Where Are They Now? Presented by Star Dance Alliance
By Christy Sandmaier
In this first installment of a brand new series for Inside Dance, we turn the spotlight up on a roster of phenomenal dancers who grew up dancing on Star Dance Alliance’s (SDA) competition stages! First up, we check in with twins Courtney and Caitlin Sullivan, also known across all channels as the Sullivan Twins, who have taken all of the incredible memories and learning moments from their time spent on the competition circuit and dancing in college, and branded them into a positive platform showcasing not only their incredible dancing talent, but their extraordinary authenticity as people.
Tell us about your background and your progression into joining the competition circuit with Star Dance Alliance!
Courtney: We grew up dancing at Studio L Dance Company in Waldwick, New Jersey, where we started dancing when we were three years-old, all the way through age 18 when we graduated high school. We started competing at Star Dance Alliance when we were five! Going to Starpower Nationals every single year – we started duets when we were six – was something really special for us. Dancing duets was something down the line we became known for and something Starpower really recognized us for. It was super special to go there every year.
Caitlin: Starpower was for sure, like Courtney said, home for us. Our studio went every year. It’s what we all looked forward to, and we loved that. There were so many people there that we knew from the start, all the way through us graduating. Those pictures of us with Chuck our senior year were just so special! And just seeing Gary and Grace and Chuck, Rodney, Henry, like, all the same faces throughout the years, it was really special! So it felt very familiar every year going back, and I feel like that’s pretty rare.
What were some of your greatest memories from that time?
Courtney: I think a real stand out throughout the years was at Battle Of The Stars. I feel like I can’t forget it. I can still hear the music from awards! It was iconic. It’s such a walk down memory lane for us! And to have done it together, really shaped our dancing as young dancers all the way through. The fact that we’re still dancing today as a partnership and as a duo speaks volumes to how Starpower and Star Dance Alliance really shaped who we are now as adults.
Caitlin: Realizing how much of an impact we can have being together as twins and sisters on stage and just in dance in general, was really shaped growing up. We realized over time we always had solos and we would compete, but we loved our duets the most and we loved our small groups and big group dances, and that definitely shaped how we wanted to move into college. We went to Rutgers and we were on the dance team there and we just knew we wanted to be in a team group setting and be together, too.
How important was it for both of you to continue dancing in college and go that route as opposed to just heading out to LA to try and “make it” for example?
Courtney: It was so important to us that we didn’t even think twice about it! It was just natural, we’re going to dance in college. But I absolutely understand that unknown feeling of, what about after that? Or, where do I go from there? It gave us comfort knowing there was a team we could join, an organization that would help further our education and the foundation we had already created. Being from New Jersey, having New York City right there in our backyard, growing up with that, I think we just always knew there were opportunities to come home to. Now living in The City, we’re living it. We are the youngest of six kids. We have so many things tying us here that I just love now. It makes us so happy that we, one, live in New York City, but two, we’re dancing.
Caitlin: Because our experience with competitions growing up was so positive, that definitely shaped our decision to go to Rutgers and be on a dance team. We definitely explored the difference between dance programs and dance teams, where you can compete with a group, and because we just loved the competition aspect and being on a team and working towards a goal, that definitely shaped our decision. We love the decision we made, and it was just another form of the studio aspect, growing up and competing. It was just a whole different world in college, but also felt so close to home doing the same kind of competitive dance, which I definitely loved.
Tell me a little more about dancing as twins! Do you feel like you have sixth sense when training technique and during your performances?
Caitlin: It’s definitely in the genes a little bit and in our training. We’re lucky to have had really great teachers growing up, so we do have that technique, background and foundation. And it’s funny, we tell people when we’re choreographing and coming up with these technical sequences, we’re often not speaking, which is so funny, but we feel like we talk to each other through our minds. We’d definitely say twin telepathy is real, and we often will finish each other’s moves. It feels very much like one mind! I think it’s a little bit of the training and technical background mixed with the genes and just knowing, I just feel like I could predict what Courtney’s next step is and I could finish that step for her.
Courtney: Dancing in sync, we sometimes joke like we couldn’t dance differently if we tried. And I think like Caitlin was saying, with duets, we’ve had props where things got messed up on stage, where in a split second you need to make a decision. Thankfully, we are always on the same wavelength and it’s very easy to be like, ‘okay, we’re skipping this part or we’re moving on to this.’
Caitlin: That actually happened at competition! When we were in high school, we had a huge bed as a prop in our duet and the bed got stuck in a divot in the stage and the bed needed to be in the center and we couldn’t get it there. We ended up improvising the rest of the duet and we literally said no words to each other. We skipped an entire turn section and we just both knew to skip the whole turn section and we improv and it just worked fantastic!
Was there ever a time for either one of you where it was too difficult or too challenging, and one or the other of you was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore’? How did you overcome that?
Courtney: This might not be exactly what you’re looking for, but it just reminded me! We did World Dance Pageant the first year. It was crazy! The question I got in my interview with the judges – it was actually what I wrote my college essay on – they asked me right off the bat, ‘who would you rather see win, you or your twin sister?’ I think I had just turned 15 at the time and I think they could see the discomfort in me. I felt like no answer was correct, and I was like, ‘I just feel like I could never put myself up against my sister and I would be happy either way. And I know I feel like I should advocate for myself as a winner, but it just is something that I can’t go head to head with Caitlin on, and I can’t say one way or the other.’
I think that’s something where being twins was super unique for us. We see each other as equals. As we’re doing it together and as long as we’re making decisions together, we’re happy. Obviously in a competition, it’s a high pressure environment and people are going to pin you against each other. I feel like Starpower never made us feel like one was better than the other.
How do you think all of the different experiences that you had working with different teachers at different competitions benefited you in getting you where you are today?
Courtney: We went to, I would say, four or five regionals every year, and then Starpower Nationals. Experiencing different teachers will always help you as a dancer. I think what has benefited us now is being on social media and having our own name on a platform. When we connect with teachers and even if they don’t remember us, it’s amazing to be like, ‘I took your class when I was 13 or 14, and it’s so cool to connect with you now as an adult’ but then also finding a consistency, like going to Starpower every single year, I think that was really comforting. When you find something you love and you feel like it’s home, it gives you a sense of confidence every time you walk through those doors. That’s why going to Starpower for years really made us feel like confident, successful dancers by the end of our competition journey.
Caitlin: I would say it’s all about balance there. What Courtney is saying, having that strong studio background with those ties to your teachers who really shaped you as a dancer, is so important and something we’re so lucky to have. But then also having those experiences, going to conventions, making those connections with teachers, is amazing down the line when you can reconnect or stay in contact. Now with social media, it’s so prevalent.
I love what you’re doing with your platform, you’re staying true to who you are and what you believe. Obviously, there’s a tendency to just put whatever content out there to get followers… What you’re doing is a great example for younger kids to maybe look at social media a little bit differently and have a purpose behind the content…
Caitlin: That’s definitely hitting the nail on the head with how important it was for us to be authentic. Definitely during pandemic,it was very popular to be doing these short form TikTok dances, which are so fun, but it wasn’t something we were jumping into. We’re so passionate about the dancing that we do. We felt like we had something completely different to share, and I’m glad we’ve stayed true to that. Since the two years when we started the account, we still are posting what we find as an art form, more so than these short, fun TikTok dances, which is great because it keeps us very much in shape with our technique, too. We just love it and we’re even more passionate about it. But that’s something that came from our foundation.
Tell me about some current projects that you’re working on!
Courtney: Since we’ve taken off with the social media business, it has opened a lot of doors to partnering with different brands and different clothing lines for their campaigns. We’ve done some big campaigns with brands we personally really love, like Abercrombie and Keels. We just did a shoot with Dynamite. Dynamite is also owned by the same company as Garage, which was our favorite clothing line in high school! So we were really excited to do this. The Dynamite shoot we just did, that just went live in January, was a campaign that was fully shaped around the two of us, which was very cool and special to do. They really leaned into our synchronicity and the way our bodies move. We felt very proud of that campaign because it was something completely shaped around us and recognized us as dancers, as a partnership.
Caitlin: The Dynamite campaign along with others that we’ve done, just shows how something as small as posting a video of us on Instagram or TikTok could shape this new career that we couldn’t have predicted coming out of college. It truly is just staying genuine to who we are as a duo, as twins and as dancers. Seeing now over the last two years how people appreciate that art, I think the more we work with other companies, the more it shows dancers there are opportunities that we couldn’t have even predicted before.
Courtney: I feel like it’s so important for people to know how much work went into our technique and our dance training for all those years. You don’t want to put in so much time and effort as every dancer does growing up and then just walk away from it. One big goal of ours is to be Rockettes one day! It would just be amazing one day to say not only are we synchronous as twins, but we can do it with a line of ladies who all have the same long legs, and we can all do it together. So it would be cool to really take our uniqueness and then apply it to a new organization or a new team!
Any last pieces of advice for the next generation of dancers coming through the competition circuit?
Caitlin: I think that one thing that kind of jogged my memory is that social media in general can sometimes be like a scary place, can sometimes be harmful. Coming from two people who are living it, who have made a career out of it, we have been really fortunate to see there is an extremely warm and welcoming dance community on both Instagram and TikTok where most of our content lives. Every single piece of support we’ve received over the last two years that we’ve been doing it, has been so positive and has pushed us to keep going. And I think something that really stands out to us, is we can get a million different comments, but we always remember the people who shaped our youth and the ones we knew from our studio, Starpower and competition days.
Courtney: It means so much to us and it just makes us feel like, well, if I could go back ten years and look at myself now, I’d be like, I’m thrilled, I’m so happy. I can’t believe all these people who knew us back then are still supporting us now. And like Caitlin was saying to me earlier, it’s cool when we see comments from people who are like, ‘I remember competing with you guys.’ ‘I remember this duet.’ If we post a video of an old competition video, that’s been the coolest thing to reconnect with people there.
Find Us! @thesullivan_twins
Inside Dance has an advertising and promotional partnership with Star Dance Alliance.
Photos courtesy of Courtney and Caitlin Sullivan; Star Dance Alliance/Starpower; Justin Patterson