The final set of images dug up by Rj are those of actresses and models in their youth. Before she became the tightly-corseted Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Judy Garland (1922–1969)–born Frances Ethel Gumm—must already have been an entertainer and gotten noticed by a casting director. Here, the Gumm sisters perform in their stage debut in Los Angeles in the 1920s. “Garland” is the youngest on the left.
Comments Guidelines: Of late, Pigtails has rejected a number of comments that do not fit the tone of this site and so this is an opportune time to clarify our editorial standards. First and foremost, the ultimate responsibility for the image and reputation of Pigtails in Paint lies with Ron, the Editor-in-Chief. Therefore every single approval or rejection is a judgment call and cannot be expected to be perfectly consistent—if such a thing is ever possible. Generally speaking, we try to encourage new voices, but draw the line at superficial comments that do not add substance to a post or provoke thoughtful debate. It goes without saying that a number of the girls covered on this site are, in some way, alluring and simple testimonials to that effect do not contribute to a respectful and thoughtful attitude about the artists and models involved. This site is also not a forum for racial or religious bigotry nor is it a venue for “outing” one’s sexual preferences or intimate life. It is understandable that a wide range of people will be attracted to this site and no one’s contribution will be rejected, on principle, except if they fail to offer something of substance. Unsophisticated attempts to bait us into associations with illegal behavior or hate mongering will be strongly resisted. This policy has been necessary to ensure that Pigtails in Paint may continue to serve its noble purpose. Sincere objections to editorial decisions should be directed to Ron in a private email.
Translation Breakthroughs: I am pleased to announce some progress on finding volunteers to assist in transcribing and translating foreign texts. Nevertheless, in the interest of consistency and timeliness, it is best to spread out the burden and not to rely too heavily on only a few individuals. Of particular need are those who can transcribe and/or translate Japanese. Such work will be instrumental in finally producing posts on Lolicon photographers published in Japan (Shizuki Obuchi, Yoji Ishikawa, Hiromi Saimon et al). But translators are still needed for many other languages in which material relevant to this site may have been published.
Pushing Back (Ovenden): On May 19–20, a hearing will be held regarding Graham Ovenden’s appeal to reconsider the disposition of materials slated for destruction by the British courts. It should be understood that this appeal is not merely about saving artifacts of historical and artistic significance, but an indictment of police behavior—and to a lesser extent, the courts—in their overzealous attempts to make an example of this artist and antiquarian to the public. A political reality that persecuted artists seem to neglect is that wrongful prosecution needs to be fought and resisted—even at great cost—or authorities will get the mistaken impression that their methods are acceptable and have served the greater good of society. Ovenden is demonstrating leadership by his actions.
Self-Taught Dubstepper: One of our readers shared this item about 12-year-old Adilyn Malcolm who taught herself the dance by watching and rewatching videos.
David Hofmann is a photographer of girls’ dance. He’s a commercial photographer based in Los Angeles who has worked on seven feature films, does nature photography, editorial photography and has become well known in certain circles for his characteristic photography of girls’ dance under the name “SharkCookie”.
David prefers to use natural light and aims for an “uncontrived” style that stands out from typical studio sessions. He capitalizes on the natural assets of his SoCal environs, often working with the urban backdrop of LA or on seaside beaches for his shoots.
Many of David’s subjects are superstars within the world of American girls’ dance—the foremost being Maddie Ziegler who has become well-known after appearing in three of rock-star Sia’s videos, Chandelier, Elastic Heart, and Big Girls Cry. In fact Maddie has previously been featured on Pigtails in Paint.
Maddie started dancing very young with the notoriously loudmouthed and domineering Abby Lee; Abby’s dance company would later be featured on the popular American television show Dance Moms which has now run five seasons. The success of the show rocketed not only Maddie, but several of her co-stars to relative fame and contributed greatly to the mass appeal of girls’ dance around the world.
Chloe Lukasiak is another of the Dance Moms stars to grace David’s lens. She too started dancing for Abby Lee at a very young age.
Like Maddie, Chloe has also made numerous other television appearances besides Dance Moms and has performed in several music videos.
Sophia Lucia, while not a regular on Dance Moms, nevertheless made four appearances on the show. She is arguably the most technically virtuosic of American girl dancers having won mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for performing fifty-five consecutive pirouettes.
Like the other girls, Sophia has made numerous television appearances including Dancing with the Stars, Shake it Up, So You Think You Can Dance, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and even a McDonald’s commercial. She has her own line of dance gear marketed via “California Kisses”.
Unlike the above girls, Autumn Miller declined to participate in Dance Moms, her mother apparently rejecting the overture. Still she has followed a similar career path, appearing on Shake it Up, Dancing with the Stars and so on; she was featured in Willow Smith’s music video Whip My Hair and various commercial and modeling gigs. Autie too was also featured on Pigtails in Paint.
Although Autumn never had the television exposure some of David’s other stars did, she is perhaps the most popular and well-known in girls’ dance due to her repeated successes at Dance Nationals and her creative YouTube show, “Autie’s Freestyle Friday“.
While David has photographed numerous girls who dance, a few others are popular and worthy of mention.
Mia Diaz appeared only once on Dance Moms but is very well-known and liked in the world of girls’ dance. Like the other girls, she began dancing as a toddler and has won oodles of dance competitions.
Jordyn Jones is another popular young dancer who moves in the Hollywood set. Incidentally Jordyn has produced a series of high quality music videos showcasing her dance covering a number of current pop songs such as “Fancy“, “Lip Gloss“, and “Banji“.
David coincidentally has a young daughter himself, Avaree, who is a dancer and whom he often photographs.
While Avaree may not be the super star dancer that some of David’s clients are, it seems she has at least one die-hard fan!
The music video for Sia’s Chandelier dropped on May 6th, 2014, and it immediately invited controversy due to 11-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler’s flesh-tone leotard which, in a certain light, makes her appear to be nude. Soon after, the video went viral, becoming the seventh most-watched video clip of 2014 on YouTube; it has since amassed over 450 million hits there. The controversy mostly abated, however, when the video received widespread critical acclaim, with Time magazine’s Nolan Feenay praising Ziegler for the best dance performance of 2014. It went on to be nominated for both Video of the Year and Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, winning the latter. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video.
Despite the controversy—or maybe because of it—the video, directed by Daniel Askill and Sia herself, made its mark, inspiring parodies by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel (he and fellow Jimmy Kimmel Live! cast member Guillermo Rodriquez were even assisted in learning the moves by Maddie herself) and Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live. Maddie—wearing shorts beneath her famous skin-tone leotard—would recreate the video on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, but as is often the case when censorious tinkering of this type occurs, the addition of the shorts oddly seems to make the young dancer look more provocative rather than less. The sleek, fully nude outfit gives Maddie an almost alien appearance, leaving no doubt as to the artistic intent of the video’s creators, whereas on Ellen’s show, particularly in the dim lighting, the girl looks to be wearing a pair of pale blue panties and nothing else, giving the performance a slightly tawdrier tone. A note of interest here: when Sia stands offside in the shadows, with her back turned to the audience, she is effectively saying, “This is not about my surface, the side of me that is seen during a performance.” We will better understand why that is relevant soon.
But the controversial nature of Chandelier pales in comparison to that generated by its follow-up, Elastic Heart, which was released on January 7th, 2015 and again features Miss Ziegler in the faux-nude getup, along with adult actor Shia LaBeouf (similarly attired), with the two stuck in a giant birdcage together and reacting to one another in a gritty and intense performance. The negative reaction to the video has been so strong that Sia apologized to victims of sexual abuse over the potentially “triggering” imagery. Of course, thus far no one has pointed out that one possible interpretation of the video is as a symbolic commentary on sexual abuse, though that is one of many. Thus, we shall do a scene-by-scene dissection of both videos, with a particular focus on Elastic Heart, to better understand why these are indeed art, and why Sia should not have to apologize for them.
Initially the camera pans around what appears to be an empty, grungy apartment that has clearly seen better days. As the camera offers us a quick look at the various rooms in the apartment, we get the sense that we are peering into a dormant place.
The first time we meet the sole human being who appears in the video (Maddie, of course), she is braced inside a doorway a couple of feet off the floor. In terms of semiotics, doors and doorways are quite interesting. As Claus Seligmann points out in this article on architectural semiotics, “For if architecture is at root a system of barriers that distinguish inside from out, this place from that, or place from nonplace, then the door is in our society […] the culturally mandated means of penetrating the barrier.” That is to say, doors are transitional, a means of moving between two separate spaces, or two separate conditions, or even two separate realities. That the dancer begins here is noteworthy, for we are being invited into an intimate space. When she drops to the floor, we know we are thoroughly immersed in her reality.
But who is she, and why does she appear to be nude? Well, the key to understanding who the child is lies in the wig she wears, which closely mimics the golden blond locks of Sia herself. So this is Sia—not literally but metaphorically. As for her implied nudity, we can view it is the ultimate form of vulnerability, a condition amplified by the infantine state of the figure. But let’s not make the mistake of assuming our young Sia stand-in is perfectly innocent; after all, she is not meant to be an actual child but rather a metaphorical one. This is an important point, because once we understand that child-Sia is symbolic, we must then try to determine what she is a symbol for. Well, as this Sia stand-in is the only figure in the video, we could reasonably assume that we are seeing the inner life of Sia. With that as our starting point, we now know that when the dancer drops onto the floor of this seedy apartment, we are effectively “dropping” into Sia’s mental/emotional world with her. It’s a raw, murky, and somewhat bedraggled place, the place where Sia is most vulnerable because it is here that she is most herself. This omni-personal identity, which is something like a kernel from which a great tree grows because it is our core identity, is sometimes aptly referred to as an inner child, hence our little dancer.
You’ll recall back when I pointed out how the apartment was a dormant place? In that context, we can consider Maddie’s position bracketed in the doorway as something like suspended animation, or even a kind of sleep. As the child hits the floor, she instantly comes alive, and we are mesmerized by her, this strange pseudo-nude little girl who dances her beautifully bizarre dance. And as I said before, there is something almost alien about her, with her bright artificial hair and her teased nakedness, not only because she calls to mind iconic science fiction characters like Leeloo from The Fifth Element and (to a lesser extent) Pris from Blade Runner, but because she seems to be neutered, like a humanoid robot or some sexless being from another world. Yes, our dancer’s world is at once familiar territory and exotic alternate reality. Doesn’t that perfectly exemplify the realm of the subconscious?
As if to reinforce this point, in the first of only two extreme closeups of Maddie, staring out placidly at the camera, she appears to wind something into the wall and then immediately falls forward like she has been depowered, a robot turning herself off with an invisible key. But then she pulls herself aright again. Her hands are dirty, stained with pink chalk (makeup?), and we get the impression that she is burned out. This is Sia remarking on the nature of her stardom, the fact that sometimes she is like an automaton going through the motions. Her art, endlessly repeated night after night, and more importantly the requisite partying that comes with the job, have become a chore to her. It’s a feeling I’m sure many celebrities have experienced. This robot needs to recharge her batteries, and she does.
Suddenly, it’s as if she has reawakened, becoming something like a human again. It’s a new day, literally and metaphorically. The lyrics reinforce this. We see her yawn and stretch, walking around the room as she rubs her belly in hunger. She does the splits, perhaps as part of her morning exercises. She is pushing herself, stretching her limits. She is coming to life again, nearly—but not quite—ready to swing from the titular chandelier.
And then she really lets loose, going through a series of particularly lively motions—flips, tumbles, running through the apartment—and we know our inner Sia is juiced now, running on full speed, re-embracing and reinvigorating her art, and through her art, her life.
In the second close-up of the video, Maddie stands behind curtains. The suggestion is of a performer looking out on her audience with mixed emotions. And, perhaps it is just me, but there is a point in this sequence at which, just before she leaves the curtains behind, Maddie almost seems to be channeling the spirit of Marilyn Monroe.
At last, as the video reaches it’s end, Maddie/Sia is again framed by a doorway, but this time she is on one side of it while the viewer is on the other. Maddie affects a stage bow here, referencing Sia’s identity as a performer. This is goodbye for us—we are leaving Sia’s unconscious now, for our visit is over, and the little nude dancer in her head is seeing us off at the door.
Based on the resounding success of the Chandelier video, it only makes sense that there would be a follow-up video featuring Miss Ziegler, though few could have foreseen the inclusion of actor Shia LaBeouf in the same. And yet, strangely, it works. But what’s it about, exactly? We have only gotten a hint from Sia herself, who has suggested that these figures are two separate states of herself, sometimes simpatico and other times at complete odds. This makes sense (and reinforces our interpretation of the first video as a representation of Sia’s inner life), and so we already have a pretty good idea about what part of Sia that Maddie represents: she is the vulnerable, emotional part. LaBeouf, then, is something else entirely, perhaps a need to control the emotional aspects of herself to function normally in her career. Or maybe he is a predatory instinct born of show business, a moral flaw that Sia must fight to remain human in an inherently humanity-destroying job. Another possibility here is that he is the untamed (wild) part of Sia, the part that only her heart can quell.
Whatever the case, the beauty of good art is that it is often open to interpretation, its meaning elastic and malleable to whatever the experiencer of the art brings to the table. And with all of the controversy that has arisen over this video, with accusations that the video somehow encourages or promotes “pedophilia”, I would like to offer another possible interpretation: the video may, in fact, be taken as a condemnation of sexual abuse, wherein the characters are symbolic of the mental interior of an abuse victim. Let’s consider the semiotics here.
First off, we see that both the child and the adult are trapped in an immense birdcage, facing off against each other. Through our established theme, this can be seen as symbolic in a couple of ways. First, the victim may be literally trapped with her abuser—this is often the case with sexual abuse victims, given that most abuse is intrafamilial and occurs in the home. Such a child is under the complete control of her abuser, since he has custody and legal power over her. Immediately we can see that the two are out of breath and in a heightened emotional state—they have been at each other’s throats for awhile, it seems. The girl appears to be fending off the advances of the male, almost like a feral cat fighting off a wolf. When she attacks, the wound is struck where? Square in LaBeouf’s heart.
But after Maddie’s verbal assault hits its mark and she unleashes on him again (having found a weapon that works), she soon loses her voice. Consider how there is power in a child’s voice—her ability to speak of her abuse may be the only thing that can truly end it—and child abusers often silence their victims with threats. But there’s also a musical analogy here, as singers sometimes quite literally lose their voice for a brief time. There is one point where the sexual abuse metaphor becomes most apt: as the two crawl on the floor like animals, Maddie suddenly flips onto her back, knees up and slightly apart; it seems she is inviting her abuser to take her, but as we soon realize, this is only a ploy to get him close enough so that she might attack him again. Having gotten the upper hand again in their face-off, she grabs LaBeouf and tosses him against the wall of their shared cage.
Not long after this, LaBeouf climbs up the side of the cage and is suspended directly above Maddie for a second. Here the abuser again uses his power and privilege over the girl (as a parent or foster parent) to his advantage. This type of shot is often called a bird’s-eye-view in photography and cinema. Resoundingly appropriate for a video set in a giant birdcage, no? Moreover, it is largely agreed upon by critics that such shots in visual semiotics establishes a sense of vulnerability for those who lie at the distal end of the shot.
While LaBeouf hangs above her, Maddie seems to sleep, perhaps resting after the long battle. Or maybe she is pretending to sleep, something long-term abuse victims have been known to do, though her surprise when LaBeouf drops down and intimately touches her face seems genuine enough that I take the first point as more accurate.
Maddie is once more on the defensive, but LaBeouf tries another ploy: he seems to offer her something in his hand, and Maddie sniffs at it. What is he offering her? My hunch is food, not only because of the way she sniffs it but also because of what occurs directly after. With Maddie’s back turned to him, her defenses down, LaBeouf moves in. But the little girl snaps at his hand, and thus quite literally (within a metaphorical context) bites the hand that feeds her, and for good reason. This scene, I think, is the crux of the entire video.
Their ongoing war resumes, going on for a bit; however, something is different this time. Maddie manages to find her way out of the cage. The fact that she can fit through the bars while her abuser cannot is significant. Likely we are seeing the victim growing up and moving away from home, while the abuser is still there. But more importantly, the victim is now educated and aware, and she knows she can destroy him with a word. The abuser is still obsessed with the victim, reaching for her through the bars, but she is out of reach. Ergo, he is trapped in another way: his obsession with the girl has become something like an addiction. He goes through a series of emotions here—sorrow, fear, rage. Maddie, meanwhile, also appears to be torn. She flashes him a false smile, but she is a bit confused by her own feelings. Perhaps she has not entirely escaped after all.
In the end, seeing the man saddened and cowed before her, she slips back into the cage willingly and returns to him in what becomes one of the most poignant scenes in the video. Maddie flips her legs over LaBeouf’s shoulders, and he walks around with her on his back; she is now his burden. She expresses genuine care and concern for him here, though she also manipulates him, pounding on his forehead to force him to go through a series of face changes (masks?) for her own entertainment, and then toying with his face directly.
It is the girl who is clearly in control now, or so it seems. She has forgiven her abuser, or at least made peace with him. She even leads him to the edge of the cage and attempts to pull him out with her, to rescue him from the very prison he created for them, but this is where things become most complicated. The scene plays out for a while, even after the music dies away, and it soon becomes difficult to discern whether she is still trying to pull him out or he is trying to pull her in. Most likely it is both.
That is the complex nature of abusive parent-child relationships. The child may escape the situation physically, but that doesn’t mean she is entirely free of it psychologically. And she may still love the parent, perhaps understanding him better than he understands himself, and the nature of his obsession with her. In the end, both abuser and victim are likely irreparably scarred by their unhealthy relationship. That pretty well sums up what occurs in a much of the long-term intrafamilial abuse I have read about, where severing emotional ties becomes a lot more difficult than if the abuser had simply been an acquaintance. The camera fades away with the two still engaged in this strange tug-of-war, leaving the viewer uncertain about the fate of man and girl.
That’s it. That is one of my interpretations of the video, and I think I make a pretty strong case for it. This does not, of course, mean that this was what Sia or Askill intended the video to be about. Nor does it mean that this is my only interpretation of the video (it isn’t). The reason I spent a good deal of time examining the video from this perspective is that I wanted to demonstrate something about the nature of good art: it’s meaning is malleable and is often viewed through our own filters. As has been mentioned here before, those who tend to see obscenity in nude artworks of children are often the ones with the dirty minds, not the artists themselves. Likewise, I am inclined to believe that we should look askance upon those who offer only the tone-deaf interpretation of the Elastic Heart video as a casual promotion of adult-child sex.
As for me, I see precisely the opposite in it. In fact, this need not even be a metaphor for sexual abuse–any sort of abuse will do. As for the discomfort the video may cause, so what? If the video is indeed a symbolic look at sexual abuse, then it should make us uncomfortable. Would anyone dare suggest that a film like, say, Bastard out of Carolina shouldn’t have been made because the graphic rape scene at the end is utterly disturbing (which it is—it may be the most graphically depicted child rape scene ever filmed)? I certainly wouldn’t. If art is to have any impact on us, it must challenge us. I am also more than a touch concerned about the current trend of putting up “trigger warnings” on everything that might be even remotely offensive to someone–personally, I find it insulting to myself and to humanity as a whole this notion that we must necessarily be shielded against our own feelings, as if we were all emotional infants who must always be cooed to and comforted by the world around us.
Nevertheless, I will accept it if I must. If you require a warning label on your art, I can look past it. After all, controversy has rarely ever hurt sales when it comes to art, and if anything tends to encourage them. What I will not accept is external pressure to change, destroy or even apologize for art that challenges viewers because some people are bothered by it. In my estimation, Sia has absolutely nothing to apologize for. She clearly did not exploit Maddie Ziegler to make her art, which is the only real consideration that should be given when it comes to featuring children in provocative art. These videos have beautiful purpose, and that is its own moral defense.
Tumblr: Sia (official site)
Daniel Askill (official site)
Maddie & Mackenzie Ziegler (official site)
I know the expression is supposed to be “15 minutes of fame”, but I think that only applies to those who seek fame. If one has mediocre talent and is very ambitious, one can expect to get at least that. However, there are many who are wonderful team players who make things work behind the scenes. I remember watching the director’s commentary on The Incredibles and how an animator who put his heart and soul into a scene would get only a few seconds of air time in the final cut. The efforts of people like this creates a credible atmosphere in the film so the viewer can be completely immersed in the story.
The same goes for set and costume designers who also get little recognition. An instance I would like to single out appears in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). Emma Watson (as Hermoine Granger) and Evanna Lynch (as Luna Lovegood) certainly deserve notice, but I would like to recognize one other who may have slipped under your radar.
Angelica Mandy played a very small role as Gabrielle Delacour, the little sister of Fleur—one of the Tri-Wizard Champions. Costume designer Jany Temime and her team designed the stunning silver suit Mandy wore as she somersaulted into the scene during her school’s introduction. The shot lasts only a few seconds and we mostly see it from the rear.
Even when we do see it from the front, it is cut off because the emphasis is on Fleur.
The only way we get to see the front is in the outtakes. As the actors were not experienced in choreography, they fumble around a bit trying to get it right and some of the footage is shared in the video extras. The silver body suit is accented by a feathery fringe around the collar and sleeves and some extra flames were painted on the abdomen and thigh portions of the suit to give it a dynamic, fiery appearance.
Here she appears to be wearing a cloak over it as she sits down by her sister. You can still see some of the fringe on the sleeve.
There are only two other scenes where Mandy’s character is featured as more than a spectator. Here she is underwater waiting to be rescued in the tournament’s second task.
And here she thanks Ron for helping to save her in that incident.
Mandy—who was about 12 during shooting—also appeared as the young Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (2004) and supposedly appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, probably in the wedding scene. As it was only a cameo and she was much older, I was not able to spot her.
I would like to thank Ami for informing us of a rising star in dance who deserves attention on Pigtails. As neither Pip nor I are knowledgeable about dance, we asked Ami to put together the research and images for this post.
There are a lot of little girls who can be seen dancing on YouTube and every one is like a beneficent gift. But whatever charms they may have, most are a bit clumsy and awkward; it takes time to develop the skill and discipline to be an effective dancer. Every once in awhile a prodigy comes along, and at the tender age of 11, the moves of Autumn Miller have been called star magic.
The video that inspired me to feature her on this site is “I Was Here” where she performs a moving dance routine using paint as a prop and white mats and a body suit as canvas.
Known as Autie to her friends, she has become something of a phenomenon, with tens of thousands of followers on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a conglomerate of Autie fan sites affectionately known as “Autie’s Army.”
Girls’ dance has become mainstream since the appearance of Dance Moms on Lifetime Television Network featuring starlets like Maddie and Mackenzie Ziegler and Chloe Lukasiak. Some episodes featured skin tone outfits and performances inspired by Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman, creating a stir. Rumored to have been invited to star in Dance Moms, her show-biz savvy mother Krista apparently declined the offer; nonetheless, it was into this milieu that Autie first appeared in the media during the “Single Ladies” scandal, when a very well-rehearsed and energetic girl’s dance routine performed to Beyoncé’s hit song caught the attention of major news outlets including Good Morning America. Host George Stephanopoulos interviewed some of the girls’ parents asking if the performance was too sexy for little girls. Autie’s father Cory—no stranger to the spotlight as a former pro-skater—defended the World of Dance/Dance Precision performance, arguing that it was the media who were sexualizing the little girls by taking the dance out of context and focusing in on small parts. Autie herself remarked, “Not really sure why we got so much attention but it was fun.” Even before I had heard of Autie, this performance was brought to my attention by some teenage girls who were impressed by the performance.
The little dirty blonde may not have stood out at the time from the “Single Ladies” troupe as a whole, and it was more than a year later before she reemerged in the media on YouTube with a dance channel called Autie’s Freestyle Friday (AFF) and on her mother’s channel, KBM Talent teaching Trick Tip Thursdays. Here we see an example called “Front Attitude Turns.”
AFFs often take place at the Millers’ home in Brea, California in the third-floor loft studio. The productions are a family affair; Autie’s dad is credited with much of the sharp videographic work, her toddler actor brother Harbor makes guest appearances and Autie’s mother Krista also deserves special mention. Here mother and daughter appear in one of their duets.
Krista Buonauro-Miller operates KBM Talent, a small dance company she started to work in her home with young people she really loves. A former ballet dancer and LA Lakers cheerleader, Krista danced with Jim Carrey in The Mask, in Saved By the Bell, Jackass 2 and for performers Prince, Elvis Costello and The Pussycat Dolls. Her sincere manner and technical knowledge have helped bring the weekly Trick Tip Thursdays co-hosted by Autie thousands of subscribers.
Autie cites Jesus as her inspiration and when asked once why she dances, she replied, “God gave me the heart to dance.” She names Shannon Mather as another of her inspirations; Shannon is owner of MDC, co-owner of Coastal Dance Rage and Autie’s main coach. Autie also frequently appears in duets and has performed with choreographer Todd Flanagan, dancer Chaz Buzan and ex-Lakers cheerleader DeeDee Williams.
Autie’s infectious glee and super-fast tight moves garnered an almost immediate following. Some of her uploads have had more than one million views. Inspired by both ballet and it’s rebel antipode, modern dance—perhaps inspired by Isadora Duncan—Autie’s AFFs tend to be solos featuring falls, contraction & release, collapse and other classical techniques. More modern ideas like Dance Parkour, Tilts, Front Attitude Turns and Stag Leaps are also incorporated.
Her “Off with Your Head” AFF illustrates this dichotomy when at first she appears in classical ballet costume and then breaks that up by appearing barefoot in tight glittery gold pants, leaping and whirling, hair a muss from a huge fan and displaying her signature facial expressions.Autie has described her style as “fierce.” For example, she plays a super-charged dynamo in her Dubstep “Cinema” AFF, where she seems to pantomime a short-circuiting android spasming on a (dis)assembly line, a departure from the slick dance covers of the 20th century commercial entertainment industry. She also plays the tormented beauty of a will to survive in her Katniss Everdeen Hunger Games-inspired AFF, and her precise and explosive performance to “Blow” at the 2012 Dance Nationals at Bally’s in Las Vegas won her second place overall.
Only the hard-bodied technical virtuoso Sophia Lucia, famed for her fifty-four consecutive pirouettes (and having appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show) scored better. Though Sophia’s performance to “Requiem for a Dream” was flawless and chilling, the two dancers are not so much competitors as co-spirits and friends, having danced together many times.
Autie has presented the work of numerous other legends of girls’ dance in her AFFs such as Charlize Glass, Larson Thompson and Sarah Shepherd. She hasn’t limited her career to completion dances and online uploads; she was in Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” 2010 music video. Willow—actor Will Smith’s daughter—also produced “21st Century Girl,” the kind of image Autie hopes to create for an upcoming AFF. A post-modern star, Autie is featured as a character in the Nintendo video game “Just Dance Kids 2” for Wii.
She showed up at the last Los Angeles Auto Show and this picture of her in mid-leap was published in The Los Angeles Times.
She has also been on TV’s Dancing with the Stars, Shake It Up and Mobbed and recently had the opportunity to interview the hip-hop star Nelly. She showcased her teaching skill at 2013 Velocity Dance, where she lead mass dance classes. Rounding out her achievements, Autumn and her mom are branching out into prêt-à-porter fashion: marketing KBM Talent gear and Autie’s Freestyle Friday T-shirts, which can be purchased online.
Autie Miller has done a great service advancing girl’s dance and demonstrating that little girls are capable of virtuosity as dancers, intellectual brilliance as home-school choreographers and can display spiritual depth as artists. A freestyle dancer can uniquely serve as both painter and canvas—practically a poster-child for Pigtails in Paint.
KBM Talent (official website)
David Hofmann Photography (official website)
David Hofmann (Webstagram)
Isadora Duncan’s story is one of both resounding success and incomprehensible tragedy. When Isadora—the last of four children—was a baby her family fell into financial and social ruin; a couple years later her parents would be divorced. As Isadora grew she found herself drawn to dance and increasingly frustrated with the restrictive atmosphere of school (not unlike author Madeleine L’Engle, who, ironically, would be enrolled, along with her sister, in one of Duncan’s dance classes.)
As a young woman Duncan found herself in Europe, where she developed a new form of dance that stressed freedom of movement and rejection of the highly structured stances and moves of ballet, a style she found unnatural. In a sense she was the kinetic embodiment of art nouveau, a style of art that had peaked right around the time she was becoming prominent in the dance scene. While her style was quite successful in one sense, it was not without controversy, not merely because of its rejection of tradition but also because Duncan often appeared in revealing translucent clothes or, on at least one occasion, nothing at all. In puritanical America her free-form style was initially lambasted, though methinks the rejection had less to do with her improvisational technique than with her skimpy outfits and sensuous movements. Europeans, however, quickly embraced her in a big way and even sent their young daughters to study underneath her (as did Americans eventually.)
Duncan was unashamed of her sexuality and believed that it was healthy to operate with both mind and body unencumbered, a philosophy she passed on to her young students. This brazenly sensual style, especially when it involved young girls, was likely destined to bring about a conflict with authorities at some point, and so it did. Helen Bailey’s article at the (now defunct) Gymnosophy website recounts just such a run-in:
“In 1904, Isadora Duncan startled the world with her innovations in the Dance. She opened a school, and there taught her doctrines of absolute freedom of mind and body. The dance audience of her time reacted in no uncertain manner. She was greeted with an extreme rebuff.
“However, after some training, the children of her school performed. As the curtain rose, the police stormed the doors of the auditorium, and attempted to stop the performance on the grounds that the costumes were indecent. They maintained that they displayed, too brazenly, the contours of the children’s growing shapely bodies. It was only because of the vigorous intervention of friends and followers, that the police finally withdrew, and permitted the performance to go on.
“Had it not been for the aid of these friends, motivated by their firm belief in her sincerity of purpose, and fine aesthetic sense, this very beautiful thought, which she later used in the development of the Dance Art, would have been stifled, and no doubt remained dormant for many years.
“Saved from the withering hand of police censorship, Isadora Duncan’s idea was transferred to thousands of children, and attracted a wide audience, who came to believe in it as earnestly as she.”
What strikes me most about this description is how closely it mirrors the modern debate over the sexualization of children. And yet Duncan’s form of dance eventually went mainstream and attracted thousands of students, children and adults alike. Which goes to show that this debate is neither a new thing nor that society will crumble if it adopts such openness with kids. What is new, however, is the degree of success the campaign to repress the sensual and corporeal spirit of youth (and by extension the Sexual Revolution, which really started with youths after all) has had over the last thirty years.
And here’s a larger view of the same image–note the pose of the girl in front, on the floor:
Duncan even had a school in Moscow, Russia, though it was mostly taught by Duncan’s former student Irma Erich-Grimme (or Irma Duncan as she was known—Irma, one of the six original Isadorables—took on Duncan’s surname as part of their professional career, as did all of the Isadorables.)
The Isadorables were of the Grunewald school, the most successful of Duncan’s three Old World schools. Duncan, coming from a poor background, had a soft spot for girls in a similar predicament and thus her school took in primarily destitute girls. They lived at the school for part of the year and the curriculum included more than just dance. The girls started young. Erica Lohmann, for example, the youngest of the six Isadorables, was only four when she started at Grunewald.
Here are Irma Erich-Grimme (born in 1897), Anna Denzler (born in 1894, the oldest of the Isadorables), and Erica Lohmann (born in 1901–she would be 16 here):
Duncan bore three children, a daughter, Deirdre, and two sons, Patrick and an unnamed boy who died soon after being born, all from different fathers. Among the great tragedies of Duncan’s life was the deaths of her two oldest children, who both perished when the automobile they were sitting in rolled into the Seine and drowned them. They were 7 and 3 respectively when they died. The children had been raised with the same Bohemian openness with which Duncan treated her dance students. These photos were taken not long before the horrific accident:
Ironically, Duncan would herself eventually expire in an automobile accident when her scarf caught up in the spokes of the car’s wheel and slung her out to the pavement. She went out as she had lived her life: in a very dramatic way.
Duncan’s legacy has endured to this day, and there are still schools dedicated to teaching her highly organic mode of dance. These include the Isadora Duncan International Institute and the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, both in New York.
Finally, I will leave you with a beautiful video clip that may perhaps feature the largest number of young girls you will ever see in a single work of art, making it more than apropos for my blog. This is from Ken Russell’s 1966 made-for-BBC film, Isadora, the Biggest Dancer in the World: here is Isadora Duncan (played by Vivian Pickles) running joyously through a field with hundreds of children to the opening strains of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ There’s something quite heavenly about this scene, and that, ladies and gents, is as sweet and beautiful as life gets.