Ever wonder how those dancers on stage with Beyoncé or Usher got the gig—and how they bring their A-game show after show? We asked two plant-based pro dancers to lay it all out for us.
Most of us don’t have the opportunity or training to spin on our head like a sculpted top or contort into graceful silhouettes. We’ll never take a breathtaking leap that seems—for a moment—to carry us into the heavens. This makes those who’ve mastered these feats a little awe-inspiring. Flo Master and Liz LeGrande are two such outrageously talented dancers, and they’ve had similar trajectories. Both moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of dancing gigs. Each has been fulfilled and fueled by high-profile appearances alongside major musical acts. And now, they’ve expanded their careers to inspire others in the art of movement. So what’s their secret?
Flo Master didn’t discover dance until he was a teen in Maryland. His motivation? “I was getting bullied, and I wanted the women,” he says simply. “All the popular guys in high school were dancers, and they got all the women.” He put two and two together and discovered a passion for locking, a style of funk dance that became one of many he excelled at and now blends in one-of-a-kind ways.
“I don’t put myself in one category—I like to keep an open mind,” says Master, whose career began in LA after Will Smith hired him to dance at Wango Tango, the famed day-long concert series. “It was crazy, seeing this man on TV—and all of a sudden I’m onstage with him,” he recalls.
With a CV that includes the films She’s All That and Be Cool and performances with the likes of Nick Cannon, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Ciara, Master hasn’t slowed in two-plus decades, even after 11 knee surgeries. Instead of getting down on his body—or falling into laziness—he took the surgeries as an opportunity to improve. “I was training totally wrong, so I had to figure out how to keep my body looking good without destroying it,” he says. Swimming was the answer. “It teaches you to breathe, elongates your muscles and makes your stamina better.”
Another titanic shift was going plant based. Once he understood the inflammation many animal-derived foods create, the dancer was all in. “I tell people the way your body looks and feels doesn’t start in the gym. It starts in the kitchen. I owe everything to my nutrition.” Now Master eats for the type of movement he’s doing: fruits, carbs and fats for long swims; sweet potatoes and brown rice “when it’s explosive—time to get down and dirty.”
For Master, dancing is a mind-clearing meditation he can’t and won’t quit. But embracing other types of movement has cemented his continued success at the age of 46. Along the way, he became a personal trainer—counting Usher as a client—who creates an atmosphere of fun as opposed to a drill sergeant environment. He loves calisthenics holds with slight movement to the rhythm of music and laughter. MMA is another favorite pursuit, helping him, like dance, to combat the aftermath of being bullied.
Master is hyperaware of overtraining. He limits serious workouts to three times per week and listens closely to his body to make adjustments, aided by a BioForce HRV (heart rate variability) monitor that connects to his phone. On off days, he focuses on stretching, massage and lighter movement. Playtime with his kids, for example, involves bear crawls and crab walking. (His proclivity for animal movements that keep the body limber is part of what draws b-boys and fighters to train with him.)
“I stay motivated because … I love to dance, I love to kick, I love to punch, I love to run,” he says. “I see people my age who can barely walk, and it’s because they didn’t keep moving. It makes me happy I can be a part of making people realize movement is a big part of how your body stays healthy.”
When an energetic three-year-old LeGrande entered Christine’s School of Dance in Marietta, Georgia, she first experienced falling in love. “And that little love affair continues to stand the test of time,” she says. “Dance has pretty much been all I’ve known—my way of expression, my way of getting through things. Dance is my everything.” LeGrande’s training included the Atlanta Ballet and her “humble” first professional gig at age 17: dancing in Six Flags’ Halloween “Fright Fest” show.
None of that could have readied her for an epic first job in LA. “Words cannot even describe how it felt dancing for Usher,” she says, still in awe of traveling the world on his stage. “It was nerve-racking and a dream come true.” The opportunities flowed, with dancing roles on TV shows, including Glee, Dancing with the Stars and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and jobs with Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Robin Thicke, Iggy Azalea and Kelly Clarkson. LeGrande had made it in a notoriously tough industry.
“Sometimes all we need is one person to give us a ‘yes’ when everyone else is saying ‘no.’ For someone to believe in us and see how strong we can potentially be, even in our weakest and most feeble moment,” says LeGrande, who found that person in Usher. “He taught me more than any other artist I have ever worked for.” Usher encouraged her to stand up straight and stand in the front row; that when rehearsal ends, the real work begins. Performing with him “taught me how to let my soul drip empty every night onto the stage for the audience to witness,” says LeGrande. “It is when you allow yourself to be that open and vulnerable that true magic begins to happen.”
LeGrande combats moments of sluggishness with an always-changing daily routine that includes dance cardio, stretching and meditation. She’s fueled by a plant-based diet (and lots of hot water with lemon), which has made her feel better in the past year than ever before.
While learning how to deal with anxiety before performances, LeGrande noticed a correlation between how she was showing up on the dance floor and in life. This, along with an interest in advocating for equality and human connection, morphed into her latest project, abunDANCE, which fuses one’s outer state with the inner. The pop-up classes (soon she’ll teach weekly in LA) for participants ages nine and up comprise a gratitude meditation followed by a 20-minute high-energy dance workout—nonstop smile-inducing cardio—then stretching and a meditation focused on manifesting the soul’s desires.
“My main aim is to educate my clients to better understand their bodies, movements and lives, and to help them develop positive ways of relating to themselves, others and the world,” says LeGrande. A self-esteem boost is one positive side effect, alongside elevated mood and energy from the serotonin movement produces.
“Dance isn’t just about who can do the sickest freestyle or execute choreography perfectly,” she says. “It’s about finding patience with yourself when you’re down and out while developing the strength to persist. On the dance floor is where we liberate ourselves.”