By Ashlee Buhler
From dancing on stage with Mariah Carey, to performing on Broadway, appearing in an award-winning film, and being cast on a reality TV show—all before her 16th birthday—you could say GiaNina Paolantonio was destined to be in the spotlight. When looking at her resume, there isn’t much GiaNina hasn’t done in her young career. Her experience has exceeded expectations for her age, yet she still has a lofty list of goals she wants to achieve by the time she reaches adulthood.
The ultimate dream is to perform as a backup dancer for somebody she idolizes, like J.Lo, but with experience in singing and acting as well, GiaNina has the talent to take her career in whatever direction her heart desires. She’s somewhat of a jack of all trades in a world of endless possibilities.
Over the years she has documented her daily life and shared her passion with millions of her fans on social media. The growing collection of moments has been coined “GiaNina’s Journey” on YouTube and Instagram and is truly representative of just how far she has come. It’s been quite the journey, but she’s not done yet.
Whether she’s a backup dancer or the headliner, no matter where life takes GiaNina, she will surely end up right where she belongs: front and center.
Inside Dance spoke with GiaNina in June about her journey so far: from Broadway, to Dance Moms, to what’s next!
How did you get started in dance?
My mom was a dance teacher her whole life, so I didn’t really have much of a choice, I was kind of born into it! I think when I was four or five, I started catching onto things that kids my age normally wouldn’t catch on to. My mom was like, ‘I think she has something special here.’ Ever since that day they have documented my journey with “GiaNina’s Journey” and that’s how it all got started.
You started performing professionally at a very young age and made your Broadway debut in Matilda at the age of nine. How did that opportunity come about?
We like to say I went from the couch to Broadway! I wasn’t much of a singer; I could just carry a tune. I had never had experience with acting. I was just a very competitive dancer who loved what I did. I went to an open call audition that my mom actually found, and I think four call backs later I booked it! That was pretty much my first job ever and it was crazy in the moment because we had no idea what we were doing!
You were so young! Did you feel nervous at all?
Not about the performing part, I was just nervous because I didn’t know how much we were going to learn. We learned the whole two-hour show in six weeks. I wasn’t necessarily scared about picking (the choreography) up, I was more worried about (working with) new people and singing and dancing all at the same time. I was afraid I was going to disappoint the audience if I messed up, but honestly it was so fun. It felt like I was in a movie! I was so used to performing and picking up choreography that I didn’t worry about it, I just had fun!
You also appeared in The Greatest Showman as a ballerina, which is a pretty big deal! Tell us about that experience.
Honestly, once again my mom found the audition and was like, ‘I’m just going to send it in.’ And I booked it! She’s the best “momager” ever! We ended up filming in the worst blizzard ever. Every day we filmed there was a blizzard and there was one time it took us four hours to get to the shoot along with everyone else. But I was on pointe one day for seven hours straight and I got to meet Hugh Jackman! We saw the Zac Efron and Zendaya scene—it was so fun!
How did Dance Moms come about? Was that a show that you watched growing up?
I actually watched AUDC (Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition) before Dance Mom’s was even a thing. I watched it with my mom because she was a dance teacher at the time and she was like, ‘This is going to be such a good show, we should watch it together.’ So we did, every single Tuesday at 7pm. We were always like, ‘We want to be on that show someday,’ but never actually thought it was going to happen. The summer of 2018 was my first summer in LA and one of the choreographers on the show was Gianna Martello – I had taken a class from her prior and I loved her. I guess there was a casting that none of us knew about except for her and the producers. So, she reached out to me and was like, ‘I’m going to submit you for the show. You should Skype with them and maybe you can be on the show for season 8.’ Of course, we were like, ‘Yes. This is our dream!’ Ever since that day she reached out to us, we did like three Skype chats an in-person audition, a few phone calls, and a few months later the show started filming.
Talk about the process of filming the show. How many hours of the day were you filming?
We filmed every single day; we were supposed to have a day or two off, but it never ended up being like that. We didn’t have enough time for everything, so we would have to work over hours to get our stuff together. We had school for a certain number of hours every day so we could be on camera. The Pyramid could be as long as four hours!
They make it look like a 30-minute process!
Oh no! It’s like four hours of people screaming at each other and kids crying. The show was honestly the most stressful thing I did in my whole entire life. I’m forever grateful for it though because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, and I learned a lot from it.
How much time did you have to learn the dances?
We had a maximum of two hours to learn each dance. And with the costumes and everything—nothing was planned! Everything was last minute. What it looks like on the show is exactly what it’s like in person—it’s not sugar coated at all.
Do you have a favorite moment from being on the show?
My favorite moment from the show that you guys got to see was when I did my Snowflake solo. It was snowing and obviously it wasn’t planned, but nobody knew the backstory to that. I never told anyone, just my family and I knew. But when it snows it means my grandma is there and the dance was about my grandma—and I won!
What about a challenge from being on the show?
Probably trying to stand up for myself all the time. I was one of the only kids on the show who had the courage to do so. When I would stand up for myself, everyone would call me a brat or say I’m too cocky, but honestly, for anyone who sees this, always stand up for yourself and never ever let anyone try to get in your way or step on you to get ahead. That’s how it is nowadays and that’s what people try to do. You have to stand up for yourself and tell your side of the story.
You have been in a bunch of music videos, commercials, and TV shows. What is the coolest experience you have had because of dance?
There is two: One commercial I did was for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and I loved it because I have a sweet tooth and when we were filming, every take had to be a new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I had like 50 Reese’s that day and I didn’t even like them at the time, but after filming I loved them! Also going on tour with Mariah Carey from Las Vegas to New York—insane! I cannot believe to this day that I danced for a legend when I was like 12. It’s crazy to me that that even happened, especially around my favorite time which is Christmas!
What is your favorite style of dance?
Definitely hip hop for me. It’s hard to choose between hip hop and lyrical and it’s been that way for years and years. I was never super great at hip hop in the beginning, but I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the past five years, and it’s become my favorite. Lyrical will always have a special place in my heart because it was my go-to thing when I was eight or nine. To this day it brings me so much joy because it brings me back to when I was a competition dancer.
Is there a style of dance that you have never tried but want to?
I’ve always wanted to be really good at ballroom because I just love it, but I have never trained in it. I hope one day I can train in it with Lacey Schwimmer or something. That would be really fun!
Who are some people who inspire you?
Everyone in my family has inspired me—like crazy inspired me for years and years and years. If I had to pick someone who has the same career path as what I hope to do, it would be J. Lo. It’s been that way for years. She started out the same as I did; I was just a dancer and then went to singing and acting and dancing. I hope to lead in the same path as her someday, because she’s a true inspiration to me and my family.
You are a busy young lady, what is your dance schedule currently like?
I just do it here and there since I’m not at a studio because I’m always traveling. But in LA everything finally opened up so I can finally take classes again! There is one class that I take every single week and that’s Dexter Carr and I look forward to it every single night.
What do you like to do when you’re not dancing?
I love making bracelets out of beads and string. I find that so fun, especially for summer. Plus, it’s a trend right now, so that’s really fun, along with making Tik Tok’s and putting myself on the internet like that. I also love the beach and the pool a lot.
What are your long-term goals or hopes? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
That’s a hard question! Honestly, I don’t know. My career can go many different ways. I went more of the singing path this year because dance was not available for the last year in person. So, I love singing and I’m hoping to continue that. I’m putting out a song soon, so hopefully being a singer and going on tour. That would be so fun! Just performing in general is really fun for me. Even going on tour and being J.Lo’s back up dancer—would love to do that in my 18 to 20 range. That is a goal for me, but I also want to be the artist. I have a million different goals so whatever life throws at me I will be glad to take.
What advice would you give to young dancers out there who want to go down the path you have and do some of the things you’ve done?
My advice is that this industry that y’all are stepping in is so crazy. I’ve learned over the years—and I’m only 16 and have so much to learn—but I’m warning you now, its crazy. I want you to always keep your head up and you have to have a support system behind you because I could never do it by myself.
What about audition advice specifically, because you’ve been to a few of those in your days! That’s a very stressful thing for dancers, so what advice would you give to people who are going into auditions?
Stand front and center! Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, stand front and center, only because your personality shows. I once got picked for something just because I was personality wise (what they were looking for), not because I knew what I was doing. Stand front and center, show them yourself. Your vibe needs to be the way you dress and if you have a signature hairstyle or something like I did when I was little, I had two little buns, always wear them because people will be like ‘Oh that was the girl with the two buns’ or ‘that was the girl with the yellow bow she always wears.’ Have a signature statement that people will remember you like that. My name, GiaNina, is not always easy to remember and not always easy to say, so if you have a signature statement like that, it will definitely help you out because it helped me out a lot.
Photos courtesy of GiaNina Paolantonio
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