Kelley Koski made her dream of becoming a professional dancer come true in Los Angeles. However, the dream isn’t always what you expect. After highs and lows in an industry that focuses more and more on sex appeal rather than athleticism, she decided it was time to move on to other projects that help athletes – from life coaching to co-founding an app that spotlights grassroots sports teams and amateur athletes.
When did you first start to dance?
When I was three, my grandmother took me to a local dance recital. When it started, I began to cry. My grandma asked what was wrong and I told her I wanted to be on stage. They were girls my age up there having fun, wearing sparkly outfits, and everyone was applauding, and I wanted that. Once I started, I did every dance style, jazz, tap, modern, ballet and hip hop. I went to the local dance studio Monday through Friday, with competitions on the weekend. I was involved in three dance companies in high school. One of my dance companies won nationals for 90s hip-hop in Los Angeles, so I realized that was the place to be. I graduated high school and moved to southern California. I auditioned, got an agent, and started my career.
It sounds like you always knew you wanted to dance. Did you have a lot of support?
Oh yes. My mom worked at the studio to afford my classes and all the costumes. I look back and said to my parents, “no one stopped me!” But my parents said no one could. I’m honored I had parents that supported me the whole way, always.
What was it like being a professional dancer in LA?
When I entered the business, the music video and MTV scene was why I wanted to get into it. But when I got into it, it wasn’t what it seemed. Sometimes your dreams aren’t want you image, and you get there and it isn’t as beautiful as you want it to be. It was such a crazy journey. Now that I transitioned out I look back and go through all the emotions – love, hate, shame, I wish I could have done xyz, etc. But I also had the best time of my life. I loved it, but there are a lot of hardships in entertainment too. I never learned to say no. As a dancer you are always told what to do, the pay was ridiculous, and you are often treated poorly. There are times when you are in scenarios when things are not OK, and times when you are living your best life. I was in a community of beautiful women following their passion, but the industry is very tough in LA. It kind of ate away at me. It’s a bubble that is not totally healthy, and you can’t really grow. You end up being viciously cycled around. I was dancing at Bat Mitzvahs, for princes, celebrities, TV shows, popping out of cakes – a whirlwind of things. You get older, and it’s a struggle to make any money as an artist. There are months I was so poor, and then months I felt like I was on top of the world. It’s an industry you have to get out of eventually.
Was there a high point in your career?
Maybe when I first got in it. It was a rush being young and following your passion, and I immediately booked a national Pepsi and Doritos commercial. It’s like winning the lottery in the entertainment world. I was also Fergie’s body double for a few years, but I would say the highlight was the whole career. I look back and even dancing at kids’ birthday parties was wonderful. It’s the joy of entertaining someone and them being in awe of your talent. That was the beautiful part of it.
Was there a low point?
The very last few years, I was over the industry. Hip-hop had changed, and the industry jobs became about sex. I would get emails from my agents for auditions that said to “dress sexy”A lot of my jobs you had to wear less and less clothing. It wasn’t about the talent any more, but more about how pretty and sexy you could be. It was dominated by sexual energy. I wanted to feel talented, not just beautiful. I got fired once for being too skinny, and you go through psychological issues and a realization that it’s based on looks. Dancers are athletes, so it’s frustrating when you are hired on your looks over your talent. I had friends fired because they didn’t want to dance on cement for hours at a time because it’s putting their bodies at risk. They just assume you can do whatever they ask and don’t respect your training.
What made you decide to move on?
I had just turned 30, and I just didn’t see myself dancing that much after that age.
Did you have a plan for after you retired from dance?
Luckily with a dance career you work weird hours, so I had a lot of down time and I started falling in love with spirituality. I have worked on myself a lot, and am really into astrology, tarot, and meditation. The dance industry provided me with a foundation of strength and will power. For two years, I took that knowledge and passion and started life coaching my friends in the industry who were asking me for help.
What are you doing now?
My original plan after dance has been pursue a career in life coaching, but that got sidetracked recently when I met my current boyfriend. He was working on an app for grassroots and underserved sports called Gamekeepr and I thought, why help a couple people when I can help thousands of athletes?
What does the app do?
Gamekeepr helps teams produce premium content to sell to their communities. We provide software for people to record through their iPhones, so you get multiple angles as a viewer. It also provides a platform where you can follow teams and athletes. We are starting with street basketball since it is already geared for entertainment with MCs, then we will move on to junior colleges and youth sports. Teams are already trying to stream through Facebook and other platforms, so we want to create one place that is easy to use. We have a scoreboard part of our software so the score is on the screen, so you know what’s going on. We want to make it cool for the kids to use by adding things like GIFs. Hopefully it will pull them away from Snapchat and “selfy-ism” and more toward community. We also make it easy for athletes to save highlights in once place. Coaches and recruiters will be able to see athlete profiles with their highlights, games, and stats. It’s also meant to be a tool for an athlete to grow and promote themselves.
So who will be recording the events?
Every team has a few injured players or tech savvy dads who are already filming the game using consumer cameras, and our software automatically turns it into a watchable game broadcast – all from your phone. We use an Osmo to create beautiful, quality video. And if multiple people are streaming at the same time, viewers can watch from the different angles. Entertainment is more than one camera angle. It’s perfect for busy parents or those with multiple kids in sports. Parents will never miss their kids’ game again.
What drew you to this project?
Being an athlete, I love athleticism. But when I grew up, ESPN was so male dominated that I hated football and basketball. This is such a great opportunity to highlight women’s sports. Through this project, I’ve fallen back in love with sports. I hope others will watch this and be reminded as well. Our motto is “just play.” There is a huge epidemic going around where only the top elite/professionals are being highlighted. We want to remind people just to get out and have fun. There are many famous amateur athletes that people love to watch because they are fun. We want to inspire people to want to play more.
Do you feel like being an athlete prepared you for your current project?
Being involved in technology is a totally different place than where I thought I would be. I didn’t even know how to write a proper email when I first started. But being an athlete, I always want to push myself, and I was able to jump into a new career. Every day it’s like learning to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, which I feel like is the athlete’s motto – always push yourself.
Is the app up and running?
It is still being developed, but we hope that the viewer app will be launched in July, and producer app available in the fall. All will be launching this year.
Do you ever miss dance?
It was a good career, but time to move on. It’s funny, my boyfriend wants to go out dancing. I did that every weekend for 15 years. I want my space from it, but I’ll dance in my living room for fun. I’m discovering how to let go of the career aspect and just dance for fun. I’m exploring other ways dance can be incorporated into life without it being for entertainment. For example, I worked on a documentary the used dance as healing for girls who had gotten out of sex trafficking, using it as a way to reconnect with their bodies. Once you are a dancer, you always will be in your heart. But as for a career – I’m excited to not have to get dressed up and go dance at someone’s birthday party. I probably won’t touch red lipstick and false lashes for awhile. It’s nice to be valued for your mind and creativity rather than your body and what you look like.
Do you dance anymore?
Since I am on a spiritual path, I use dance as a way to manifest. I’ll be alone and hear a song that moves me so much I have to dance. Sometimes I’ll start crying. It’s almost a ritual where I’ll get downloads and see my future – I use it as a way to channel and feel emotions and manifest my dreams.
What do you do for exercise now?
I go to yoga now and then. Since my boyfriend and I are both California natives and athletic we like to go kick a soccer ball, run on the beach, go bike riding, hiking, and shoot hoops. We love to move our bodies. The whole state of California is meant to be played in. There are so many free things to do. I’m falling in love with the other activities.
Are you still in touch with anyone you danced with?
I am. A lot of the friends I’m close with are in their own transition too. A group of us who were moving on at the same time are still in contact. A lot of dancers are artists and are doing other projects, which is beautiful that we aren’t just one thing.
Would you have done anything differently?
I would have told my younger self to know that it’s OK to say no. There were many times I got jobs and wish I could have stood up for myself. But we were told to “just go do it.” You need the money so bad that you do it. There were so many choices I made against my values, but I had to pay rent and eat.
What have you learned through your dance career?
I learned how following your passion can take you somewhere beautiful. I’ve learned what I value, and to be my authentic self in the entertainment sea of fakeness. I learned to find myself through this art form. In entertainment you get told no more than yes, and you learn not every opportunity is meant for you. When you do get the job and you are meant to be there, there is this universal magic. You learn to trust the universe, the flow. The more positive thinking I had, the more things turned out beautiful.
What would you tell young girls navigating the dance industry today?
I would tell them to always follow your heart, passion, and be true to yourself. There is always an opportunity, even if it’s the one you think you’re supposed to have.
How do you define success? Are you successful?
Yes. I define success as the hard work and positive thinking along your journey. Along that journey of success you have these little moments – booking a commercial, TV show, etc. Those moments provide the power to continue and keep the passion alive.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I felt a lot of shame when I was ending my career - shame for being in my own bubble and in LA’s bubble. Shameful for doing it for so long and I didn’t teach myself other skills while dancing. I wish I would have told myself to be more than just the dancer – to nurture other parts of myself. I would have liked to have educated myself with technology or something else. You aren’t just the athlete. The financial pressure caused a lot of trauma. I was so desperate to make it work. I was so poor but I wanted my dream to be alive. I felt stuck and like I couldn’t get out. I was so happy that I could at least use those skills as a life coach to help others, and I hope to continue helping athletes in the future.
Follow Kelley Koski on LinkedIn.