Success Talk: Chloé Arnold
Emmy-nominated Choreographer & Tap Dancer
Alexis Rai interviews Chloé Arnold about her career dreams coming true and the amount of work and dedication that goes into being a dancer, entrepreneur, shoe designer, and more!
International tap star and choreographer Chloé Arnold was discovered at a young age in Washington, DC by the legendary Debbie Allen. A leading lady of tap, Chloé has performed on stages around the globe and her choreography has been featured on hit television shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Good Morning America, The Talk, The Late Late Show With James Corden and national commercials for Special K, Macy’s, GAP and CANTU.
Chloé’s tap dance company Syncopated Ladies, are widely known for viral videos that have accumulated over 50 million views. The most successful being their tribute to Prince and their cover of Beyoncé’s Formation, which Beyoncé shared on all of her social media and then hired Chloé and the Syncopated Ladies to perform at her Ivy Park active wear clothing line launch at TopShop, London. Chloé along with her company performed live on ABC's Good Morning America and have had sold-out concerts in Los Angeles, Dubai, New York City and Washington, DC, receiving rave reviews in The New York Times and more.
Chloé is also an entrepreneur that holds a degree from Columbia University. She and her sister co-founded Chloé and Maud Productions, DC Tap Festival, and co-produced the award-winning documentary TAP WORLD with Hollywood Executive Producer Dean Hargrove.
Other career highlights include winning So You Think You Can Dance: Battle of the Crews (season 11), HBO’s The Comeback, recurring role as an Onyx Girl on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, guest performing on America's Got Talent and Dancing With The Stars, a sold-out NY run of her One Woman show My Life. My Diary. My Dance. at La MaMa in New York City, Global Fusion Concert in Dubai, Jacob’s Pillow Dance, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Easter Bonnet at The Minskoff Theatre, numerous musical productions with Debbie Allen including performing at a star-studded gala hosted by Diddy at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC.
Hi Chloé, thank you so much for interviewing with me.
Yes, thank you for having me.
You are known as an international leading lady in tap dance. How does it feel to be recognized with such honor?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to become a tap dancer and I would look at the inspiring people like Gregory Hines and the Nicholas Brothers. I thought "Wow, I want to do that one day and influence people," the way that I was being influenced as a kid. It's really heartwarming to see your decades of hard work be acknowledged and appreciated. It's amazing because when you are on the journey, it's quite challenging and you're still facing your obstacles and pushing past them. It's pretty incredible when what you have imagined your whole life is coming to fruition and you're actually living the dream that you set out for yourself.
You dream these things for so long and finally, it starts to come to fruition. Some things take a little longer, some things happen a little faster, but to be able to see the way that you've set your life up to be able to live out all the wild dreams that you created for yourself as a kid is such a reward. I love that that is your story.
Your sister is your partner in dance and business. What's the best part about working with your sister?
The best part about working with your sister is that you have full honesty, reliability, and accountability of one another. We are always working towards the same goal and we are willing to put in all of the work necessary because it's an investment in our dreams and we've seen each other throughout the entire journey. We value the process, we value the work that we put in, and we understand how much sacrifice and investment that we each have made so there's a high level of respect, work ethic, and determination to complete the project. The push for the vision of the dream, the ideas that we keep coming up with...it's amazing to have someone that is "ride or die" and just has your back 24/7, across the board.
I would imagine that being so close to Debbie Allen and her sister building their dreams has inspired you a lot. I think that it's magical to be able to work in close proximity with your sister and kudos to you and her for making it work for so long and creating such amazing things for yourselves.
Thank you. It's very, very special.
What is the best lesson that you have learned as an entrepreneur?
The best lesson that I have learned would have to be "don't wait for permission". Don't wait for permission to do what it is that you imagine. The whole reason that people are entrepreneurs is that they are people that think outside of the box. Something that they imagine either doesn't exist or doesn't exist the way that they have imagined. I think that a lot of times, fear can get the best of people and it's what stops people from pushing in to being entrepreneurs. Number one, surpass the risks and don't wait for someone to give you permission or a green light to do it. Number two, stay the course. Don't give up when it's not happening at the speed in which you imagined because this is a journey that has infinite possibilities so you must have the belief that you will surpass the obstacles and start getting past the fear, change what you believe and then go forward and don't give up no matter how many years it takes.
Yes, that's excellent advice. Thank you. I live by a lot of that myself.
"don't wait for permission"
In your "XONecole" interview, you say "It's amazing to have someone in your corner that believes..." How does that quote pertain to your relationship with Debbie Allen? What was it like meeting her for the first time and how awesome has the experience been to have her as a mentor as you develop your career?
I think about Debbie Allen a lot. When I first met her, I was very nervous. Very, very, very nervous. I was 16, it was in an audition. I felt a lot of knots and a tremendous amount of nerves. That's the main thing I remember; being really, really nervous. Even when I got the part and now I would be around her more often, I was still really nervous because, you know, you're just in awe of someone's greatness. I wanted to do the best job I could possible for her because she was someone that I admired. I think I was very quiet because I wanted to be just listening and be an attentive, focused dancer and student of hers. As time passed and she continued to be in my life and nurture me, I started to have conversations that became inspirational and was able to talk to her openly about my dreams and aspirations and get incredible advice, wisdom, and lessons that are literally ingrained in my everyday. She has been mentoring me for so many years that I walk with her in my heart and in my mind. When I am facing obstacles or have a new idea or I am wondering how I can get something done, I think back to all of the incredible lessons of fortitude, determination, and aspiration that I learned from her. There are a couple of things that she showed me. One, imagine without limits that art has no definition except for the one that you imagine and that can constantly evolve. Never ever limit your scope of what you learn and what kind of artist you are. You don't have to be put in a box. You can totally be multifaceted. She is the one that told me "you have to learn all styles of dance, you have to learn how to sing; you have to write, you have to produce...don't be limited to what you can do." Second, there are a lot of celebrities in the world but not everyone gives like Debbie Allen gives. She gives everything to the next generation to fly and that's how I met her. She has an incredibly generous heart and spirit. She's not just an artist, she's also an educator in a very unconventional way, meaning she is educating everywhere that she is, it doesn't have to be in a classroom. She is an educator and an inspirer. She is the kind of person that gives back along the journey versus waiting until "when I get successful...". You can help people the entire way. Along the entire journey, you can always be giving back because there is someone who can always benefit from the lessons that you are learning along the way.
Yes, yes, and more yes. Absolutely. You are lucky to be in the proximity of someone that is so genuine in the capacity as an artist. Everything that you've shared about your interactions with her and your relationships with her really shines light into my heart. Even though this is for my audience, this is for myself as well, and it makes me feel a lot more confident moving forward. Not just as a woman doing my own thing, but as a woman doing my own thing and it being an art form because I have been very skeptical about all of the boxes that I don't check and that I don't fit in so what you just shared was priceless. I am very grateful for the details that you choose to share and you being so candid and warm about the things that you are sharing so thank you so much.
It's ignited in me now because my mom is like that and then I found a mentor like that so it's organic, the idea of sharing stories and hoping that it gives some inspiration or ideas to whomever you are speaking with.
Do you still get nervous before performances or big experiences?
I still get nervous. I think everybody that cares about what they're doing gets nervous. We just had our big concert in LA and it's the first time that we've done a full-length concert in LA because we are usually touring. This one was brand new. We had so many technical elements. We had a live band. There were so many components and we had a sold-out house. We had attendees like Shonda Rhimes and Debbie Allen. I was very nervous because it was my whole vision and imagination coming through on stage. I just wanted it to go the way that imagined so I was quite nervous. I'd say, once I'm two dances in, I am not nervous anymore, now I am just alive. The rest of the show was just living in the moment and feeling inspired. I think it's the initial warming up for me. When I am nervous, once I get in front of the audience, and we sit in a zone, then it's all good. Live television is the number one thing that I think is nerve-wracking because it's there forever and it's broadcasted to millions so you want to be your best, you want to nail it. I always think about breathing when I get nervous. My coping mechanism is to breathe, take long breaths and remind yourself of your purpose and why you're there. I think that's our main thing, we always remind each other of the purpose of why we are doing what we're doing so that we don't get caught up in trying to impress people and remember to "be you".
The power of breathing is so underestimated by society. I even incorporate a subtle hum when I really need to center myself. It is so magical to step away from whatever it is, whether you're too excited, or overwhelmed, or sad, or happy, and take a couple of deep breaths and really come into you. Nothing else matters in that time when I am breathing. It's a daily practice for me and it's what has allowed me to incorporate a living mediation versus having to cut out ten minutes to sit in a certain position. I can find time to capture my breath, then center myself and realign with my purpose and my focus. Now I understand why your friend said that we should connect. [both laughs] As I have watched you via social media for the past few months, I have become captivated by everything that you are doing. Not just your accomplishments, but your brand- it's messaging, the fact that it is you and your sister.
Thank you. I feel the same. I love meeting people who are living with purpose.
Or as Oprah says, "the intention of it all".
In your Elle interview, you say "I don't want to be apart of the club. I want to have my own voice and I want to be free, and I want to encourage other people, both women, and men, to find that for themselves." That quote speaks volumes about your brand and how you are using your purpose and your message to advance many more people beyond yourself. It had an air of confidence that is so refreshing coming from a woman because often times, either we are not acknowledged for having that type of confidence or it's not called confidence, it's called something else and then we are made to feel like maybe we should shrink. How do you define confidence?
I think it's really important. I am in a field that is male-dominated. There are more women taking dance classes around the globe than there are men but there are more men who are remembered in the library of famous tap dancers, as well as the past twenty years, if we look at the major shows that have been on Broadway, etc., they have typically had a strong male leadership and presence. When I was coming up, I was looking at all of the guys for leadership and guidance. While I love them, guys are awesome, it wasn't until I met Debbie that I realized my voice is different and what I have to bring to the table is different, special, and valuable. Confidence is knowing your self, knowing what you believe in, knowing your capabilities, and being proud to stand by them. For example, as I was growing as an artist, I was looking at everyone who was great at the art that I am doing and I was giving them a hierarchy in my own mind of "well, I'm not there yet, I'm not good enough". I shifted my way of thinking to think of the possibilities versus the limitations instead. That is really important for artists to understand their intellectual paralysis and value and not defining it in one way. There is so much intellectual strength in all of us it just about tapping into it, understanding it, and unlocking the potential because when you believe in yourself, your mind, and the power of your mind, then you are not intimidated by other people's strengths. When I am saying that "I don't want to fit in the box", that "box" works for some people, it just doesn't for me. It's not that the "box" isn't good, it's just not where I need to be or want to be and I know that there are a lot of people that have felt stuck before or felt less than and I just want to remind people and encourage people that it's the more you get in touch and unlock your own sensibilities of who you are, the more you value yourself and when you believe your thoughts in your mind, it creates a confidence that doesn't allow other people to intimidate you no matter how great they are, no matter how awesome they are. In fact, the more confident that you get, the more you find yourself surrounding your self with excellence because it's inspiring, not intimidating. I have experienced lots of different things and when I experience resistance or what we call "haters", I remember and hope for them that they find their inner sense of self that doesn't require them to compete or try to tear some else down but rather remember our powers and knowing ourselves and be able to communicate effectively and not be intimidated by what other people think. That doesn't mean that you have to agree, doesn't mean that you have to disagree, it just means that at all times, you are aware of who you are so that you don't have to shift every time you are around different people or different schools of thought and instead, you are able to just be yourself in every room. That's been something that I have been very proud of because I have been in so many different rooms with so many different types of people and one of the things that makes me most proud is that I don't waiver my belief system in any situation. I think that is what creates the confidence.
Very well said. You speak about knowing yourself and that's been prevalent on my mind recently. It's more than knowing your goals and knowing your purpose, its also about knowing your boundaries, knowing when enough is enough, knowing what will trigger you in certain instances. It's a total knowing of one's self to actually know yourself. I am 29 years old and am in anticipation of 30.
Let me tell you, 30 is awesome!
Oh, I believe it. I just feel like I have to be prepared. I feel like now is the last opportunity that I have to secure my big girl panties on. "Are these the best big girl panties that I can have on?" I am SUPER excited, I am beyond excited, I am just crossing my t's, dotting my i's, making sure that I know myself a bit more because I am moving into my thirties.
Remember that you're going to be alright and you're equipped with everything that you need right at this moment.
Yes, right at this moment. You don't have to look for anything else. Even if you don't see it, it doesn't mean that it's not there. You said "trusting your mind"-there have been times where I have felt in my physical space that I was not sure but in my mental space, I have been very sure and I trust what I am capable of there so the physical space can just dismiss itself because I know that the powers that be will create what it is that I need when I need it-it will always be on time.
What are three things that you do every day to ensure your success?
Think positively would be the number one thing because I am always in a lot of different places so I try to keep my mental health in the right place, no matter where I am physically. Work out, take care of my body. In essence, take care of my mind, body, and spirit on a daily basis. I listen to what my body and heart are telling me and I try to act in tune and in line with those thoughts and feelings. For example, I had a really long weekend of work. Today, I would normally have started out with a morning workout but my body is not up for it and I know that so I didn't do it and I will do it later today when I get my second wind. I also know when I am going to choreograph something that I need to have eaten something healthy that's going to give me energy and make me feel good. When I first wake up, I try to think "What is today's purpose? What do I want to accomplish for the day?" and get myself into an upbeat state of mind. It's interesting because there's not a specific process for how that happens, but somehow, I always end up smiling. I will watch something that makes me smile or read something that makes me smile. I like smiling a lot so I try to make sure that I am feeling good to put me in that mindset to give me energy. Joy is infectious and gives you that reason to keep going and pushing. I pray. My praying is not conventional or traditional but I put my mind and thought into goodness for everyone.
That's very important.
Yea, and being aware that I only have control over a very limited amount of things in this world but the number one thing that I have control over is how I think so I try to always put my thoughts into a place that nurtures goodness and positivity. Not just with myself but with those around me and people in general.
Mind, body, and soul. It's something that I have found in common amongst the women that I have interviewed so far. They are all very mindful of the way that they view themselves and take care of themselves as they go through their day.
What is the greatest advice that you've received from another woman?
I have to go back to Debbie Allen and the idea, "Don't let anyone or anything stop you. You know where you are going, you are very clear about where you are going. Keep going." It is really helpful because when you feel that resistance from others, it is amazing when you have someone in your corner saying "You can do it, you can do it, I believe in you, you can do it." That's the most important lesson that I have learned.
What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment to date?
My greatest accomplishment is starting Syncopated Ladies in 2003 out of a dance studio at Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Just in a room together, imagining the possibilities of what it would be like to be a team of successful female tap dancers and at that time, I was the only one of us touring and performing anywhere because a lot of them were young. Now, fast forward to 2017, being able to say that all of these Syncopated ladies, including myself and my sister, are making a living as tap dancers and have been able to travel around the world together with sisterhood, unity, and love, sharing what we love and being paid to do what we love. It is an incredible feeling to get on a plane with your sisters and be flying together somewhere to do what you dreamt of doing. There is no greater feeling! We have been able to maintain this bond and not get caught up in the loopholes and instead stay focused on the mission of elevating, expanding, and supporting others. We are bringing tap dance to the people and at the same time we are supporting one another so that we are able to come together and work together as a team but also when one of the members is off doing something awesome, we are giving them lots of love and energy so that they can succeed in their solo projects or whatever other projects they're doing. For me, Syncopated Ladies is a home base and it's a group of women that believe in each other, support each other, and want to see each other go the distance. It's my greatest accomplishment because now I can look at these women and know that the investment of time, love, and energy is worth it because I see the greatness that they are putting into the world and it is really rewarding.
What was it like to perform for Beyoncé's Ivy Park Launch at the Top Shop Flagship Store and having her approve your talent and dance company, Syncopated Ladies, to the world on social media?
It's very surreal. The entire Beyonce experience and love is very surreal. Pinch me. It's like "Wow, this is my life. Whoa." I have been doing this my whole life so to get this moment where the work I'm creating to a woman that I admire is celebrated and shared with the world by HER. It's very touching. It's like someone saying "I see you, I hear you," and I feel like she really does-like she knows me. I feel like she understands me because it's that moment when you see one of your sisters, it's like "I see you, I get you, I support you, I love you, and I will always lift you up," and it's the greatest act of sisterhood to support someone that you are seeing from a distance and saying "I could lend them hand and I can elevate what they are doing and I will use my power to do that." I am so thankful to her and humbled and truly, deeply appreciative because I know how hard she has worked and I know that she has earned everything she has so it's a beautiful thing for her to recognize that in our work as well. I am very very thankful and I look forward and pray that I have the opportunity to be as influential as she has been in my life to someone else. The way that she has been able to help us, I hope that I am able to do that for someone else because she truly elevated us in a way that it takes a real sister to do.
Looking from the outside in, you are a reflection of her. You have been working your whole life, much like her, to bring forth your dreams, your visions, and you've been relentless, so of course, she saw herself when she saw you. To me, it's like second nature. She is the GOAT and to know that she is there, looking down, noticing others that aren't Beyoncé but we move like her. She's inspired us to move in the ways that do move. You're such a lucky young lady to be able to attract these energies to help you move your force. I bow to you because I understand the inner workings of what you have created for yourself.
You have Chloe and Maud Tap Shoes retailing currently. You've performed for ABC Good Morning America and CBS The Talk. Those are huge things. I must know what's next for you and your businesses.
I am choreographing a big show with The Late Late Show with James Corden. We are doing a special episode in December that is going to have some really awesome people in it so I am very excited about that. This is like my 25th episode choreographing for The Late Late Show with James Corden and it's truly rewarding because I am able to hire a lot of dancers and do what we love together on a major platform. With Syncopated Ladies, we just shot a new video that will hopefully be coming out sometime this year. This video is particularly dear to our hearts because it's about women reclaiming their voice, their excellence, not asking men for permission to be awesome, and I am very excited about that. In all of our work, we love men, we support them, we want them to shine, but we already know that they are shining. There's just a different conditioning and I want women to remember that you are awesome and you define that yourself. Ultimately, we are working on developing scripted and non-scripted content for television. We are working to get a feature-length movie green-lit that we would produce and be in. We have our first Syncopated Ladies song that we are going to make a music video for. Just a couple things...[laughs]
A couple of major things. Kudos to you! You better work, Queen.
What advice would you give a young woman looking to grow a career in the dance and entertainment industry?
Hone your skills. Look at your life. Look at the time that you're putting into your life. How much of it is spent really invested in your dream? How much of it is spent just talking about it and not doing anything? How much of it is spent messing around and wasting your time? Making sure that the majority of the time that you spend is invested in what you believe in and in what you really want to achieve. Then, once you are putting that time in, hone those skills to your greatest ability and expand your network so that there is a conversation beyond the people that you know and that conversations expand. Collaborate. In collaboration, you learn and you grow. Most importantly, don't give up and stay the course. Understand that there will be ups and downs and don't let any of those deter you from your overall dream.
Excellent advice. I believe that is applicable to all careers, not just dance and entertainment.
Are you currently involved in any humanitarian efforts?
My sister and I have the Chloe and Maud Foundation. We have an after-school program called "Tap into Life" that gives free after-school dance training to kids in Inglewood. We have a Girl Power Boot camp that happens several times a year and we have scholarships for that. We have scholarships for our DC Tap Festival and we bring kids from countries like Brazil, Honduras, and inner cities across the countries to DC to experience some of the best in tap dancing. They take classes, they perform and have an experience that will hopefully evolve them and give them hope and inspiration. We aim to educate and make education accessible to those who can't afford it.
What does dance mean to you?
Love and freedom.
What does empowering women mean to you?
What's your favorite song right now?
Freedom by Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar.
I am so grateful for you taking out the time in your busy schedule to interview with me. You have been nothing but amazing. I look forward to making much more magic with you.
Enjoyed the article? Do you know someone successful that I should interview next? Let me know! Send your comments and questions! Thank you for reading.
More Success Talk
Looking for more inspiration? Read these articles for insight into how others are structuring their goals, ideas, and strategies for success.