Rising talent Ariana Greenblatt explores her journey as a dancer while she competes on “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors”.
For more than 25 seasons, ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” has taken celebrities out of their comfort zone and thrust them into the ballroom. This year the competition extended to younger competitors.
“Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” premiered earlier this fall and proved that even the youngest celebrities can be fierce competition. With a roster that boasts athletes, entertainers, and even a spelling bee champion, the ages of the contestants range between 9 to 14.
Ariana Greenblatt, best known for her roles as Daphne Diaz in Disney Channel’s “Stuck in the Middle” and Young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War, put her skills to the test.
“I did ‘Mommy and Me’ classes at age three when I lived in New York and danced locally in Florida for a couple of years before getting my role as Daphne Diaz,” the young star says of her previous dance experience. “It’s been all acting since!”
Though her history with dance was limited, the most challenging aspect of being on “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” had to be the schedule. The season was filmed over the summer, which Ariana was grateful for since that meant none of the competitors had to worry about school. Her weekly schedule usually consisted of rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, camera blocking and show days. “We worked six days a week with only Sundays off because show days were Friday and Saturday,” she explains. “We had to be there very early in the morning, but I didn’t mind because it also gave us time to hang out and have fun with each other.”
Ariana happily compares, “The main show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is more buttoned up so the crew loved having all this crazy kid energy around. There are totally different vibes between the two shows!”
I was excited and scared every week finding out which dance style I was going to learn.
The actress expands, her exuberant personality shining, as she calls the set crazy between performances. “Everyone has family and friends running around the hallways and trailers. We’re all packed into the on-set hair and makeup area with the pros taking selfies, videos and goofing off.” She can’t help but laugh, pondering, “There is no way the adult show is like this. It’s like a chaotic lunch room in school! Lots of energy and loud! Everyone is in their costumes and energy and nerves are at a high.” The audience gathering at their seats only add to the excitement and chatter.
Not only is this set different compared to the original series but it is also unlike any of the television sets that Ariana has been on before.
“Well, I have never done anything before a live audience other than my first job at six years old which was ‘Liv and Maddie’. Even ‘Stuck in the Middle’ was shot on location with a single camera,” she says, describing it to be like a movie. Despite there being seven kids in the fictional Diaz family, it’s still nothing like she’s experienced. Both of her films, Bad Moms Christmas and Avengers: Infinity War were shot on location in Atlanta or in studios. “The movie I just finished in England, The One and Only Ivan, was shot on a huge soundstage outside London.”
In addition to the brand new environment that “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” provides, it was also shot close to Ariana’s house. “It’s a really nice setup and it’s all under one roof,” she enthuses.
When it comes to the actual dancing for the show, the young star reflects on what it felt like to find out her routine each week.
“I was excited and scared every week finding out which dance style I was going to learn.” She says, “I have never danced ballroom so everything was very new to me.”
However, the actress confesses that it wasn’t the dances that made her scared or nervous. Giving every dance 100% was a breeze, especially compared to the idea of performing live. “What made me scared was going out each week in front of an audience, knowing millions of people will see our performance and then judge you. It’s a scary thing!” Ariana explains further, “Having the judges, audience members and people at home watching something you work so hard on is the scariest thing ever and that’s where the mental toughness comes in. You have to focus to fall into that space.”
Focusing on all she learned, she thinks over the difficulty of some of the routines she performed for the competition.
We think if we can just get to the finals, we have a shot to win it all.
“The hardest for me is the Quickstep. Your feet have to move so fast and in sync in order for it to look good,” she says, alluding to a routine that television audiences have yet to see. “My easiest was the Jive,” says Ariana of her dance to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” that earned her and partner Artyon Celestine a 24 out of 30 from the judges. “I could just do [the Jive] every day. I mean, I really love it! It comes natural to me and was really fun to learn and perform.”
With each incredible dance that gets performed, there are times where a move is executed that has not yet been seen on either “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” or its predecessor. For the rising star, nailing these moves make her feel like a “Princess Warrior”!
“It’s so great to get that instant audience reaction and look at your team and everyone is so excited,” she says. “It’s pretty awesome!” The road to getting down those incredible moves isn’t always smooth though. “I’ve busted my lip, needed acupuncture, took some bumps and bruises but thank God it happens in rehearsals and not in the ballroom!” the actress exclaims.
All the sweat, exhaustion, and hard work paid off as Ariana and Artyon earned the first “10” of the season and the first ever for “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” with their Jazz routine to “Rolex” by Ayo & Teo. Recalling the moment to be “incredible,” the actress reveals that she cried happy tears when it happened. “I think they cut that short but I truly felt like I earned it after the judges came so hard at me the week before during Disney Night! We were determined to come out super strong during Juniors Night and we did!” Adding a bit more magic to the moment, producers and some of the mentors even told Ariana that in all their years of working on the show, they never heard the ballroom that loud and enthusiastic. “It really was electrifying! It was awesome and when Adam gave me that ‘10’, I just broke down.”
Earning that “10” only pushes Ariana and Artyon even more. “We knew we had a lot more ‘10’ in us and we came into this competition fully wanting to win.” She can’t help but gush, “I love my team and what we come up with.”
Thanos demands my silence… and Marvel too.
The actress explains, “There are strict rules to the competition, like not being able to work with outside choreographers or studios and that you practice in the time with your mentor only. So we would work on our chemistry by hanging out a lot after work, watching movies and cooking at my house and practicing our steps and timing at the side of my pool. We think if we can just get to the finals, we have a shot to win it all.”
The pair just became so much closer to the trophy. With semi-finals only two weeks away, there is no doubt that Ariana has what it takes to get there. Her confidence and outgoing personality have shined through each performance and enthralls the audience with each step. As satisfying as it has been for her to get this far in the competition, she has also learned a lot about herself too.
“My biggest take away is I can face some real fears,” reveals Ariana. “Dancing live in front of a huge audience is super scary to all of us celebs and pros but you have to trust your partner and the rehearsals and go for it. It’s hard to explain but it’s awesome and after, you get to enjoy it for a minute, have dinner with the group, and then go on to the next number.” She really pushed herself physically and emotionally, according to the actress. “I can tell you that I’m leaving it all out there and not holding a single thing back.”
That also means that she is showing more of herself than she has before. Instead of the audience watching a character perform, they are watching Ariana and how she naturally is.
At the thought, Ariana laughs for a moment. “We are such goof balls but yes, that’s us!” she says of the packages the show plays prior to each dance. “It’s natural and easy and we really just feed off of each other. I think Brandon and the package producers really get a kick out of us. It’s totally unscripted, off-the-cuff funniness! You can’t fake it. I love us!”
She also loves the memory of earning that “10”. “It was extra special because it’s the first season of Juniors ever so it’s something that can never be taken away from me. The judges were super tough on me the week before and gave me low scores so I absolutely had to redeem myself. That was one of my favorite dances I learned this season and hearing the crowd explode after was definitely a season takeaway for me.”
Ariana’s partnership with Aryton is also a big takeaway. The two grew to be great friends in real life. “We have very similar personalities so we were able to work great with each other. He looks out for me like a big brother also which I really like.” Her confidence shines as she says, “We will be friends forever, I just know it.”
Reflecting back to her time on Disney Channel with fondness and good memories, the actress gushes that she loved it. “It was a dream come true!”
Bittersweet over the fact it only got three seasons, Ariana still considers the show to be one of the best that Disney Channel has had. “I’m very proud of that show. Daphne Diaz will always be a part of me,” she starts before adding with a laugh, “and Deathnee and Blue Fairy are in my room now so I’m glad I got to walk away with my girls.”
There’s a lot on Ariana’s plate going forward as she has multiple projects coming soon.
“I just finished filming the Disney Studios film The One and Only Ivan this summer in London. It’s based on an amazing book and I got to play the role of Julia.” Speaking about the film, she gushes, “That movie is going to be super special and has an amazing cast.”
“Other than that I can’t share anything right now but as soon as I’m allowed to, you’ll definitely know!”
That means that Ariana is tight-lipped on whether or not she will appear as Young Gamora again in the untitled Avengers 4 film. “Thanos demands my silence… and Marvel too,” she says coyly with a smile.
Through it all, Ariana maintains that her “peeps” are everything. “They never disappoint and have always shown me so much love and support. It’s been fun getting different fans as new projects role out.” She examples, “The MCU fans from Marvel have been amazing because they’re typically an older group of men and women which is different from my Disney Channel girls but everyone is so awesome and I just love them. I’m looking forward to attending some of my first comic cons in the future to meet my peeps up close and personal. One really cool thing I just found out is Funko Pop is releasing a ‘Young Gamora’ pop next week – I think my dad is trying to order like 100 cases of them for holiday gifts!”
Speaking to her “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” peeps, Ariana states, “[They] know how much I love them and that time we spent together in the ballroom will never be forgotten by me.”
“Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” airs Sunday nights at 8PM on ABC.
For all things Ariana Greenblatt, be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram!
***ABOVE PHOTO CREDIT TO JAKE BRENNAN