Dancing is hard. Not everyone can truly impress on the dance floor, let alone on national television, but Riquel Olander can. She was a member of the first and only all female crew to win America's Best Dance Crew on MTV. But besides being a professional dancer, she is also a choreographer, a dance competition judge, a businesswoman and one of our favorite Ellie influencers!
We got a chance to chat with Riquel and find out a little bit more about her everyday life, as well as her personal journey with dance. Riquel has worked very hard to get where she is, including losing a whopping 50 pounds! She graciously shared her tips and tricks with us for getting and staying in shape. Read on to get inspired!
Riquel wearing the Ellie December Collection. Love this look? Shop it now!
Are you a professional dancer? If so, how do you make it work?
I am a professional dancer and I have multiple jobs. I am very business oriented and career driven. I work alot and I work hard but I also weigh out my priorities and stick to the commitments I make! I make it work by being very organized and going after my greatest passions while being smart and realistic about budget and money.
What are your other jobs? Tell us a little more about an average day in your life!
Besides dancing, I work for the Emmys! We pretty much do all the behind-the-scenes stuff for the Emmy Awards, but the best part is the actual Emmy day, because I get to give the trophies backstage! What they win on stage is a prop, and when they go backstage they win their actual trophy, and I get to give it to them! So, that’s obviously not the “everyday,” but that’s what makes the everyday worth it.
I also choreograph different things, like surprise performances for wedding guests or working with a lot of the artists Randy Jackson signs. Some of them are past American Idol contestants and some of them are just new, upcoming artists. I also judge competitions. And that’s one of my favorites! Mostly because it’s kind of no pressure but it also feels really beneficial to be passing on knowledge and skills. I judge for Hip Hop International and World of Dance, which is really exciting, because it goes all over the country. Then last year, World of Dance was licensed into the TV show that starred J. Lo on NBC, which is really exciting because though I only judge the tour, it helped the tour really grow!
What got you started in dancing and what kind of dancing did you train in?
My mother started my sisters and I with belly dancing when we were really young. After that, I learned to dance at a studio in Idaho, where I grew up, that offered tap and jazz. They called it “hip hop” back then, but it was definitely not hip hop, I call it like “cheerleader pop!” So I pretty much did that growing up -- tap was my strongest, then belly dance and jazz.
I actually quit dance my senior year in high school because I felt I learned all it had to offer. There is not a lot of education or opportunities with dance in Idaho, so I started playing sports instead. But, my older sister had moved to Los Angeles to pursue dance and after visiting her there, I could not rest my mind knowing the opportunities L.A. had to offer.
What made you finally move to L.A.?
I always loved dance, a lot, but like I said, in Idaho there was only so much to offer. Once I was in high school it started to feel very redundant and I didn’t feel like I was growing at all. Then, I went to college for a semester, because everybody says that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I really missed dance and was just miserable! So I skipped that -- and that’s when I moved to L.A. It was mostly just knowing that my sister was in L.A. and that she had discovered the dance world out here and it really gave me the push I needed. But once I was out here, I stayed in class and went to as many practices as I could.
What has been your proudest moment and/or greatest accomplishment?
Being the first and only ALL female crew to ever win Randy Jackson presents America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV!
Congrats! How long were you in Los Angeles before you tried out for America’s Best Dance Crew?
I moved here when I was 18, I think that was like 2006, and in 2009 we were doing a performance and the lady that casts America’s Best Dance Crew was actually there and she asked us to audition! So it was 3 years of hustling and struggling and nothing happening -- I mean, not nothing, obviously I was training and getting better, but no successful auditions or anything until 3 years in!
Were you in the same dance crew for those 3 years? What’s it called?
The crew is called “We Are Heroes” and no, we didn’t even consider ourselves a “crew!” We had just got together for this one dance performance and were asked to audition. So we did, and MTV loved us! We thought we made the TV show, but then it turned out two of the girls didn’t have a work visa so they couldn’t do it. We were pretty bummed, but then they called us a month before our season started and they were like “Can you find two new girls and re-audition? We still want you!”
At that time, I had already taken so much time off my regular Emmy job so I thought I couldn’t, but one of the girls took over and taught the new girls the choreography. So I literally met two of the girls in my crew at the audition! I really think that’s part of the reason that we won, because when we started we were all just totally unknown, individual dancers that became a crew to win the show.
What did you win when you won America’s Best Dance Crew?
Well, obviously the pride! A trophy, and the winning prize was $100,000 which was exciting because we were the smallest crew to ever win so technically, we won the most money out of anyone that’s ever done that show! Of course, you get taxed, but it was still the biggest check I’ve ever gotten in my life and probably one of the best days of my life!
What do you love most about dancing?
I love the freedom it inspires. Everyone moves different and looks different when they move -- it is so authentic.
Do you dance everyday?
Of course I do! Whether it’s in the shower or around my house, or for my puppies - they get a show all the time whether they like it or not! As far as gigs, after winning America’s Best Dance Crew and then having all these other jobs come into play, I’ve really let career takeover. It’s okay though, because dancing has always come from the heart for me anyway, but I really would love to get back into training!
What inspires you to move?
I really think there’s no wrong way to move! A lot of times in life, we are told how to do things and how we’re supposed to look, and I truly believe when we’re moving we have the freedom to move our bodies the way that feels good to us -- whether that be dancing or pilates or whatever workout you do. I think our bodies were made to move and even for people that don’t have certain limbs or other struggles, there is always a way to workout one part of your body even if one is failing you.
Do you have any tips and tricks for staying on track with your diet?
I used to be 50 pounds heavier andI was very unhappy. The biggest change occurred when I changed my eating. I tried so many different diets, like having one cheat day a week or a soup only diet. I’d see a tiny bit of improvement but then it’d fail. Then I discovered that really, moderation and balance is key! I’m just very cautious of what I am having and balancing that out with working out. I still have cheeseburgers very regularly and I don’t drink alcohol, I’ve never had coffee, but sugar is my weakness -- I love cookies and brownies. My main trick for eating is awareness -- so if I had a cheeseburger and cookies today, then tomorrow I need to have just egg whites and a salad and be very cautious of not letting it become a habit. Usually when I’m working out I tend to crave healthier stuff anyways so it kind of comes full circle.
What’s a typical workout week like for you?
I always, always love cardio, it makes me feel so good! But I don’t necessarily love the way my body looks when I’m just doing cardio. I always try to get in weights or something that uses strength as well so I’m more toned rather than just lean. Cardio-wise, I love mixing it up because I hate feeling like my stamina is lacking. When I was playing different sports and dancing, I realized I could dance for hours and hours but then I’d go to swim 10 laps and be breathing super heavy! That’s why I really love to change it up because I want to be able to do multiple forms of movement. My favorites are hiking, riding a bike and running, because that’s when I feel the best. I’m not a runner, but I have seen myself grow-- even running a mile was a huge accomplishment when I first started doing it. I also love, love, love yoga, just because it stretches you out and you feel a lot more loose and yeah - yoga is bomb!
Tips to stay on track through the holidays?
I think “moderation is key” comes into play here. I totally think that you should indulge if you’re having a family gathering and just enjoy that and not worry, but then I think the next day you should do an extra workout or eat super healthy. That’s kind of my trick - if you’re doing bad, then fix it the next time, but don’t feel guilty about it one time, and just don’t let it become a habit.
Favorite quote to live by?
Ooh, that’s a really good question! This isn’t really a quote, but my motto I live by is “Dream, believe, achieve.”
Thanks Riquel for taking the time to speak with us! Make sure you follow her on her Instagram, @riquelolander.