions do you get in Hollywood when people find out you are from Utah?
Chelsie: They always ask things like, “Are you Mormon?” and “Are you supposed to be showing your skin like that or should you be wearing long dresses?”
UV: How do you respond?
Chelsie: I tell them that I am Mormon and that we are normal people. I get weird questions about polygamy and misconceptions about other things. But I just tell them we are cool people, and we’re happy living our religion.
UV: What have you learned about yourself from all of this?
Chelsie: I’ve grown so much as a person. Anytime you are put in a hard circumstance, you are pushed and you learn so much. I know who I am so much better than I did before.
UV: So who is Chelsie, then?
Chelsie: I’m much stronger than I thought I was, and I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I’ve learned what is most important to me. Everything has become much more clear. I’ve learned about so much more than just dancing. My perspective in life has changed.
UV: So you have a life in Utah and a life in L.A., right?
Chelsie: Yes, both places seem like home for me, and I have close friends in both places. I’ll be in Utah a lot this summer, but then we start “Dancing With The Stars” again in August.
UV: How old do you feel?
Chelsie: At times I feel like I’m about 15, and other times I feel like I’m 25. But I’m actually only 19. I graduated from high school just two years ago.
UV: What were you like when you went to Timpanogos?
Chelsie: I think my friends would definitely say I was crazy. And outgoing. And, of course, I danced with the dance company.
UV: What role has Center Stage played in your success?
Chelsie: I started teaching there when I was 16, and the people at Center Stage are very dear friends of mine. I’m very loyal to them. I love my students there. And my experience as a teacher there gave me the training and experience that made it possible for me to do “Dancing With The Stars.” And I’ll never forget that.
UV: What makes a great dance teacher?
Chelsie: You have to keep things interesting. You have to maintain a good pace of learning and having fun at the same time. You have to be firm but not demeaning. You can’t say things like, “What the heck are you doing? You look horrible!” But you need to make sure they know what they’re doing is not correct. There’s a fine line between pushing them in a positive way and breaking them down in a negative way. And everyone works differently. You have to let your students know that you care.
UV: So what was it like to teach Ty Murray — the Tiger Woods of rodeo — how to dance?
Chelsie: With Ty it was all about trial and error. At the beginning he didn’t understand any of it. I kept finding different ways to explain it so that eventually he would say, “I get what you are trying to say.”
UV: What is Ty like as a person?
Chelsie: He’s funny when he’s not even trying. Someone asked him if he Twittered. And he said, “Nope. So far we’ve just learned the foxtrot and the tango!”
UV: What makes you nervous these days?
Chelsie: The cameras don’t make me nervous anymore. Dancing in front of others doesn’t bother me. But I have the least experience in choreography. It makes me nervous to choreograph dances and know what will work with camera angles and what will work with celebrities. And it’s difficult on “Dancing With The Stars” because the other person can’t do a lot of what you’re trying to teach them. That can create some nervousness, but I enjoy the challenge.
UV: What role has your family played?
Chelsie: My mom has been there and supported me from the very beginning. I remember when I first started taking jazz and ballet, the fee was $100 a month. And that was an outrageous amount for my family at that time. But my mom has always wanted to support me. Even my brothers pitched in at times to help me be able to pursue my dreams. My five brothers — who are all in their 20s — are so sweet. They call me after every show and tell me I did great.
UV: Did your mom dance?
Chelsie: My mom was a dancer when she was little, but her mom made her quit for piano when she was 9. And she was so sad that she had to quit! Then my mom had six kids in eight years — all by the time she was 28. I think she enjoys helping me dance because she wasn’t able to.
UV: Why did you start a clothing line?
Chelsie: I was approached by a company that was interested in working with me. And, of course, I was excited about an opportunity like that. I was like, “Heck, yeah!” I have always loved fashion. I always say that if I weren’t a dancer, I’d be a fashion buyer. I design most of the clothes in my line, and they are high-fashion dance wear.
UV: What excites you most about the next year or two?
Chelsie: I’m excited to deal with the challenges that will come. In a weird way, it’s the best way to learn and grow. I feel very blessed, and I’m excited to see what opportunities come my way.
UV: What are your favorite things about Utah County?
Chelsie: Sundance! The first thing I do every time I come back to Utah is drive up the canyon. I love eating up there, I love walking around. I also like to ski, hike and rock climb. Just being in the canyon feels peaceful and happy to me.
UV: We’re so lucky to live in a beautiful area.
Chelsie: True. The only bad thing about coming to Utah is I often get sick when I’m home because I stay up so late hanging out with friends. Today I’m feeling it because we stayed up last night telling scary stories.
UV: Hopefully you can get some rest after this photo shoot!
Chelsie: I will. Thanks!
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