Ian Eastwood discovered his enthusiasm for dance at a young age. While developing his skills, he started a YouTube channel to share his new routines with family and friends, and before long, the young creatiev was showing off his skills to larger audiences, competing on America’s Best Dance Crew and teaching his own dance workshops in studios around the world.
Today, the 22-year-old Chicago native is finding much success in the world of music video choreography, having most recently directed the moves in Chance the Rapper and The Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy” short film. His impressive résumé also includes cameos and choreography credits in the videos for Childish Gambino’s “Sober” and Vic Mensa’s “Feel That.”
We recently talked with the young choreographer about being a mentor for young dancers and what it’s like to teach rappers how to move.
When did you start dancing and what styles did you first learn?
I started dancing when I was 10. The first dance class I took was a hip-hop class, and immediately after I walked out of that first class, I knew it was what I wanted to do. My parents are artists, so they knew I would end up pursuing some kind of art form. When I found dance, that was it.
My style shaped over time from other styles I was inspired by. I’ve always been grabbing a little bit of everything as I go, and I’ve been able to create a new little blend for myself.
At what point did you start to think about taking choreography seriously and doing it professionally?
Often dancers will dance for a very long time, and they’ll eventually get into choreography. But for me, I never really liked just dancing. I thought the two went hand in hand right from the beginning. I actually tried to perform in a talent show in fifth grade, and I got yelled at because I couldn’t do the piece that we were doing at my little local dance studio. Because of that, I learned how to choreograph for myself. I didn’t know that it was a big deal for a 10-year-old to be choreographing, but I just went with it. I was always sharpening my choreography skills along the way, which put me that much more ahead when I was taking it more seriously. The defining point was when I found Marty Kudelka, who’s Justin Timberlake’s choreographer. That was the first time I understood exactly what I wanted to be.
When you’re collaborating with artists and people with various personalities, how do you try to make them feel as free and expressive as possible?
That’s super important. You have to get in the mindset of the artist and really study, just like any other job. You should be looking at their live performances, music videos, and seeing what you have to work with already. You can’t really just go in there blind and start making dance moves that you would do yourself. Sometimes I’ll actually pretend I’m in the artist’s skin, and I’ll meld their style with my movement. At the end of the day, you could have the coolest choreography in the world, but if the artist doesn’t feel comfortable, and they don’t sell it, then it doesn’t matter.
Tell me about your experience working on Chance the Rapper & The Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy” music video.
That video is really awesome, and it was a big honor. It was actually a long time coming. Chance and I are both from Chicago, so we have a lot of mutual friends and stuff. I’ve been a fan of his music over the past couple years. I’d been posting videos with his music before, and we were trying to work together a couple other times leading up to this video, but it wasn’t working out. I got really excited that we were finally able to make this video happen, and it was a really exciting opportunity. It was like four days of work and five shoot days.
Is that the typical timeframe for the music videos you work on?
It depends on the video. It was actually pretty impressive that we got this one done in that time, since there were a lot of moving pieces, literally. It was also crazy because we were doing this for a pretty low budget. I had to schedule and book all the dancers myself, but once we got it all together, everything was happening super fast, and everyone was easy to work with. It was especially great because there were no egos. Especially being in LA, I’ve been really lucky that most of the projects I’ve done as a choreographer have been for the greater good of cool videos.
Is Chance naturally a good dancer?
Yeah! I’ve always wanted to work with him, but I didn’t necessarily know in what capacity. I just happened to be at Bonnaroo last year when I finally got to see him live. I was like "Oh snap! He can bust!" I knew it definitely needed to happen. There was no way I wasn’t gonna choreograph a Chance video.
Tell me about the Childish Gambino “Sober” video, too.
That one was crazy, too. The way a lot of things have happened for me are usually not the typical route that any choreographer has taken. I had my first meeting with [my manager] Dan, and I told him that at some point, I really, really wanted to work with Donald Glover. He’s a big inspiration to me, because he’s so multitalented and really conquering a lot of different arts. I sent Dan this clip of me in class dancing to a routine from one of his songs, and Dan sent it to the Gambino camp. Two or three hours later, he called me back and was like, "Hey you might want to cancel your flight tomorrow, because I think you’re meeting Donald."
Donald is a super awesome guy to work with. He and Hiro [the director] are both really down to earth and really relaxed when they’re creating. It didn’t even feel like we were making the next Childish Gambino video; it just felt like we were doing something really cool. There weren’t a lot of people on set or anything. It was really chill, cool vibes.
What about Vic Mensa’s “Feel That”?
I had just been getting into Vic’s work. Chicago is very community-oriented, and everyone stays close, even if they’re physically really far apart. So eventually I put two and two together and realized that my next door neighbor for my whole life, Cody, is in Vic’s camp. I was like, "How is this even humanly possible!?" This was a kid I went to middle school with on the bus! It was a crazy coincidence. I started hanging out with them more, and I remember, at some point last year, I went to the studio with them, and Vic had just dropped "Feel That." I knew dancers would go crazy for that song, since it slaps really hard. So we were just talking about it, and I ended up having some free time to choreograph. And this was also around the time I was traveling and teaching workshops, so I would send Vic and Cody clips of me teaching "Feel That" to groups of kids. They were like, "Dude! This is nuts! You gotta come through and shoot the video." It was a quick process, just a little cameo and a nice introduction to everything that’s been happening over the past year or so.
You recently turned 22, and you’ve already accomplished so much. What’s been the most memorable moment or accomplishment in your career, so far?
I think the “Sober” and “Sunday Candy” videos coming out were two really big moments for me. I couldn’t believe that my art could get me to that place, where other artists and people I really respect are working with me because they like my work, and not just because I booked a job, or I had someone pull a favor, or whatever. I try not to get too excited about anything until it’s in the can, released, and done. A lot of times in show business, people will make promises that never really come through, so the release of those videos was really big for me, since I’m actually seeing them come to life.
You teach dance classes, as well?
I just got back from a whole East Coast tour, where I probably taught 300-400 dancers over the course of the weekend. I’ve been really lucky. I started posting my work online when I was younger, and I’ve started traveling since I was 15, and since then I’ve been to 27 countries to teach. It’s been a journey.
What’s your favorite part of teaching?
I really enjoy helping people. I like finding kids who have a drive similar to what I had (and still have). I was always good at dance, but I was never the best ever. I had to work super super hard, so I know what it’s like to have the drive and the passion but to not be fully shaped yet. My favorite thing to do is take kids under my wing who are really going for it. Even in other languages, you can see on someone’s face when something really means a lot to them. Making a difference in people’s lives is really important to me.
What's your advice for kids who aspire to dance and choreograph like you do?
You have to be doing what you really, really want. This goes for everything, not just dance. You just have to really like it and be super passionate about it, and unfortunately, sometimes, it might not work out exactly how you saw it in your head, but that doesn’t mean anything’s over. You might just need to go at it in a different way. I think a lot of people do something because maybe someone told them to do it, or maybe their parents pressured them into it, but I always pursued dance not because I wanted to be cool or travel the world, but because I needed it.
What's the first-ever dance mixtape, and when is it coming out?
That’s the most exciting thing for me right now. I’ve been wanting to do this for the past three years or so, but I could never really figure out how to do it. It’ll be a 25-minute music video that has tracks to it—sort of in between a short film and a mixtape. I’m hoping to get some cameos and collaborations, as well. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot through working on movies and in music, so I’m creating something like a visual album for choreography. The goal is to create something as a choreographer and dancer that hasn’t really been done before.