How does a girl go from south county to touring the world with the likes of Lady Gaga? Although there's no fail-proof formula, Christina Grady has, in just a few short years, gone from unknown dancer to turning down Beyoncé because she's just too busy. We caught up with Grady to find out what life in the shadows of Top 40 is like, and how big breaks are made on small coincidences.
B-Sides: How did you wind up in the trailer for Beyoncé's new video for "Run the World (Girls)"?
Christina Grady: I met Beyoncé about a year after I moved to LA, when I had built a name for myself and got called for a private audition for Beyoncé's tour [2007's The BeyoncéExperience tour]. It was for white girls — three blondes and me. I thought, this could either be a great thing or bad thing. [Laughs] They ended up picking a blonde — Heather Morris, who's now Brittany on Glee — but Beyoncé told me she wanted to work with me in the future.
Right after "Single Ladies," I was booked for her "Diva" video, but at the time, Beyoncé was booking groups of back-up dancers with similar looks. When I showed up to the shoot, they told me they couldn't find another white girl who matched my full-out, intense style of dancing. It was such a devastating compliment because they were telling me they couldn't find anyone who could hang with me, but I didn't get to dance in the video.
Then I was flown to New York for the next tour auditions, but they ended up choosing all African American girls, so I was out. These auditions are so much work — they go on for days, learning the dances, whittling down the number of girls. You have to battle freestyle, do technical stuff in heels.
So they called me for this last video, but I was already doing choreography for Castle on ABC, so I only had time to do modeling for the trailer. Beyoncé came up to me and said, "You're not dancing with me?" I mean, who turns Beyoncé down? I was so flattered and honored, but to be honest, when I do finally hit the video or stage with that lady, I don't want it to be with 100 other people.
So your look — not just how you move — can really determine your career.
My family has a lot of Native American in us, so I've always been tan. But I had an epiphany and stopped going in the sun and became obsessive over protecting my skin.
What's important is having your look and owning it. You have to love it. I was lucky enough that in LA people gravitated towards my look [pale skin, blunt-cut black hair]. Richard Jackson, a choreographer who I work closely with, called me "Pasty," and now people know me that way.
Still, you have to be versatile. Some dancers overdo their look because they want to stand out, be edgy. But in reality, if you go too far, you get typecast. You limit yourself. If you're a girl, they want you to look like a girl. You have to know how to dress yourself — whether it's edgy for Rihanna, sexy for Beyoncé, Disney for Disney.
How do you handle rejection?
I know if I'm not picked, it's not because I wasn't good enough or prepared enough. But maybe they wanted a blonde or not so pale or not so curvy, but guess what — I love my curves. I'm human, so sometimes it stings, but I've always been a fighter and you can't let Hollywood take that away. You have to go to sleep at night — or go without sleep [Laughs] — and know you're working as hard as you can.
What is one thing people don't know about your industry?
How hard it is to maintain success. You hear about people getting a big break, but what are you going to do now to keep living your dream? You're your own manager in this business, and you have to figure it out. You have to know who you are as a person as well as an entertainer, understand your craft.
Everything wasn't butterflies and fairy tales, but I've developed a standard for myself, and I'm proud of that. Like Gaga, she has to outdo herself with every performance — what's she going to do next? With every project, I see myself evolve as an artist, singer, dancer — and that is literally addicting to me. I never settle.