The A Plus Interview

'World Of Dance' Stars Keone And Mari Madrid Push The Art Form Forward, And Talk Its Influence On Their Relationship

"The reward is you get to do what you love with the person you love."

'World Of Dance' Stars Keone And Mari Madrid Push The Art Form Forward, And Talk Its Influence On Their Relationship

When Keone and Mari Madrid met for the first time at a dance workshop back in March 2008, they most likely didn't know that, nearly a decade later, they would be a married couple competing on Jennifer Lopez's competitive dance reality show World of Dance — but that's exactly where their story has brought them today.

Using their unique storytelling approach to urban dance, the two have worked their way to the top of their division and will be going up against Les Twins — you know, Beyoncé's backup dancers — to head into the finals. The ultimate prize for the winner or winners is a life-changing $1 million, something 29-year-old Keone and 31-year-old Mari — who were married in June 2012 — are hoping to walk away with in the end. The couple, who currently reside in Carlsbad, Calif., have big plans for their future both professionally and personally.

A Plus caught up with the pair to discuss a wide array of topics ranging from what competing on the hit NBC series has been like, what dance means to them, how they're pushing the art form forward, and how it has influenced their relationship.

A PLUS: You guys have worked with Justin Bieber and Kendrick Lamar, choreographed for "So You Think You Can Dance" as well as "Dancing With the Stars," and appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" — just to name a few. What made "World of Dance" the next step for you?

MARI: Most of the previous things were kind of behind the scenes, save for Justin Bieber we weren't. We've never been on one of these shows as a contestant, and we heard about all of these other people in our world who were going to participating and that really made us want to be a part of it, too. And just the fact that NBC was having this dance show. It's a really major TV network and we wanted to be a part of the first season.

KEONE: And personally — we kind of talked about this on the show — but we really are at the point where we're trying to start a family. The timing was really key for us; it's either now or never.

What has the process of being on the show been like, being surrounded by all of these talented individuals of all ages and from all around the world?

KEONE: It's been an incredible thing. A lot of the dancers on there we're friends with — especially in the urban hip-hop crowd realm; we all know each other. But when it came to ballroom dance, flamenco, tap, or just all these different styles and people from all over the world, it was really cool to see these inspiring displays. All these champions of different styles in one room and you know great things can happen. We've gained relationships from the show. We've even connected and still connect with some people we didn't know before we got on the show. It's a beautiful thing.

You guys have said you believe dance is an “incredible art form that connects people” despite whatever differences. Can you elaborate on that idea?

MARI: It's something we've seen behind something else or something that's not always well-funded or that people are really interested in, and it's really beautiful that we feel like [this] is a human thing because all humans connect to music in a natural reaction. You look at baby listening to music and they'll start to dance. It's like a human thing that's in us. What we want to do is to use storytelling in dance to have people be able to connect to it, into this thing they might not technically understand or feel something from. That avenue we want to explore because storytelling is a huge thing that there are so many mediums and outlets for, and with things still to be discovered.

KEONE: Not everyone can relate to [specific moves], but what everyone can relate to is the story, right? We're hoping to just use storytelling to really push dance in a new light. There are so many creative minds and talented people in the dance world that deserve to be the directors or producers for their own projects, that deserve to not just be an accessory but to be the main course. We hope to just continue to push that envelope. I know that's what most dancers are feeling and are striving for. Doing this show was honestly a step in that direction. To be able to go on the show and — the competition aside — just put your best art out there for people to relate to, for people to connect to so that they have a new experience in a new way to dance.

You have really tried to push dance forward, like with the two-screen music video or the enhanced ebook. How are you pushing the art form to the next level?

KEONE: The ebook is actually what we're currently working on, just this interactive story. It's going to be a nine-chapter multimedia book and it's going to incorporate film, writing, animation, and illustration. Dance is such a strong medium through video and online, we're trying to package that through a story.

One thing that's been a struggle, I think, for the entertainment industry with dance is a lot of dancers aren't that good at acting and a lot of actors aren't that good at dancing. So the way we saw this maximize the talent of dancers through a story was to have the acting portions ... written and animated. We're super pumped. Mari is actually a writing major — she went to school for creative writing — so she the author of it, but we created a story together and we actually shot our first video last night. It's all in production right now. Our tech team is working on the things that we're not knowledgeable about. We have no idea what it's going to end up being, we just hope that the core of the story will impact people in a cool way.

MARI: We just hope to make something new and exciting, and just have dance be a part of it.

Credit: Andrew Eccles / NBC
Credit: Andrew Eccles / NBC

You have talked about in some of your videos about how dance really connects people. In what ways have you seen dance connect people?

MARI: We feel very fortunate to experience this all the time because we're also teachers, and we travel around the world and we teach dance. There are these big events that people throw where students from all over the place — like 40 to 50-plus countries — will all be gathered in one place just to learn dance. You get these classes that are super diverse. Not everybody understands English, but they understand movement. People can come together no matter where they're from, what they believe, or whether they disagree or agree. They just dance and something really beautiful happens because you create that space of positivity, of celebration, of support of each other, and of encouragement. It's really, really incredible and very profound to experience, and we see it all the time. People can literally not be able to communicate with each other with words but they can understand each other with dancing.

I’m very intrigued as to how faith has played a role in your relationship. Can you explain how it’s a part of your life?

MARI: Faith has been huge in our relationship. Keone has always been Christian but I wasn't raised Christian, I was more towards an agnostic. I just didn't think about it, I just didn't grow up with church and the idea of God really being talked about very much. When I met him, he was really different from all the other guys that I had been with before, and I saw that faith and his belief in God really had to do with how he was as a person and his character. I was a little bit like I don't want any religion in my life and, because I like him, I became more open to just learning about it because I thought it was important to him, and I liked him and I wanted to respect that.

Doing that I became Christian and it's just been a really big thing in our relationship because it just acts as a bottom line for us because we share the same belief system. So, if we are fighting about something, there's always this thing underneath that's going to carry us through like a compass. And, obviously, that relates to dance because both of us believe our faith affects every part of our lives in big ways and in little ways, from decisions we make, the way we speak to each other, and the ability to forgive each other.

KEONE: But also what kind of art we put out there and what kind of music we choreograph to — all of those things play a part. it's just a part of our every day from what we feel and what we value.

You have been very open about wanting to start a family. How will dance — maybe what you’ve learned from it — play a role in your lives moving forward when tackling that next big step?

KEONE: The career we have in dance, just the opportunity to travel and see so many different kinds of people, different kinds of cultures, and different ways of living, that has been a huge teacher in our lives about being open-minded and being loving to other people regardless of the way they tie their shoes. Not everyone ties their shoes the same and we understand that, and are OK with that. It's just so awesome for us to be able to experience that and with dance, you really, really have to love it to pursue it as a career. It's not the most high-paying career and it's very, very difficult. The success rate isn't as high. And to do it as a married couple is a double risk, but we did it. That drive, that push, and that willingness to pursue something you love to do and to find purpose in that, I think, will be something that we hope to pass on to our child. People always ask, "So you're going to make your child a prodigy dancer?" I'm like, "No, we're just going to make them be the best version of themselves in whatever they would like to do."

What’s the most important dance the two of you have performed together and what does it mean to you that makes it so memorable?

KEONE: I don't know which one to pick. All of our pieces, they all have something different to offer. A lot of them are very personal to us so it's almost like trying to pick who's your favorite kid or something. Immediate thoughts, we did a piece years ago to Adele's "He Won't Go." That was kind of a first stepping stone in terms of storytelling for us and we kind of found something there. And I know it's recent but we really like the phone piece we did on [World of Dance] (with the full version below). It's just so current and we find that's an important message to remind people.

MARI: All of them are attached to memories, so I can watch one and it takes me back to a specific time in our life, and there's all these memories, people, and things attached to it. I don't know if I can pick one that's my favorite.

What are some of the challenges and rewards of being a married couple who dance, choreograph, and teach together?

KEONE: All the things are skills themselves, from choreographing to teaching and just creating in general. Doing it as a couple just adds a whole other layer to it. Our schedules do get kind of crazy, we're constantly together, and that's a tough thing to work with your significant other and put your personal feelings aside. When you're working with someone who knows you from top to bottom and knows everything about you. Those little things, they amount to something crazier than any other relationship we might have with another person in a professional way. It gets tough sometimes because we almost have to try and find time apart to be individuals as well. We understand that, as a team, every part has to feel valued and remember what each person's role is and what their strengths are. We have to find those times.

MARI: I think to not expect each other to be the only thing that feels each other. We're different from each other and we need time to do these other things that fulfill us besides dance and besides being married to each other. One of the challenges is separating work life and not-work life because it's so easy to continually talk about work or continually talk about ideas — which is also work. The conversation sways so easily ... and then you find that we were supposed to be relaxing and having dinner together and now we're making a to-do list. That's been a challenge, but I think the reward is just that we have this crazy bond with each other. I know couples say this, but we're best friends and I don't think there's anyone else on the planet that I could spend this much time with without going nuts. It's just really, really beautiful to share all of these memories and all of these experiences with another person that you care about.

KEONE: The reward is you get to do what you love with the person you love — and that's invaluable.

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