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Enjoy Magazine

Joe Friedman Dances Around the World

03/24/2016 11:00AM ● By Kerri Regan

Stage Flight

April 2016
Story by Kerri Regan
Photo by Tory Meredith

Graceful and athletic, strong and elastic. On earth, Joe Friedman bends like a contortionist. In the air, he defies gravity. 

And at age 19, those skills have earned him the opportunity to travel the world. 

Friedman was a student, competition team member and dance teacher at California Dance Company before being hired as aerial captain and dancer at Celebrity Cruises. In the past few months, the job has taken him throughout the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

“There was no fancy college education involved with getting this job, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of studying and hard work,” Friedman says.

Friedman’s love for dance began when he was 14 and “my sister bribed me to be her partner.” He fell in love with ballroom dance, and continued to learn different styles under the instruction of Ron and Faith Lane. Then his brother, Max, began teaching a boys’ hip-hop class at California Dance Company and convinced Friedman to take it. “Once I got a taste of it, I couldn’t stop,” he says.

One class led to another, and soon he was taking three or four classes a night. Being homeschooled gave him the opportunity to decide where to channel his time and energy, and with the encouragement of his parents, Erin and Craig Friedman of Cottonwood, “I pretty much lived and breathed dance for the last five years—rehearsing, performing, teaching, choreographing and creating videos,” he says.

At age 17, he decided to turn his passion into his career, and he and his parents researched the requirements to become a professional performer. With the help of Skip Murphy, Hannah Dorman, Tory Meredith and Brandon Burgess, he posted his first audition “show-reel,” a compilation of videos that showcase a dancer’s abilities and previous work.

The day after he sent the video to Celebrity Cruises, they offered him a six-month contract on the Celebrity Constellation as an aerial specialist—someone who is trained in aerial skills on specialty apparatus, including hoops, silks, nets, harnesses and straps. He spent two months training in Miami and was promoted to aerial captain, where he is charged with conditioning the cast, safety inspections and cleaning all aerial routines in the shows.

“Since I started dancing, my dream has been to dance and travel the world,” says Friedman, “The fact that I'm doing both of those things while saving up money is truly a dream come true.”

He was strongly influenced by Sonya Kennedy, owner of the California Dance Company. “Her professionalism and her push for excellence have been very important in shaping me into the dancer I am today,” Friedman says.

The respect is mutual, and Friedman’s positive energy is “incredible,” Kennedy says. “I don’t think he ever came to the studio in a bad mood. His work ethic is extraordinary. If he wants something, he’s going to go for it and he won’t stop until he gets it.”

Friedman’s favorite aerial stunt is a hand-loop swing. “I slip my hands into two handles attached to the bottom of the aerial net, then run forward off the edge of the stage as my rigger (a highly trained aerial motor operator) pulls me up into the air above the audience. In that moment, when I run off the edge of the stage, it truly feels like flying,” he says. “It's an incredible feeling.”

When his six months is up, he’ll return to Shasta County to “catch up with my family, friends, students and animals” before heading on to his next adventure – in September, he’ll be back aboard the Celebrity Constellation, but bound for Asia this time. Ports will include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bangkok and Hong Kong. 

“I'm excited to be able to say that my dancing has opened up the whole world to me, and I will have landed on four continents, and explored more than 25 countries, before turning 21 years old,” he says.

After that, he plans to set his roots in Los Angeles and pursue “life as a professional dancer,” he says. “I’m looking forward to finding out where life takes me from there.”

But he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. “I am so lucky to have such an amazing support group from my home town. Almost every day, I get a new message from either my students, students’ parents or friends, telling me how much they miss me, and how proud they are to see me pursuing my dreams,” he says.