Dancers often have to say goodbye to the career they love and launch a new profession. But not everyone can say Beyonce helped them get there.
Keltie Knight, host of CBS’ “The Insider,” spent her early years in Hollywood as a professional dancer. Before she started hosting events from red carpets to the Thanksgiving Day Parade Live on CBS, she was making it as a dancer, performing with the Radio City Rockettes, the New York Knicks and alongside celebrities like John Legend, Taylor Swift and Queen Bey.
But a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity performing with Beyonce was the “Aha!” moment that helped her move on from dance and start a career as a TV personality.
Knight, who also hosts The LadyGang Podcast, spoke with Dance.com about how hard it was to let go of dance and offers advice for dancers who have to move on.
Dance.com: What’s your dance background?
Knight: “I grew up in Northern Canada and I was a competition dancer with my studio. I was not really that great, but I was born with this relentless work ethic. I was also born genetically with quite a lovely dancer body. I’m 5’6″ and I have incredibly long legs for how tall I am. So it’s kind of like everything, except the actual talent, was there. I had to really work extra hard at that.”
Do you remember your first audition?
“In high school, I auditioned to be a dancer on one of the cruise lines. When you’re Canadian, it’s the job to get because you can’t really go right to America and start working. I ended up working for a cruise line that happened to love tall, leggy, blonde dancers. You don’t have to be an incredible dancer to be a dancer on a cruise ship, you just have to be good. For two years, I traveled around the world.”
How did you end up in the U.S.?
“I ended up meeting a guy. Then I moved to New York. I was teaching dance and auditioning. I ended up getting a green card for dance. From there, the doors just started to open. I danced for an NBA team. I spent five years dancing for the Rockettes. During the Rockettes off-season, I was doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ and movies. I danced for artists.
I was definitely a late bloomer. I actually got really good when I was 22 or 23. I kind of hustled my way through by being a nice person and working really hard. Then I started choreographing for John Legend, his video for ‘Green Light,’ and some artists. I danced for Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards when she did ‘You Belong With Me.’ I danced for Fergie on Fashion Rocks. The song we did was ‘Glamorous.'”
What’s the hardest part about being a Rockette?
“The thing I keep with me the most is my Rockette show weight. When you’re a Rockette, they weigh you. And they’re like, ‘Here’s the Body Mass Index that you’re allowed to be during the season.’ That stays with you forever. When you get over that number, you’re like ‘I’m not a dancer body anymore!’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, I have to get that Rockette body back.’ Although the Rockette body happens when you do six shows a day, five days a week. It’s like running a marathon.”
When and why did you quit?
“My last job was dancing for Beyonce at the Billboard awards. It was my mic-drop moment. It was in 2011, when she did ‘Who Run the World?’ It was 50 girls, and we all went to Vegas. It was very fun. I was backstage and Tina Knowles was handing out the fringe shorts we were wearing. I looked around and was like ‘Damn. Is this fun anymore?’
I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be stuck in a holding room. Dance is one of the only professions where you train your entire life, and you are the best in the business and you’re still treated like a minion. When I started out, it didn’t bother me. But the artist’s life started to drag as I wanted other things: to get married, have a family. I was like ‘This is it. I’m going out on Beyonce.’ That was the last professional dance job I ever did.”
What was the hardest part about leaving dance?
“The hardest part is losing the community. When you’re in a cast — on a cruise ship or a NBA dance team or even an episode of ‘SNL’ rehearsing for a week — you get so close and a sense of community. With the Rockettes, I miss having 30 best friends and the sisterhood. When you go out ‘into the real world,’ it’s every man for himself, and it’s lonely.”
How did you get into hosting?
“I was already hosting on YouTube. I’m a natural talker so the transition wasn’t difficult. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just try another totally impossible career?’ It’s not the Keltie way to do something easy and just get a job and go to work every day. I started at LiveNation hosting their music news and CBS found me. I pitched them this digital idea. That was six and half years ago. I just built my way up.”
What’s the biggest difference between dancing and hosting?
“With media, you see the same people, but everyone is in the zone. It’s more cutthroat. When I’m on a red carpet, and there are six women correspondents, we’re all trying to get Katy Perry. I’m friends with all of these girls, but I want to be the person who gets the Katy Perry interview. It’s kind of like being down to the last 10 girls in an audition and knowing there’s only one spot.”
What do you think is easier, interviewing celebrities or dancing?
“Interviewing celebrities is 4,000% easier because it comes so naturally for me. I prepare like a crazy person, but once I’m in a room with someone, it comes so naturally. In dancing, I was certainly not winning the triple-platinum high scores at the competitions. Even when I was a professional, I couldn’t do all the backflips. It was a struggle. I was always the underdog.”
Do you have any regrets?
“I don’t regret anything in my dance career because it was incredible. Dance teaches you discipline and professionalism. That’s something not everyone learns in their life. Things like being on time, being prepared. All of those things I’ve learned in my dance career has given me an edge on TV.”
Do you still dance at all?
“I try to work out every day. I took an intermediate ballet class, and I was like ‘Whoa.’ It was so depressing. But it was really fun and wonderful. Every six months or so, I get the urge, and I have to take a class. Then I remember why I don’t do that.”
What’s your advice for saying goodbye to dance?
“It’s so hard. Take every time you’ve had your heart broken — and times it by a zillion. It’s a hole you can never fill. I try by watching endless amounts of dance documentaries and YouTube videos of beautiful ballets. I do think it’s important for people to have a plan. So many dancers get to the end of their careers and say, ‘What do I do now?’ Don’t be afraid to start a second big career. You can dream another big dream.”