If you watched the season premiere of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” you caught Chloe Arnold’s “Syncopated Ladies,” the fierce all-women tap dance group from Washington, DC that’s competing in the show’s first-ever crew battle for a chance to be featured in the finale. But even if you don’t tune into the show you’ll want to get familiar with this inspiring dance troupe who’s well on their way to becoming household names.
The ladies only appeared on SYTYCD for a brief segment as they were pitted against former “America’s Best Dance Crew”-winning group “Poreotics,” but the female tappers fly footwork to a mashup of Beyonce’s “Bow Down,” “Flawless” and “Run The World” — and sexy style to boot — left the audience yearning for more. When Fox opened up the voting polls and asked viewers to vote on which crew they wanted to see in the finale through Tweets, #SynchLadies, became the number one trending topic in the US on Twitter helping the group cinch a round one win with a 67% vote. And not surprisingly so.
The group, which is also composed of professional dancers Maud Arnold (Chloe’s sister), Sarah Reich, Anissa Irving, Pamela Yasutake and Melissa Tannus has caught the eye of women dancers like Debbie Allen, Mya and Beyonce herself, long before this appearance on network TV and between them they’ve nailed a robust list of appearance in high-profile stage performances, music videos and TV shows (Chloe and Maud appeared on “Boardwalk Empire” last season as dancers for the show’s fictional “Onyx Club”).
“We are professional tap dancers, but I feel like we are a really good match for this show in terms of that all the dancers in the company are trained in multiple styles of dance,” Chloe Arnold tells HelloBeautiful about her group. “They are truly top technicians, professionals and experts at their technique and being able to execute choreography and improvisation, then they have style aspect because of all the other training they had during their life.”
We saw a small glimpse of that last week on SYTYCD, but what the cameras haven’t shown is how this talented and dedicated group is well on their way to realizing their mission of bring tap to a commercial platform while maintaining the integrity for the art. All while giving women a distinct voice within the craft.
For Chloe Arnold, that mission began taking shape during childhood. She started training in various dance forms at six-years-old, including ballet and tap — the dance style that ultimately enraptured her. “Saivion Glover came to DC and I auditioned for his youth tap crew and that allowed me to do his residency in DC for several years,” Arnold says. “During that time, I got to meet famous tap dancers Gregory Hines, The Nicholas Brothers and Ted Levvy and that changed my life because it really made me want to tap.” At 16, she was cast in Debbie Allen’s production of Brother’s of the Knight at The Kennedy Center in DC which opened the door for Arnold to work with the iconic entertainer for over a decade as a performer, choreographer and producer. But while Allen has served as an overall dance mentor for the tapper, Arnold has found that there are still few women that specialize in tap dance, specifically, to model a commercial career after.
“If you ask anyone on the street, ‘what tap dancers do you know?’ if they say anybody, then chances are, it’s going to be a man,” Arnold says. “These men are all people who I’ve admired and who have inspired me, but there comes a time where [women] need a voice too.” She’s spent her life looking for ways to elevate women and the dance and appearing on Fox’s award-winning dance show has always been one dream strategy to realize the goal. For seasons, the show has been focused on individual competition, so while the Syncopated Ladies have been trying to find their way to the stage for seasons, it never worked out. But that wasn’t going to stop Arnold from trying.
“When something doesn’t exist, sometimes you have to create it,” she says. “I realized people weren’t necessarily take money and put it in a tap video, so I decided we’re going to do that and market it and we’re gonna hope it catches us.” It would be easy to say “the rest was history” at that point, but like most dreams, the road to achieving the goal took the scenic route.
Arnold attended Columbia University to study film, with a goal of bringing tap dance to TV & film, and fulfilled her dance passions by performing in New York in between classes. She spent her summers teaching at Debbie Allen Dance Academy and when it was time to graduate, like any good mentor, Allen probed the young star: “What are you going to do next?” Arnold didn’t have an answer at the time, but like many entertainers she packed her bags and moved to LA in hopes of figuring it out.
It was on the West Coast that she’d meet some of the women that she’d end up organizing into The Syncopated Ladies. “We danced in the same company so we started jamming together,” says Arnold. ” Then the jam sessions turned into me saying, ‘these groups of women are amazing, we need to start working on stuff.’ So, we did some choreography and we tried to put a little sass on it. It was nice and it was sweet, but when we first started, we didn’t have the level of confidence to kick down the door just yet.”
A job on a Sean Paul video and a chance meeting with Beyonce helped set the ball in motion for the gutsy, modernized choreography that The Syncopated Ladies perform today.
“I basically crashed the audition for Sean Paul’s music video ‘Give It Up To Me’ with my tap shoes and they ended up putting me in the video,” recalls Arnold. “The video’s choreographer Tanisha Scott and I had been working on tap, but I mixed in some dance hall moves. The choreography didn’t end up making the video but it inspired me to choreograph something to Sean Paul for our group and that turned the heat up on our style.” Then Arnold’s film school credentials landed her a job as a director’s assistant on the Bey’s music video “Upgrade U” where she got to witness the pop singers meticulous work, up close, which proved to be a “life-changing experience.” “When I saw this fierce presence and execution of Beyonce’s work and the way she rocks out so hard and doesn’t apologize for being phenomenal, while simultaneously making other people feel phenomenal and showing respect to them, I said ‘I want to do that in tap’,” says Arnold. “It set me on my mission and changed everything for me.”
With a soundtrack of Beyonce’s hits, Arnold began choreographing routines that looked like they could fit right in on tour alongside the singer’s all-women band and backup dancers. And after the group started posting videos of their work on YouTube, Beyonce noticed. “She shared our video to her millions of social media followers and I was so touched because it is so rare that women on such a huge platform take the time to support other women that are trying to make their way and striving to make their mark,” says Arnold. “I couldn’t believe she used her platform to help elevate ours…after that, the show found us and came calling.”
Now that they have the nation’s attention, the Syncopated Ladies want to help people understand that while the art of tap may not have the same visibility as, say, hip-hop or other forms of dance, it still has a place in today’s landscape. One day they hope to produce their own music to perform to with plans of become a full-fledged band, but for now, they’re making the connection by producing tap tribute videos to chart-topping hits by the likes of Rihanna and Katy Perry, in between professional jobs. “In terms of our mission of being today’s female tap band, we want to keep it funky, we want to keep it fresh, we want young people to vibe to it and groove to it and relate to it,” says Arnold.
Search the group’s handle, @SyncLadies , on Twitter and you’ll find a flood of messages from young women and other fans who were moved by seeing the women’s ferocious, hard-hitting performances topped off with a healthy dose of grace and poise. Arnold says the overwhelming reaction is giving her squad arsenal to keep pushing towards their mission. “I was reading the replies and the responses and they were just honestly, so touching. It’s been so inspiring is to see how our voice inspires young women.”
As The Syncopated Ladies continue to help carve out a lane for more young women to follow in the tap dance arena, Arnold’s advice for aspiring fancy feet is to first learn how to walk the tight rope of patience and determination. “You want it so bad and you want it right now but in dance, you must have that determination to say, ‘I’m going to keep fighting’ and then soon all these pieces of the puzzle start to come together and then you start to see what you imagined.”
One step at a time.
Watch “So You Think You Can Dance” on Fox, Wednesdays at 8/7c and be sure to look out for Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies as they storm the stage in the finale!
Check out the Beyonce tribute that caught the singer’s eye in the video below and visit the group’s website SyncopatedLadies.com to see more performances!