Former Star on Hit TV Shows Dancing With The Stars & So You Think You Can Dance Talks About Life Outside The Show
If someone had told me when I was a child that I was going to be dancing and performing on two national TV shows in my late teens to early twenties, I would have thrown up in my mouth. Not only was I shy to the point that I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone I didn’t know, but I HATED dance class with a passion.
I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 21, 1989. I grew up in a strong Christian home with 5 rambunctious, spirited older brothers who didn’t mind practicing there football skills on me, and routinely tackled me in a passing in the hallway. When I was 6 years old, my family moved to Orem, Utah. Looking back, it’s safe to say there was never a dull moment in the Hightower household and I am extremely grateful for my childhood. If I had to describe it in 3 words, laughter, love, and chaos would best summarize our times together.
When I was 9, my family moved to a new neighborhood in Utah, which also meant I had to attend a new school. Coincidentally, this school offered the only elementary after-school ballroom program in America. That is how I was first introduced to ballroom dancing. At first, I was the worst one in class. I was the last to pick up the steps and had to stay after class so the teacher could help me learn the steps. Soon after I got past that first initial awkward learning phase and being cut in the very first round of my first competition, I discovered my talent. I went from getting cut in the first round to taking first place in almost every competition in which me and my partner had entered, in a fairly short amount of time.
When I was 11, I won my first national title. Soon after, I was re-introduced to jazz, ballet, and hip-hop, in which the three styles became MY ENTIRETY. I auditioned on a whim. A friend had called and said she was auditioning and I thought, “Might as well try it out.” I made the highest team for my age category with merely no experience. It wasn’t long before I completely fell in love with the whole experience and it became my life. All I wanted was to be great. I ate, slept, and breathed dancing. Within a short time, I was earning scholarships from various dance competitions and conventions, which, to us, were as big of a deal as it got.
2 years later, fate stepped in and an opportunity to go back to ballroom came into my life: a great partner and sponsored training with some of the best coaches in the world. There was no question it was an amazing opportunity, but it also meant that i would have to leave my jazz studio entirely and was I willing to leave my best friends and a passion I couldn’t imagine, at the time, living without? I was 14 and it was the hardest decision I would have made up to that point. To leave that studio, my passion for that style of dance, and all my best friends, and step back into the “ballroom” world, which is vastly different. But I felt strongly and knew ballroom was where I was supposed to be, so I took the leap of faith and that would be my life for the next two years.
We traveled all around the world for competitions. My world became filled with fake tanning solution, the Russian language, and expensive dance dresses. My partner and I worked hard and quickly became one of the top 3 couples in the country, before eventually becoming the National Ten-dance champions. We earned the opportunity to be a part of Team USA in the biggest competition in the world, the British Open in Blackpool, England, and the opportunity to represent our country at the worlds. Well, all good things come to an end and my partner and I split after 2 years of competing.
I was 16 by this point and soon after the split I started my teaching career. Coaching younger couples at first until eventually I was teaching couples who were much older then I was. I loved being on the other side; being able to teach what I knew about dance and even about life to students whom I took great care in. I helped in achieving national titles for some of these starlings and was rewarded to see the substantial growth in each. When I wasn’t at the studio teaching I was actually able to have a social life, which was a little uncommon for me and be heavily involved in high school activities, dances and the likes. One of the best years of my life.
I was 17 when I started dancing with my second partner and within a short 4 months we became international finalists. We had 3 crazy months of living, training, and teaching students in North Carolina. On weekends we’d fly up to NYC to train and compete. At the end of the summer we moved back to Utah and trained for another 3 months, until my partner decided to move back to North Carolina and I stayed in Utah to finish my senior year.
3 months after that the famous “So You Think You Can Dance” auditions came to town.
I was nervous when I auditioned but I felt peace, reflecting on the doors that were opened to me and where the pieces had fallen in my life, feeling this was something that was “meant to be.” I made it straight through to vegas that night and the top 20 was to come soon after. I made it to the top 6 on that show being one of the 2 contestants who had never been in the bottom 3. Those three months were some of the most magical moments of my life. To add to the magic, two of the duo’s I had danced in, “Bleeding love” choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon and “A los Amigos” choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin, were nominated for Emmy’s several months later, which was a huge honor to be a part of.
Sytycd tour was to follow. Thousands and thousands of screaming fans at our shows every night, seeing the country, and making life-long friendships with my fellow contestants, made up the next four months.
I was on my way home from tour about to board the flight when I got the call from Dancing With the Stars to be on there next spring season. It didn’t look likely since I was still contracted with Fox, but I put the call in anyway to see if they could make a miracle happen. Nigel was great and let me out of my contract.
It was a whirl-wind when I first started and a bit over-whelming. None the less, I was ready and excited to take on the challenge.
Which brings us to the present day. DWTS is truly a dancers dream job, and I am so grateful to be a part of it. I am constantly striving to improve and work on my art form as there is ALWAYS more to learn. My partners have included Ty Murray, Louie Vito, Jake Pavelka, Michael Bolton, Romeo Miller, Roshon Fegan, and Helio Castroneves all of whom I have had the opportunity of creating close bonds with and learn valuable life lessons from.
Thinking over these more recent years there are so many memories and treasured moments that I will always hold close to my heart. When I was nominated for an Emmy Award for the paso doble “Maleguena” I had choreographed with fellow pro Derek. When my publicist called and told me I would have a two page spread in the iconic magazine Sports Illustrated “swimsuit edition” and then not long after the cover of the national magazine “Fitness.” When I had the opportunity to go oversees to visit the troops in which became a life altering experience. Being on the cover of DanceSpirit magazine. Which was an honor that was only a distant dream to me as a teenager. The opportunities to endorse products, most recently being the face of Reeboks’ new dance line. And just simply getting to go on trips with some of my best friends to dance for crowds around the country and get paid for it.
There are still many more things I want to achieve and experiences I want to have and ill keep striving for those until I reach them.
It was through the long hours in the studio battling and fighting to make my mark, pushing through illnesses and motivated by my failures, that I found my passion, confidence, work ethic, and most of all the will to succeed. Therefore dance is not just a hobby, but it is a huge part of who I am.
I realize that I have been blessed with much while at the same time, faced with many challenges. Challenges in which I cherish, for they have allowed me to grow and have kept me grounded and humble. Even through the successes I realize that with out God, I am nothing and with out the support of my mother and family through out the years, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this passion of mine. I always strive to remain true to who I am no matter the circumstance, and that determination to do so keeps me focused on the positive things in life, striving everyday to be an example of love, light, and passion to those around me.
Growing up and becoming a star dancer (5:59)
Going on to the show at 18 (11:28)
Being put on a platform and using it for her purpose (19:18)
Dealing with struggles and insecurities (21:15)
Having attention brought on quickly especially faith based (35:49)
Being open and giving up the idea of perfection (45:30)