Photo credit: ABC/Eric McCandless.
Let's talk about Hayley Erbert — and how talented she is as an individual. 2020 has been a wonderful breakthrough year for her in reaching another level of audiences recognizing her work, but she is way more than somebody's girlfriend. Let's celebrate her successes as a dancer, and the accomplishments she achieved all on her own merits.
Erbert burst on the dance scene in 2013 as a cast member on "So You Think You Can Dance" — one of the most competitive seasons the show has ever produced. The fresh-faced, 18-year-old from Topeka, Kansas had guest judge Minnie Driver exclaiming, "She's lovely" in the middle of her audition routine. The contemporary dancer had all three judges enraptured the moment she stepped on stage.
Her time on the summer show foreshadowed her career because it forced her to step outside her contemporary dance comfort zone and tackle ballroom over and over again. During the fifth week, her skills were tested when her partner, Curtis Holland, injured his shoulder during rehearsal and couldn't perform on the show. Choreographer Leonardo Barrionuevo stepped into his place to perform the Argentine Tango with her.
Photo credit: FOX.
"At that point, I didn't know anything about ballroom. He was teaching me how to hold my back and stay in frame in order for him to lead me in certain directions," she reminisced on "To The Pointe" in 2018. I was pretty much clueless at that point, but it was the most amazing thing. I learned so much from him."
Even with a Top 6 finish on the show and a subsequent tour, Erbert couldn't rest on her laurels. She found life "hard" after coming off of tour.
"The minute I moved to LA, I realized I'm really not as good as I thought," she admitted. "I had a lot to work on, which is incredible. I had to be a student. I had to go to class. I had to really work on things. So I went to auditions and I got told 'no' way more than 'yes.'"
In 2014, an audition for Derek and Julianne Hough's first "Move Live on Tour" changed her "entire career." She believed it was a time to "settle in and figure who [she] was as a person," but little did she know that jumping back on the second year of "Move Live on Tour" would be a game-changer. An inspired idea from Derek's former teacher and current "Strictly Come Dancing" head judge, Shirley Ballas, set her path on a completely different trajectory.
Shirley suggested that the duo do the Rhumba together because Hayley had "great legs and feet," and that's how their "Thinking Out Loud" duet became a part of the second tour. The dance icon has always had high praise for one of her favorite students — yes, Hayley wisely trained in ballroom with the master instructor. "An amazing student of Dance, who likes to continually learn her trade to improve in every aspect of all she does," bragged Shirley in a 2018 Instagram post. If Shirley thinks you're good, that's confirmation that you're really good at dance.
That focus of continually working on her craft paid off for Hayley, who found herself on the receiving end of a curious offer from then executive producer of "Dancing With the Stars," Ashley Edens in 2015. Edens thought Hayley might be a great fit for the ABC show after watching a performance at the "Move Live on Tour." What number caught her eye? "Thinking Out Loud." That one piece got her in the door for an interview with the production team — the meeting was a success and Hayley locked in a "Dancing With the Stars" troupe contract that year.
It's easy for people to go to the default assumption that Hayley got the job because she was dating Derek, but that's lazy storytelling. Every step along her journey is because of her talent and dedication to the art of dance. She successfully performed on seven seasons on "Dancing With the Stars" as a member of the troupe, and most of those seasons were without Derek as a cast member. While she hasn't achieved "the ultimate goal" of becoming a pro on the show, we wouldn't take that dream off the bucket list.
Photo credit: ABC.
2020 has been a year that Derek and Hayley have merged their talents in ways that showcase how powerful they are as individuals, and as an artistic duo. They've captured the attention of families everywhere with their appearances on the "Disney Singalong" specials — from "Be Our Guest" from "Beauty and the Beast" to a "Mary Poppins" medley. It's been incredible to see that ABC is finally paying attention, too.
Hayley went from being introduced as "Derek's girlfriend, Hayley" in the first special in April to "his girlfriend and fellow 'Dancing With the Stars' cast member, Hayley Erbert" in this week's holiday special. It was a marked improvement from that April introduction that should have never been written like that to begin with. While the intentions behind the words were probably innocent when that script was created, it unnecessarily pushed Hayley into the shadows — when she deserves that same spotlight as Derek.
And if you needed any reminder that she can hold her own on the ballroom floor, look no further than the Paso Doble they performed on "Dancing With the Stars" in mid-October. We knew this piece was going to light up the stage, but the heat score was off the charts. We can't think of a better audition for pro for Season 30, so let's hope producers are paying attention.
The next time anyone wants to diminish the accomplishments of Hayley and the incredible career she's had so far, remind them that she's a star in her own right. Thousands of dancers flock to Los Angeles every year in hopes of achieving that one dream of making it to "So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With the Stars," or maybe getting on one tour. Hayley has done all that and more, and while we are always excited to see her joint projects with Derek, we are also thrilled to see her continued individual success.
"This is what I love to do," she shared on 'To The Pointe.' "I've been doing this since I was three years old to make me happy. In high school, I chose dance over a social life. I chose dance over everything."