I'm not gonna lie. Stephanie Scull is so ridiculously beautiful that I judged her. I thought I'd be speaking with someone who had it easy, who glided to success on her astonishing looks.
Instead I found a brilliant, plucky, grounded dancer who takes nothing for granted.
She's a humble but accomplished hyphenate - dancer, designer, and print model. In college, she interned with Ralph Lauren, Ellie Saab, and Project Runway. Then she hit the New York dance scene and began her dance career. Recently, she took a chance; she flew to LA to train and audition for one month - and what a month it was! With pragmatism and practicality, Stephanie strategized her way to a dance career in film, TV, music videos, and more. Hit the link below, then learn how she made it happen.
Best Known Credits:
Beyoncé ("Who Rules the World")
Carly Rae Jepsen
The Today Show/Channing Tatum
NBA dancer Brooklyn Nets
25 QUESTIONS WITH STEPHANIE
Suzy: Stephanie Scull! How did you begin dance?
SS: When I was little, Mom put me in dance school because I danced everywhere I went. She said "Hey, let's be constructive about this!" I started competitions at 10, and it got more serious. I trained in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and theater.
Suzy: Has that versatility helped you?
SS: So much! I still get called to set sometimes to do the most bizarre things!
Suzy: Such as...?
SS: The "Elf Yourself" promo for Office Max; people can put their faces on a dancing elf body. We learned an elf ballet, elf flamenco, elf hiphop, elf salsa, and we did a freestyle elf dance battle! (Laughs) We had one week of rehearsal, we'd walk in like "What the heck are we gonna do today?!" I had to channel everything I learned from all styles and more. I'd never done Flamenco before, much less Elf Flamenco!
Suzy: You've been on set with many celebrities. What's that like for you?
SS: I love it. It's so fun to see how different people work. Every celebrity is a figure head; beneath them is an entire infrastructure that created them. It's so cool to see the whole team behind them, things you never see on TV or at a show. You see the spokesperson, let's say Chris Brown ... but you also see 20 people who have devoted their lives to building Chris Brown.
Suzy: It's awesome that you use observation to grow.
SS: I've always been an observer; I'm always aware of my surroundings. I learn on set. Some people just learn what they're told to learn. By observing your surroundings, you also learn things that aren't just handed to you. I'm always learning by what I can absorb.
Suzy: Has that skill been part of your success?
SS: A big part. Growing up I had a hard time in my studio. I wasn't the favorite, the one who got all the corrections. They corrected the ones they thought had potential, otherwise, you were ignored. I couldn't rely on people giving me corrections; if I wanted to learn, I had to do it on my own. Using that skill is such an advantage in auditions. People forget to look around and observe.
Suzy: How many of the other dancers from your studio have gone on to be professional dancers?
SS: Only 2. (Laughs) It's interesting how that works. I'm very stubborn. The more people told me no, the more I wanted to do it. A lot of girls were told no and quit because of that - I never understood that. I loved dance so much, so people telling me 'no' drove me. I'm fortunate that's how my brain worked.
Suzy: Is that drive nature or nurture?
SS: It's both. It's adapting to what you're given. For me, it's my nature, and I get to choose how to handle it.
Suzy: You went to college before hitting the industry ...
SS: After high school, I made a bet with my Mom; I'd audition for Janet Jackson in LA; if I booked the job, I didn't have to go to college. My high school graduation gift was that trip to LA. I went, failed miserably, looked at my Mom and said "Well, I'm definitely going to college!" Mom was a clever one, she knew what she was doing.
Suzy: And your major was ...?
SS: Fashion design. I was always artistic, I loved painting, sketching, pen and ink; everything art. I wanted to just major in art, but Mom stepped in again and said "Let's focus here, let's be more specific and constructive rather than just 'I'm going to be an artist and a dancer', the two most insane things I could've chosen. I concentrated in merchandising.
Suzy: Would you advise young dancers to go college?
SS: I have so many mixed opinions on that. Some people are born dancers, amazing with a genius quality. They may not need college. But some of us aren't born dancers. We can work to become one, but for me, it wasn't natural, it didn't come easy. I think maybe people who have to work for it should go to college, so if something happens, or they're injured, or want to retire, they have something else they can do. You need something else in this industry; not everyone can do it their whole life. Still, there's a lot I look back on and think, "If I moved to New York City at 18, I could've done so much..." I was in prime shape; I missed 4 years, which in a dancer's life is really long.
Suzy: Did you dance in college?
SS: College is where I first experienced hiphop! After high school, I thought my only route would be as a Rockette or theater; I didn't know the commercial world even existed, or what hiphop dancers could do besides underground dance battles! (Laughs) In college, there was a competition team, but I thought, "I never want to see another competition team again." There was a second team, and then there was a 3rd one founded by minority groups. They were fierce, and I was like "I'm gonna do THAT!"
Suzy: (Laughing) "Step Up, the sequel!"
SS: Yes! I was a mess, I went to the audition in a leotard! But they didn't do just hiphop, they did African, Modern, and Ballet - and they had each member choreograph in whatever style they brought to table. It was only 15 girls, very exclusive because they wanted each girl to be able to contribute their thing. I guess they felt I could contribute technique... and they saw potential in me as a hiphop dancer. The girls took me under their wings; a krumper from Atlanta, a Philly street party move dancer... I learned hiphop organically, direct from the source. It was amazing. I didn't realize how much it would help me. It was so organic and party-style, it helped me develop a personality when I dance, and get a groove on.
Suzy: Then you spent an academic year in Europe...
SS: Yes, I fell in love with it, I wanted to move to London to dance. But it's very difficult ... the money conversion alone was impossible, and getting a visa is not easy. I'd already lost so many years in college, I decided I should focus on the industry in America.
So, I lived at home for a while to save money. I commuted daily to Brooklyn, two hours each way to train with Rhapsody James... hitting rush hour both ways, and training 9am-6pm for 5 months. It was insanely hardcore. We were the walking dead. (Laughs) I signed with Bloc, but during training, I couldn't go on auditions. They had me on hold till I finished and they could get the ball rolling. They were great, they push for new clients to help build resumes. I was so proud; I booked the first audition I had for them with MTV Xbox.
Suzy: What was the audition like?
SS: 3 full days casting, one dancer at a time. They were auditioning for a krump dancer. I thought, "Oh gee, how am I gonna pull this off?!"
Suzy: Why do you think you booked it?
SS: It's funny, I got there early to be focused and committed, I planned to spend the whole day. And all day, they played this super ghetto bootleg hiphop song, it was so wild it was scary! (Laughs)I kept hearing this music play for one girl after another, Spanish, Black, Asian; every ethnicity but white girl. Finally I went in knowing I'm the only white girl... and they put on a Rihanna song!
SS: Yes! I got so mad! I used that anger in my dancing. I thought, "I have 20 seconds to make a choice. I can do what they're expecting - just be girly and sexy - or I can ignore the music and do what they said they wanted. So, I ignored the music, got wild, and prayed they'd dub the music when they showed the director. Afterwards I sat down and said "Oh my gosh, did I just krump to Rihanna?!"
Suzy: Stranger things have happened! You are exceptionally beautiful. Has that helped your career?
SS: It's so funny, I never thought of myself that way. This industry is crazy. It draws the silliest things to your attention because it's so superficial. But yes, it has helped me. I got into modeling through dance, and that helped my dancing. It made me very aware of shapes and lines. Being able to take a good picture is a skill you can use, especially now with social media networking. But in some ways, it hurts me. I love hiphop, I really work hard to dance in the hiphop industry. I have to laugh sometimes when I go into a room and feel people judge me - "She won't be able to do anything, she's a tall lanky white girl!" People see hiphop dancers as more of a grimy rough look. Yeah, it works against me there. In hiphop rehearsals, at times I'm dancing the exact same way as everyone around me, but I can't quite please the choreographer.
Suzy: So what do you do?
SS: I throw on a hat or less makeup to cultivate a look. The hat works, it draws attention away from my face. I don't want them to say "Look at that cute girl" when I'm trying to do a hiphop dance!
Suzy: What was your most embarrassing job?
SS: (Laughs ) Okay, I'll totally expose myself here. I opened for Beyoncé. We learned the entire routine in the hallway, we never even heard the song. The choreographer verbally told us the lyrics and made the bass beat by clapping. It was chaos! There was a really fast part, an 8 where we had to hit every single beat hard. I drilled in my head, when you hear these words, do these steps. We get on stage and start dancing. A third of the way through, I hear those words and my instinct kicks in, and I hit those 8 counts as fast and hard as humanly possible. Then I heard the same words again and realized they repeat. So I hit them twice. I thought everyone else onstage had messed up. But suddenly the dance is done and I remember the first round was supposed to be moving in slow motion! (Laughs) I was so committed, looking around at the other girls thinking they forgot.
Suzy: Like "This is so awful, it's like it's happening in slow motion!"
SS: (Laughs) Exactly. Afterwards I saw the choreographer as we walked down hallway. I hid behind the other girls. The only good thing is, I was in center so maybe it looked okay.
Suzy: I always say there are no mistakes, only unexpected solos.
Suzy: And my friend Kelly adds there is no falling, only unexpected floorwork. What are you working on right now?
SS: The Victoria's Secret fashion show with Selena Gomez. That was a crazy audition. There was one in LA and one in NY, both open calls. Everyone and their mother was there. They typecasted out, then 5 rounds of cuts, then 12 of us left standing out of maybe 300 in NY and 400 or 500 in LA. We did 2 combos, both Selena - one slower jazz funky heels, and the second very fast, salsa with quick footwork. He taught very quickly. He definitely wanted people who could pick up fast.
Suzy: That skill is SO important.
SS: You know, in NY, some auditions are a bit lax. But maybe that's just me being overly trained to pick up fast. When I work with the Brooklynettes, they're psycho, we learn full routines in an hour. So my brain is on steroids with picking up quickly. (Laughs) I need to calm down a bit.
Suzy: What qualities make you professional?
SS: Picking up quickly, always being on time, dressing appropriately... I know that sounds superficial, but when people hire you for a job, they expect you to look a certain way. People forget that, they think "I'm already hired, I can slack off and not care how I look." But it matters. Little things; replying to emails, being polite, saying thank you ... little things people take for granted go a long way.
Suzy: Name one trait that's helped you and one you've had to overcome.
SS: Persistence is my strongest trait, which is a nice word for stubborn. Overcome - I'm a perfectionist. I need to be less hard on myself. I think it's an artist thing; we're very good at stepping away and being our own worst critic when we assess ourselves. The problem is, dance can always be better; there's no such thing as the perfect dance performance. It can drive you crazy till you accept it will never be perfect. Sometimes I get in a perfectionist zone where I want to book every audition, and then I get there and I'm not what they're looking for. So it's back to reality.
Suzy: Have you had many rejections? And how do you deal?
SS: Oh my gosh, yeah! I can't tell you how many auditions I went on and failed. But I was used to failing from when I was little and my dance teachers kept telling me I sucked, so it's like just one more person saying it. I'm good at dealing with it, I came into the dance industry knowing I was gonna fail before I could succeed. I was, in a backwards way, blessed by my teachers' negativity. Rejection wasn't a big deal. I'd use it, like if I went to a ballet audition and did badly, well, maybe I should take more ballet. I try to treat it as a constructive thing.
Suzy: Has Suzy helped you in your career?
SS: At college in Delaware, far from NYC, I used Suzy to stay updated and in the loop with auditions. If I had off from class, or a vacation, I'd go to auditions to stay relevant. I used it for agency auditions, I made a profile... Suzy started me in putting myself out there on the internet and trying to gain a network.
Suzy: There are so many different ways to use A4D. How would you recommend using it to an entry level pro?
SS: They should definitely use Forum4Dancers, and get used to building a network online. Especially the newer generation. It's so different now; everything is online, social media. These younger dancers need to get used to filtering themselves online, and learn to keep their social media very professional.
Suzy: SO important.
SS: Yes, they need to understand the world is looking at you, and seeing what you're saying. On Twitter, I see people write crazy stuff; stuff that could get them fired. Use it for stuff that could get you hired! It's also good for them to use the access to see other dancers' pages, look at their work and understand what's out there. What are they up against; what works, what doesn't. And there are tons of great articles; kids don't take the time to read enough these days. If they read them, they'd learn so much more than they'd expect.
Suzy: Any regrets?
SS: Everything I've done so far has gotten me to where I am today. As long as I'm satisfied today I can have no regrets. You know, if you don't use it, you lose it. Every experience I've been through, I've tried to find a way to use it, even with fashion. I gave up fashion for dance, and one day I sat down and said "I have a college degree I'm not using!" I had to consciously decide how to use it. I realized I could mend the two together - dance + fashion = costume design. So, I met people on set, I did favors, putting out there I can sew, fixing a costume... the favors got bigger and bigger and one day, "Oh, I'm a costume designer!"
Suzy: What's your income ratio between dance and fashion?
SS: It's 50-50 in terms of the money I pull in. But in focus and energy, it's like 75% dance and 25% costuming. I need to put more time and energy into dance because I need to work for it, it doesn't come naturally to me like art does.
Suzy: Your body is ridiculous. Are you one of those blessed biatches, or do you work for it?
SS: (Laughs) My Dad is the tallest, skinniest man ever. He blessed me with being tall and skinny. I build muscle quickly, don't get mad at me but I go through phases where I try not to work out.
Suzy: I hate you.
SS: (Laughs) My arm and thigh muscles build bulky, so I have to watch it. But I'm pscyho on abs. I do 1 song's worth 3-5 minutes a day.
Suzy: Do you eat carefully?
SS: Yes, I go for balance. Everything in moderation. For dinner, 1 carb, 1 protein, 1 vegetable. I don't eat fried foods; thats big. But I'll admit it; I eat way too much candy.
Suzy: Okay final question. What's your advice for young dancers?
SS: Oh my gosh, I have so much. Honestly, just train as much as possible. What helped me most is this - the dance industry is super chaotic, so I needed to simplify the chaos. It's important to have very direct goals. Write them down and then work backwards. Say the Victoria's Secret show is my goal. Okay, start there - who choreographs for them, who dances in them, what classes do they take - figure out how to reach the goal and work in strategic and direct ways. The chaos is so easy to get lost in. You have to train your brain to see past chaos, and find things that make sense.
TOP TEN THINGS STEPHANIE DID TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS:
1 - Used every situation to observe and learn.
2 - Researched and strategized how to reach her job goals with simple steps.
3 - Didn't make the big move to NY till she had saved enough money.
4 - Commuted up to 4 hours a day to get the training she needed.
5 - Did not let rejection stop her; went into the biz prepared for it.
6 - Proactively took charge of her learning curve.
7 - Learned how to use her looks for the good, and how to minimize them when needed.
8 - Used hearing "No" as fuel.
9 - Understands professionalism and how little things matter.
10 - Took each rejection as a signpost of where she needed to improve.
TOP 3 CHALLENGES STEPHANIE HAD TO FACE:
Challenge #1: NEGATIVE DANCE MENTORS
Stephanie was often overlooked and criticized by teachers.
SOLUTION: Stephanie didn't let it stop her; she used their lack of belief in her as fuel to drive herself harder.
Challenge #2: TYPECASTING
Stephanie's look doesn't line up with her favorite style of dance.
SOLUTION: Stephanie stays aware of peoples' reactions, and adjusts her look as needed.
Challenge #3: CHAOS
Stephanie found the industry chaotic and all over the place.
SOLUTION: She breaks things down into manageable and strategic steps. She finds ways to distill the chaos into a simpler form she can work with.
5 QUICK FUN FACTS FOR STEPHANIE:
We gave Stephanie 15 seconds to answer each question. Ready? Go!
1 - What's in your dance bag right now?
SS: Kneepads, heels, lots of Advil, deodorant, lipstick always ... combs for my bangs and a sweatshirt.
2 - What was your last text?
SS: To my boyfriend about what's for dinner. Probably quesadillas!
3 - Most embarrassing costume?
SS: Being a flamenco dancing elf!
4 - What's your go-to power snack?
5 - Celebrity crush?
SS: Ummmm - I think Channing Tatum.
Okay, him we can break the 15 second rule for. You danced with him, is he as charming as he seems?
SS: Well, I saw him at 5 a.m. for the Today Show. But he was as charming as a man could be at 5 in the morning.
Stephanie has been a member of Answers4Dancers since 2010. And she is plugged in! You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, IMDB, TV.COM, Youtube, Vimeo, Danceplug, and of course, A4D. To see her website, click here.