Ballet Dancer Elsa Stallings Is Bringing Her Creative Perspective to the Knicks City Dancers
As a multi-hyphenate artist, ballet dancer Elsa Stallings not only shines across genres but across industries. This year, she’s bringing her unique perspective as a commercial dancer, choreographer, and videographer to the Knicks City Dancers as a creative consultant.
Stallings’ dance journey began with hip hop at age 12 in Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, a teacher told her that if she wanted to have a professional dance career, she should supplement her training with ballet lessons. Stallings took her advice and immediately fell in love. She trained in ballet at Atlanta Ballet and Metropolitan Ballet Theatre, as well as in hip hop and other commercial styles at Dance 411 Studios. “I would take hip hop, then throw my hair into a bun and put on my tights,” she says. “It was like changing personas. It made me realize that I want to do both genres in my career.”
After high school, Stallings joined the commercial dance program at Pace University in New York, where she kept up her ballet training as part of the curriculum. During her sophomore year, she signed with Wilhelmina Models—an agency with a sports and fitness division that has represented ballerinas. “I see myself as a ballet dancer in the commercial world,” Stallings says. Since then, her vision has been to bring ballet to audiences beyond the dance world, rather than dance with a traditional ballet company. She also plans to advise artists and brands who want to incorporate ballet into their work but lack education about the art form. Stallings aims to highlight ballet dancers’ strength and athleticism in the mainstream.
Stallings, now represented by Clear Talent Group, has been featured as a ballet dancer in the ad campaign for the launch of Savage X Fenty and worked with brands like Puma, Reebok, Under Armour, Adidas, and Coca-Cola. In January 2023, her versatility was on full display as she danced on pointe at a Beyoncé concert in Dubai. “It was very special for me to live out that dream,” she says.
As a creative, Stallings was introduced to videography while in college. She learned how to design choreography for film and television in a class taught by the choreographer Mandy Moore. “I became really passionate about the production side of dancing on camera,” Stallings says. So, she bought a camera and gimbal (stabilizer) and began filming some of the dance classes that she attended. “I gradually learned what to shoot in order to tell a story through the lens,” she says. Around that time, she asked choreographer Josh Bergasse if she could film a work he was creating at Pace. “I was really floored when I saw how she edited the footage together,” Bergasse says. “She understood what I was trying to say with the piece, and was so intuitive when it came to capturing the movement and editing it.” Bergasse has since hired her to film various major projects he’s directed, including “Cool,” from West Side Story, released by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century.
Stallings landed her current job as a creative consultant for the Knicks City Dancers after cold-contacting their creative director, Fatima Robinson. The two met over tea after Stallings realized Robinson lived near her parents in Georgia, and got her email. “After looking at her Instagram I could tell she had a vibe,” Robinson says. It didn’t take long before Stallings asked Robinson if she could support her in her new role as creative director for the Knicks City Dancers. “I just wanted to be in the room with her to see how she works,” Stallings says. Robinson eventually brought her onto the team. “Elsa has great taste, so I know I can turn to her and have her find references for whatever I’m looking for,” Robinson says. In her current position, Stallings works with Robinson and the team to come up with creative concepts for roughly 30 dance numbers per NBA season. She helps with music, wardrobe, set design, graphic design, social media, and photo and video shoots. “It’s a lot of research and curating ideas in a way that is cohesive and interesting,” Stallings says.
To balance her two careers, Stallings takes ballet class a few times per week and works on pointe, street jazz, or contemporary dance for 15 to 16 hours each week, whether in class or alone in a studio. She arranges time for emails, networking, meetings, and other creative responsibilities according to her training schedule.
Stallings wants to continue melding dance genres in the future: “How can we incorporate lines, pointe shoes, and technical work into commercial dance, while also bringing trendy music, wardrobes, and style into classical work?” She also wants to keep working behind the camera. “It takes a lot of discipline—especially when it comes to keeping up with my dance training—but what you water grows,” she says.