Alek Paliński is Art in Motion | Inside Dance
BY ANASTASIA MILLER BURNS WITH CHRISTY SANDMAIER
From early beginnings in ballroom in Poland to being a principal dancer to the biggest stars in entertainment, Alek Paliński is carving a creative and inspiring career, setting his own trends and investing in the craft he loves. Inside Dance went in-depth with Alek on his incredible dance journey and words of advice to those pursuing a path transcending miles, studios, and the world’s biggest stages.
Let’s start from the top! Share a brief history of how dance became part of your life!
I’m originally from Poland, from a small town called Brzesko. I actually started seriously dancing pretty late, at least for American standards at age 15 years-old. I was shocked to find out that in America some dancers start at three years-old and it’s quite serious and focused. I always loved to dance in a social setting but never really knew that dance could be an actual career or a job. Growing up in Poland, there wasn’t a ton of dance on TV. It wasn’t that visible, until a friend of mine from school introduced me to ballroom dancing. She was training and competing in ballroom at the time, which was pretty much the only dance style that was popular. We still didn’t really have big conventions with jazz, contemporary, hip hop – all the different styles and competitions like you do in the States. She competed in ballroom for a few years and for whatever reason, lost her dance partner.
She asked me if I would be willing to come to one of her practices to see if I liked it. I stayed and I loved it, and the rest is history! I ended up competing in ballroom for probably three or four years, and that taught me a lot of discipline because ballroom training is very similar to ballet training, in the sense of drilling and learning the proper techniques.
You really achieved quite an amazing career growing up! Tell us a little more about your early journey to your debut on SYTYCD Poland!
[In ballroom] I felt like I was missing out being able to just be judged on my own talent and dance solo. So that’s why I started branching out. It was at the same time So You Think You Can Dance started in Poland. Having that show on TV showed me that there are different styles of dance you can pursue as a soloist.
We had Dancing with the Stars before then, but again, it was ballroom dance. So You Think You Can Dance promoted all the different styles, and we had all these dance schools pop up in smaller cities. That’s how I started personally training in different styles as well. From there, I always wanted to be a versatile dancer without even knowing how important that is in a career. I just wanted to learn everything and be equally as good in any style I could touch. It wasn’t until Season 5 of SYTYCD in Poland that I got on the show. I made it to the boot camp part when they go to a different country for a week and each season would have a different destination. My season went to Tel Aviv in Israel. They also bring one star choreographer, typically from the United States that week. My season had Travis Payne. We started live shows with the Top 14 contestants.
When I got on the show, I truly couldn’t believe it! We had this special voting on the first live show where they selected the favorite duet of the night – instead of eliminating a person, viewers vote on a favorite duet. I won that award with one of my partners in that episode, and then I made it to the top three male dancers, which was further than I ever thought I could. That started my professional career back home because I got on all these actual professional jobs as a dancer behind artists in Poland and festivals and TV shows.
When did you know you were ready for the next step… moving to the United States?
Because the industry back home is so small, once you start working as a dancer, there’s maybe two or three choreographers that do everything in the industry. After year two and three, I realized that it was becoming repetitive. It’s almost like you start going backwards in your growth because there’s no challenge. And in the meantime, I had gone to LA to train in 2009 and again in 2012 and 2013. I then moved in 2015!
Being exposed to everything that America had to offer in dance was just so inspiring that I started feeling like I had a choice. It was either staying comfortable and keeping the career that I had in Poland… or make a move. At the time, no one in Poland had tried to get a work visa as a dancer. I was the first dancer, at least that I’m aware of and from my generation, that qualified and received that work visa. To this day, I have a lot of dancers from Poland asking for my advice about the process. Now, there’s a few more of us in LA. But back then I was the first!
Tell us about major moments in time, career-wise, that happened in those first early years in LA…
My very first dance job when I got to LA – I auditioned for Denna Thomsen, who is an amazing choreographer and inspiration and a great friend to this day – she gave me my very first job in LA. It was a TV commercial for Jockey India – dancers in different settings waking up, starting their day in a choreographed way. I was one of the four stories. It was a fun and a challenging experience. I additionally got asked to do a photo shoot for the brand to be on billboards. And so then I received all these photos of billboards in India with this photo of me in Jockey Apparel. I moved to America and now I’m on billboards in India? It’s crazy! It showed me I made the right choice.
I was lucky to be able to book fairly quickly. And also, being there on a dance artist visa, we’re limited to specifically working in dance. At the beginning of 2016, [I had my] my first audition for Dita Von Teese, and it was with Fatima Robinson and Adrian Wiltshire.
I signed as an artist with MSA Agency from the beginning. I’ve been through thick and thin with them. We’ve really grown close, and I’m super grateful for them.
“Alek Paliński has played an integral role in the production of my touring shows for several years now, stepping into new challenges effortlessly. He effectively translates the vintage style dance I love, but brings a modern twist to each piece. I am so fortunate to have found him, and look forward to creating more with him this year and beyond.”Dita Von Teese
You have experienced so much with both domestic and international artists across the world. Tell us what you’ve been up to most recently!
I think the most recent and noteworthy is Karol G, who is a reggaeton singer. I started working with her very unexpectedly last year. They wanted to add an extra dancer and I had to learn the entire show in one day. I learned 10 dance numbers basically from rehearsal videos and in a locker room with the choreographer and then performed it that night. It was probably the biggest test, like a skill test in my career so far as a dancer. Great experience! That first tour we did was actually the highest grossing tour by a Latina artist in history. We have since done Latin Grammys and a stadium show in Puerto Rico earlier in March this year with her new album. So it’s definitely a great new relationship I’m enjoying!
Other artists include, Jesse J on The Voice, Pharrell, Kehlani, Celine Dion, Finneas, One Republic and Christian Louboutin… just to name a few!
Working with Dita Von Teese has been great because it’s been consistent and she takes breaks in between her tours, so I still have a lot of time to do other things. That desire to be proficient in as many styles as possible translates in my resume. When I look at who I’ve worked with, I can go from Dita’s team to JaQuel Knight on my resume. I feel like I’ve achieved some sort of level of versatility that I always dreamt of.
You have found an incredible balance of being a professional performer while also succeeding in creative directing and choreography. How do you make it all work?!
I think what helped me to start was that I was able to do both or multiple things within the same project, specifically for Dita Von Teese. I had this opportunity to exercise all these talents within the same schedule, within the same rehearsals. Having someone who trusts you on so many levels is great because you can have multiple responsibilities. I always think about Nick Demoura, who started dancing for Justin Bieber and then became a choreographer, and now he does not only choreography and creative direction, but also stage design.
I’ve always wanted to be this Renaissance Man who can do anything! I love photography, I love painting, I love art, and yes… I want to do it all!
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?!
I want to continue pushing myself as an artist and really continue becoming this multifaceted Renaissance Man that can create all these different things. When I think of people who have a Tony Award, an Emmy Award, an Oscar, and a Grammy, they have the whole package. It’s so inspiring to me because if you can do it all, why not?! I definitely want to pursue acting further. It’s something that definitely helped my dancing and my performance level. I would love to have my own creative team at some point that’s a well-oiled machine. I think in 10 years, it could happen.
With everything you’ve accomplished and the legacy you’re creating, can you share a motto or mantra that you live by?
Find what makes you unique and make it your superpower. Meaning really invest in it and develop it. I would say, why chase the trends if you can be the trendsetter? Then… you can make everybody love what’s comfortable and unique to YOU, and make that the next cool thing.