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Ariana Grande’s ‘Yes, And?’ Choreographer on Easter Eggs, Going Viral, and Bonding With the Singer on ‘Wicked’

In late November 2023, Will Loftis was visiting his parents in Irmo, South Carolina, when he started plotting a series of dance moves from his childhood bedroom. Surrounded by colorful lights, candles, and crystals, he looked straight into the en suite bathroom mirror. With AirPods in his ears and clutching his phone, he extended a straight leg forward and pointed his toe. He followed that dance step, called a tendu, with a passé. Ariana Grande fans know the sequence as something else: the choreography to the star’s “Yes, And?” video, a routine that has inspired countless TikTok re-creations. 

“It’s just funny and full circle,” Loftis tells Rolling Stone with a laugh, acknowledging how viral it’s become. “It’s mostly the chorus that people are doing on TikTok. It is the first thing I made up in South Carolina.”

Choreographing for Grande marks Loftis’ highest-profile job yet. “Yes, And?” will be featured on Grande’s newest album, Eternal Sunshine, which drops on March 8. “These opportunities really change people’s lives,” Loftis says with gratitude over the phone from Seattle, where was in town for a teaching gig. Since the video debuted, he’s been offered numerous projects but is remaining tight-lipped on what they are until they are announced. 

As a kid, Loftis trained at his hometown dance studio. After moving to Los Angeles at 19, he booked his first professional job and was hired by choreographer Marguerite Derricks (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) to dance in No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. His dancing and choreography credits include Disney’s Teen Beach, Glee, So You Think You Can Dance, and performing as a backup dancer for Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” at the MTV VMAs. (He didn’t have much interaction with the pop star — only enough to say “it was a fleeting one-off job and she was great.”) 

Christopher Scott, who choreographed the highly anticipated movie musical Wicked, in theaters Nov. 27, tapped Loftis as an associate choreographer for the film. Loftis helped teach Scott’s choreography to all the movie’s stars, including Grande (Glinda) and co-star Cynthia Erivo (Elphaba). Grande and Loftis actually performed together on Dancing With the Stars a decade ago for about “four counts of eight,” as Loftis remembers. But they never interacted on set, and officially met last year on Wicked.

Loftis quickly picked up on Grande’s professionalism and expertise, recalling one moment from their first days together. “We were in a rehearsal and had someone from [the] music [team] running music and using Pro Tools. Literally, she was like, ‘Hey, do you mind if I get on Pro Tools for a second?’ She just does it all herself. She knows every part of it.”

Rolling Stone spoke exclusively with Loftis all about the behind the scenes of working with Grande on the music video, which he says “felt like a natural transition out of Oz.”

When did Ariana ask you to choreograph the music video?
I would say sometime in the fall. She FaceTimed me and asked me to do it. And, of course, I freaked out. I was so honored.

Will Loftis

Katia Temkin

What did you do to prepare for the job?
I’m a big fan of research — understanding who I am working with and the material. If I’m honest, it was after she asked me to do the music video, then I was like I need to understand the scope of her. My brain works really well in chronological order. I just looked at her first album and went in order, listened to everything, and watched the videos. My brain really thinks almost like a math problem. It has to make everything really structured, which is weird because I am not like that sometimes. It helped me have a greater understanding of her and her career, where she’s been and what’s next. 

It’s been widely reported that the music video was influenced by Paula Abdul’s “Cold-Hearted Snake” and Madonna’s “Vogue.” What was the inspiration beyond that? 
It’s a combination of all of that. The overall structure of “Cold-Hearted Snake” was inspired by [Bob] Fosse. Those were the jumping-off points. I love to be inspired by things that aren’t dance. I spent a lot of time at the [Metropolitan Museum of Art]. I knew the sculptures were going to be a big part of the video. I spent so much time looking at sculptures and Renaissance paintings. I love jazz dancing. In a lot of ways, I felt like it was a love letter to jazz and a love letter to every dance teacher I’ve ever had in my life. That’s why I wanted foundational shapes. I wanted a passé. I wanted a tendu. I wanted a chaînés turn. All of that was important to include.

How did you decide to pay tribute to Bob Fosse and Paula Abdul?
Christian Breslauer, the director, and Ari collaborated together creatively before I was brought on. I’m so grateful to see dance like that, and to have an opportunity to do a dance video is such a gift.

What can you share about any of the Easter eggs of the music video?
One of my favorites are the statues in the beginning. Some of them represent different eras and different parts of Ari’s career. It was fun to be able to put together things in the video that were meaningful.

Grande and Loftis on the set of “Yes, And?”

Katia Temkin

What was your process in setting the choreography?
I got to see [Grande] and Max Martin put together some of the album. Something that I loved about watching their process was they just sort of jumped from what they felt inspired to do in the moment. If they hit a block, they kind of would just move on. I wanted to really mirror that in my process and find the movements that feel right. I thought of it more as letting me make up this dance for my friend. Let me make her feel and look as amazing as she can and piece it together like that. It’s about putting together little tiny pieces that feel good and then make the whole piece.

How did working with Ariana on Wicked impact your choreography?
Before we started filming [Wicked], we had a month of rehearsals making up the movement. In those rehearsals it was the choreography team, Ariana, and Cynthia for most of it. We got to be in our own summer camp together before we introduced dancers or started filming. It felt like we went to Wicked summer camp. That first rehearsal process is when we got to really know each other. It kept evolving all year as we were on set. Having a year together in Oz really helped because I was able to understand the way that she moves. It was great going into this because I already had a year of information about what movement works and looks beautiful on her. 

What was your strategy for teaching Ariana the choreography? 
I created the base of the choreography and then adjusted it on her — from what feels good and what feels right. The whole thing was sort of a collaboration to make sure that the movement felt right in her body. It was a lot of, ‘Hey, what do you like to do? What feels good?’ She is down to try anything. 

What were you most surprised at that she was down to try?
I wasn’t surprised by her trying anything because at that point I knew how open and fearless she is.

What about in Wicked?
I don’t know! I might get in trouble!

How easy or challenging was it for her to pick up?
We had some private [lessons] before I met with the dancers. She just works so hard and picks up so quickly. She’s really a dream. She’s the nicest, hardest-working person. I feel like she accomplishes more in a day than most people do in a month or a year. She just constantly keeps working and does it with such grace and such kindness.

What was the energy like in the room?
She was just really open and receptive. I can’t stress it again how truly easy she’s to work with. If something doesn’t feel right, she’ll say it. At the end of the day, she is a musical theater kid. Her ability to pick up and do all that is just in her.

Can you recall any fun moments that happened behind the scenes? 
I can tell you something that was very fun. It was definitely prompted by me. There were a couple of times during rehearsal breaks she played her new album for the dancers. It was the most magical experience of all time.

Why? 
To see them react to her music. To hear it out loud on speaker. The room was electric. The excitement they have for the love and her music was insane. It was the most beautiful thing ever. 

Grande and her dancers on the set of “Yes, And?”

Katia Temkin

Have the dancers worked with her before?
One of the dancers, his name is Will [West] as well. He’s from the U.K. in Wicked. We love him and wanted him to be part of it. Other than that, no one else has worked with her before. 

What would you say is the overall feel or focus of the album?
It is brilliant. I got to be with her a bit when she was creating it. So I got to see the music in a lot of different stages and different phases. 

Was it during or after Wicked?
After. 

How long did you rehearse, and how long did it take to shoot?
I think we had a week of rehearsal, and we shot for two days.

Is she wearing LaDucas?
Yes! And it makes me so happy. It was a very conscious choice.

Tell me about it because most wouldn’t recognize that shoe.
It’s such a classic musical theater dance shoe and the shoe she wanted to wear. We were both really clear that we wanted her to feel grounded and feel great. I think her coming off of the year of Wicked is sort of a musical theater wink as well.

What was the pressure like knowing it would have millions of eyeballs on it?
I definitely was aware and conscious of that. If I was thinking of it too much, it was going to block me from doing the job. Every time I felt that pressure, I just had to come back to making up a dance for my friend who I love, to a piece of music that I love, with dancers that I love.

What has been your favorite video of someone re-creating the dance?
I have a new favorite one every day. The pressure of picking one is so stressful. There are some very serious and clean, and some that are so funny. It depends on what tone. 

Grande, a dancer and Loftis on the set of “Yes, And?”

Katia Temkin

What celebrity were you the most excited about who congratulated you on the video?
[Director] Jon Chu. That was the biggest one that I freaked out about. We worked together so much [on Wicked], but getting his kind words and his stamp of approval meant the world to me. I could write an entire dissertation about what I’ve learned from Jon and Wicked. To see Jon have that pressure on him and see him be in charge of such a legacy work. He was so kind, peaceful, and the best leader ever. For him to be that calm and clear in that pressure cooker is incredible, and I want to carry it with me as I move forward. 

What do you see as her trajectory with this album? 
I look at her as a goddess and icon. Especially with Glinda, too. She is stepping into her iconic era, her power and the fullness of who she is. She’s on the same journey that we all are just growing, evolving and changing. Now she feels so confident and secure. 

Will we see more choreography in any other music videos coming out for her songs?
I hope so.

Trending

Is anything in the works already?
Yes. So I’m excited to continue to do some stuff.

What project comes out next?
The Wicked movie, otherwise everything else is a secret. It’s things I dreamed about since I was a kid. I just don’t want to say anything so I don’t get in trouble!

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