In a dance studio in Dallas, Texas a crowd of teenagers fill a room, and hip-hop music blares. Right in the middle of the room of dancers, Teresa Espinosa shouts just as loud: “Listen to the music; know the beat; don’t think it, feel it!” Espinosa’s signature red hair is the first thing you notice on this petite woman. But when she dances, all you see is her raw talent.
We caught up with Espinosa during a pit stop in Dallas, where she grew up. On this day she’s teaching two classes: one to a group of teenagers, some of whom hope to become professional dancers, the other to adults who have taken up dancing as a hobby.
The students can’t take their eyes off Espinosa as she goes into her freestyle hip-hop moves. What many of her students may not know is that Espinosa is one of the most sought-out choreographers working today, and has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business.
Her resume is the who’s who of music megastars: Prince, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Missy Elliott, and Selena Gomez. She’s either danced in or choreographed their performances, or both. She even works on movies. This past summer she helped choreograph some of the actors in the movie Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey as male strippers.
THE BIG BREAK
Espinosa grew up listening and dancing to Madonna and Michael Jackson. She remembers practicing her dance moves in her bedroom. “My parents encouraged me to follow my dream. I just knew dance is what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from a performing arts high school in Dallas, Espinosa headed to The California Institute of the Arts on a scholarship. Once she got her degree, she started looking for work. Espinosa credits Janet Jackson for giving her a big break in the business, when she hired her as a dancer for her Velvet Rope World Tour. Espinosa was fairly new in the business and says Jackson taught lessons that have helped her in career. “Dance-wise, (she taught me) how to become a better dancer and performer, and that you also have your good and bad days. Most of all you can’t take things personally.”
Espinosa traveled around the world with Jackson, and her choreography contributions to Jackson’s HBO Velvet Tour special got her nominated for an Emmy award.
BRITNEY, PINK & MILEY
Espinosa’s unique dance style of fusing formal dance training with hip-hop got the attention of Britney Spears. In 2004, she choreographed and danced on Britney’s Onyx Hotel Tour. The two had a good relationship off and on the stage. Espinosa felt like a big sister to Britney and was protective of her. “I cared about Britney; I wanted to be a good example for her, to be someone stable and not a ‘yes’ person.”
Espinosa introduced the pop star to dancer Kevin Federline in 2004. The couple’s relationship made headlines, from beginning to end. They were married for two years and had two children together before getting a divorce. She has no regrets bringing Spears and Federline together. “I remember she was happy at the time, and I was happy for her.”
Pink was also a big influence on Espinosa. While choreographing and dancing on Pink’s I’m Not Dead Promo tour, she learned a lot from just observing the singer. “Pink, I’m in awe of her talent. The personality she has on stage is the same as when she’s off the stage.”
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Miley Cyrus was only 13-years-old when Espinosa was hired to be her choreographer. “She was bubbly, witty and fun to be around.” At the time, Cyrus was the star on her hit show Hannah Montana. Espinosa choreographed and danced in The Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert. “I always wanted to be a good influence on Miley, and keep it real with her, because she had a lot of ‘yes’ people around her.” After three years with Cyrus, the two parted ways in 2009.
FINDING POWER IN DANCE
When Espinosa is not on tour with a performer, she splits her time between teaching dance and performing with her break-dancing group The Beat Freaks. She and eight friends, all professional dancers, formed the group in 2003. But it wasn’t until they appeared on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew that they got international attention. After landing in the runner-up spot, they were offered commercials and dates to perform in different parts of the world. Today they continue to perform and recently put out another video on YouTube.
Now in her late 30’s, Espinosa aims to teach everyone that anyone can dance. Back at the Dallas dance studio, she tells her class, “Dancing is not about thinking, it’s about feeling. When you connect with your body, your skill, the more rewards you get. That’s power.”