Growing up in the competitive dance world doing ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary styles of dance, Britt Stewart found her love and her purpose. She attended a performing arts middle school and high school where she received modern and world dance.
Sharpening her skills and talent over the years, Britt not only became a professional dancer but has broken a barrier as the first Black female pro on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars competing on season 29 of Dancing With the Stars alongside two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir.
During our interview, I spoke with Britt over the phone about her dancing career, her thoughts on how dance can be made more accessible to lower-income communities, and how it feels to be the first black female professional on Dancing with the Stars.
Miren Nagle: Do you remember the first dance class that you took?
Britt Stewart: Oh my goodness, well I’ve been dancing since I was three years old, so I don’t really remember my exact first dance class, but I do have this memory of, I started at this little hippie dance studio in Seattle Washington and I started with ballet and tap and I remember tap when I was younger was my favorite. I remember my teacher at the time, we were in tap class, and she had all of us, I must have been maybe four years old, she had us all lie down on the floor, and she turned off the lights, and she started tapping step by step, so she would do a shuffle and we would have to name what the step was based on what it sounded like. That was one of my real first memories of being in a dance class, at like four years old.
Miren Nagle: Do you have a favorite genre of dance?
Britt Stewart: I’m really fortunate and really grateful to have had a really well-rounded training. I grew up in the competitive dance world so I did ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, and then I also went to a performing arts middle school through high school, and so there I got modern and world dance, and then of course now I do ballroom. And so you know, it’s so funny, I feel like based on my background jazz is one of my favorites, but then anything Latin Ballroom, give it to me. I love a samba, I love a cha-cha, I love a rumba, I’m obsessed with it.
Miren Nagle: Do you have a favorite genre of music?
Britt Stewart: I listen to all music, pop, indie, even some soft dance music, country, I listen to everything, and so really when I choreograph, it’s whenever I get inspired by a song, so music is really important to me and it typically inspires a story or a song, or a piece of choreography and I really like to mix it up and play with different genres of music. In my life outside of dance too, I’m really into listening to meditation music, specifically sound frequency music and how it aligns with your body, and your health, your mental health, but even your physical health, and so sometimes in my mornings I’ll put on sound frequency music in my house and it’s the perfect way to start my day or to finish my day too, so I literally listen to all types of music.
Miren Nagle: Is there a certain way that you work to inspire and motivate your students while teaching dance?
Britt Stewart: I’ve had some of my students tell me this, that I am a nurturer, and that’s really my teaching method is, I am strict, but mostly my technique when it comes to teaching is to nurture and to create a really safe and comfortable environment and healthy learning environment for my students, and that’s really translating on Dancing with the Stars as well, with my partnership with Johnny. But, I absolutely love being in dance education, I think that dance and art, in general, can really inspire and shape anyone into having a positive expression, so I love teaching dance and I love that I can inspire and be a mentor to my students as well.
Miren Nagle: Other than dancing, do you have any hobbies?
Britt Stewart: I love to cook, cooking is one of my favorite things to do, when I’m busy I don’t do it often and it’s probably because whenever I get into the kitchen I like to cook these lavish meals, so, it’s hard for me to be in the kitchen and cook something quick, but I love to cook. Also, I’m really into self-care, so I love doing yoga and pilates, but also meditation is a huge part of my life. And so, I like to meditate and do grounding exercises and get out in nature, whether that’s a hike or going to the beach or just sitting by a lake or anything like that. I also love to read, I’m kind of a grandma outside of dance, but by nature, I’m an introvert, so I have this extroverted side of myself in the entertainment business, but really in my downtime I’m an introvert and a homebody and I keep my circle of friends and family small, and I love to spend time with them and just kind of keep to myself. It’s this contrast between my two worlds, but it helps me create balance.
Miren Nagle: Considering the prices of dance costumes, and the cost of enrollment in dance studios, do you think there’s a way that dance can be made more accessible to lower-income communities?
Britt Stewart: You know, it’s a topic of conversation that’s becoming really real, it started really in the spring with the black lives matter movement and I think everybody when that whole thing happened, everybody really just sat back and looked not only on their own view on it, but the view of their own community, and so for me, that’s the dance community and dance is expensive, and especially ballroom dance is very expensive. I feel very blessed that my parents really gave up a lot but could also afford the type of training to get me where I am today and so I think it is a very good topic of conversation, and that conversations are starting and people are really looking to figure out what that means and I think it’s still evolving. For me, personally, I’m in the process of launching a new organization called ‘Share the Movement’, and I’m president of the board and its launching next year in 2021, and our mission is just that, our mission is to expand diversity in professional dancers by starting at the foundational level and offering financial and inspirational support to children of color and underserved communities, so we are looking to do just that, where we will sponsor a child partnered with their local dance studio and fund and support their entire dance training leading up to becoming professional. So, I’m personally looking to address that situation and I know a lot of people are as well.
Miren Nagle: So ‘Share The Movement’ is coming out in 2021?
Britt Stewart: Yea, it’s coming out in 2021, and our goal is to launch it so we can sponsor our first child starting next fall so it would go along with the school year, and that’s also usually with dance programs around the United States, they have a summer program but then the bulk of dance training starts in the fall, so that’s what we’re looking to do. We’re also looking to see what that launch will be like, with a Post-COVID world, we don’t know yet if this will be in person or digital or virtual, we’re really trying to figure that out right now, along with creating and getting this organization up and running. Everything is in the works, but we have a website and you can go to SharetheMovementNow.org, and so people can stay tuned there for donation information and launch information and we’re still really in the building stages of it but we’re very excited.
Miren Nagle: So I’m sure you’ve already been asked this question, but how does it feel to be the black female pro on Dancing with The Stars?
Britt Stewart: I mean to be the first black female pro on Dancing with the Stars is such an honor, you know I do get asked the question a lot but I really don’t mind because I do understand and recognize that it’s really significant, it’s an honor and I think it is also a responsibility too, I think I’m now representing black women in the ballroom world in America, and I think that’s really important, and sometimes you have to see someone in a position that you want to be in to know that it’s possible and so that’s why I say it’s a responsibility because I know that there’s now a lot of black girls, a lot of black women, or really anybody that feels different, or really anybody that has a dream, too, that it can be possible. So, it is an honor and I’m so happy and grateful to be given this opportunity. Representation is really important, and America, you know, we are a melting pot, we have so many colors and shades and different people even beyond race, representation is so important, and we live in this beautiful colorful diverse world, and I think it should be reflected on what we see in our day-to-day, in our T.V screens, and our magazines, billboards, everywhere.
Miren Nagle: During quarantine, did you have any difficulties with finding the motivation to dance?
Britt Stewart: Of course I had difficulty finding the motivation to dance! Quarantine, you know, it’s so funny I feel like online and on Instagram, you sometimes saw people like, “okay get up every day and go go go” and really, I think it wasn’t really realistic. I personally felt a little bit on like an emotional roller coaster, like some days I was very motivated, and other days I just didn’t have it in me to be productive or to dance or to workout, or to do anything like that. For me, right before quarantine hit I was very busy and I was traveling pretty much every day, or at least twice a week. And so for me, it was funny, I kind of went through this roller coaster where the first two weeks my body was like, “okay, this is amazing, you’re in vacation mode, you have a break, this is awesome you can get stuff done around the house,” and then from there, my body was like, “Okay, this is weird sitting down for so long and being in the same place.” So, I went through this really interesting journey and I’m really grateful I was still teaching virtually during quarantine, so that helped me to be motivated, having a task to do was really good but I also found that, one thing that was really different for me is I really need nature, I realized in quarantine that I needed to go on some sort of daily walk or sit on my patio or just feel the sun on my face to help me. So, in quarantine, I developed a daily ritual and that was what helped me to stay in tune with what my body, my mind, my soul needed, but then also to stay motivated, too.
Written By: Miren Nagle
Photographer: Alex Stone @alexstonephoto
Glam: Robert Bryan @robertti
stylist: Brooke Sheperd // @stungby_b