One thing we want our readers to take away from our interview with the talented Carlena Britch is that no matter how difficult your circumstances are growing up, you can still come out healthy, happy and successful. Carlena Britch is living proof of that.
Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Carlena found dance as a way for her to escape and let out all of her frustrations. Her hard work led her to be a top 14 finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Canada, a featured dancer on the Justin Bieber Believe tour and dancing in various music videos.
Not one to rest on her success in dance, Carlena has now turned her attention to acting. With recent appearances in series such as Supernatural and The X-files as well as a critically acclaimed performance in the Lifetime movie You Killed My Mother.
We had the chance to talk with Carlena a bit about her childhood, her love for dance, what led her to move into acting and where she sees herself in the next ten years.
Pop Culture Principle – In several previous interviews, you’ve talked about your tough childhood growing up. How has that experience as a child shaped who you are today?
Carlena Britch – My experiences gave me both an indestructible, thick skin and an immense amount of compassion and empathy for my parents. I think about where I am now and I can only imagine how overwhelming raising children while struggling with addiction must have been. I am so grateful for the numerous people along the way that helped guide me on the right path, and I’m lucky to say that I’ve not only got a team of people I call “family”, but two incredibly unique, biological parents that I see so much of myself in as I continue to grow up.
Pop Culture Principle – When were you first introduced to dance and did you know immediately it would be something you wanted to do as a career?
Carlena Britch – I was first introduced to dance at nine years old upon moving to a new elementary school, where a 2-week hip-hop dance program was apart of the PE curriculum. The instructors name was Susana Cejalvo, and I have immense gratitude for the way she paid attention to me and offered her time to work on a solo performance with me after school. I had spent so much time trying to fade into the background up until that point and I really owe it to her for turning that light on in me.
Within a year I had convinced everyone I was going to go to Juilliard to study dance (which never happened, ha!) as well as convincing myself that a career in the arts was where I belonged. Dance was the guidance I never got growing up; it taught me hard work, discipline, and focus.
Pop Culture Principle – Was dancing your way of not only escaping the drama at home but letting out your anger and frustrations?
Carlena Britch – Absolutely! I struggled with anger management as a teen and dance was a complete and total release for me. I often say this, and I’ll repeat it again – I don’t know where or what I’d be if I hadn’t found dance. It saved my life.
Pop Culture Principle – You beat out a thousand other dancers to be a backup dancer on Justin Bieber’s Believe tour. Can you talk about getting the call saying you had the gig?
Carlena Britch – God, I’ll never forget this moment. Just thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes! I had left the audition late that afternoon, after auditioning with almost a thousand female dancers and making it to the top 25. I had moved to Los Angeles only a few weeks prior and had pulled out of an opportunity to dance for Ne-Yo the day before JUST to be able to audition for Justin Bieber.
That evening I went bowling with my (then) roommate to get the results of the day off of my mind, and it wasn’t until leaving for the restroom that I noticed I had 4 missed calls from the choreographer, Nick Demoura. I immediately called him back, and it was himself and the director, John Chu, on the other line. I had no idea it was being recorded (later used in the BELIEVE movie) and I balled my eyes out when they asked, “How would you like to go on tour with Justin Bieber?!” I remember falling to the floor of that disgusting, bowling alley restroom as my legs gave way from both exhaustion and overwhelm.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it like dancing on that tour and working with Justin Bieber?
Carlena Britch – I always say, it was exactly what you’d expect it to be! Exhilarating, overwhelming, exhausting and an absolute once in a lifetime opportunity. I danced for crowds with over 100,000 fans and got to see almost the entire world. Justin was 17 when we started that tour, and I felt so lucky to not only build a working relationship with him, but to grow together. Our tour family will be family for life.
Pop Culture Principle – In 2011, you were one of the cast members of So You Think You Can Dance. Can you tell us what the experience was like for you?
Carlena Britch – God, I can’t believe it’s been this long! SYTYCD changed my life. It was the catalyst experience I needed to obtain my first working visa to live and work in Los Angeles and it was the first opportunity I had to truly share who I was with the world. I really enjoyed the opportunity because I went in not with the intention to win, but to learn. I came out the other end with new friendships, working relationships, and an entirely new dance vocabulary to pull from. It was exactly what I needed in that moment of my life, and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come since then.
Pop Culture Principle – You made it to the top 14 before getting eliminated. Did you think you had more to offer the show? Were you disappointed in the elimination or saw it as an opportunity to build on your success on the show?
Carlena Britch – I believe with everything – life is working FOR you, not against you. Sure, I could have stuck around longer and walked away with a different experience but what I walked away with was a hot fire lit under my ass to get my papers in order, move to LA, and start the next chapter of my life. And I did exactly that.
Pop Culture Principle – You’ve recently started moving into acting. What made you decide to pursue acting and how has your dancing career helped you with your acting?
Carlena Britch – Deep down I always knew acting was next. Dance was the first opportunity to express my voice, and once I felt like I had reached a plateau with it, I knew it was time. Working as a professional dancer is like nothing else. 12hr rehearsal days, 7 days a week when your body physically can’t move a second longer – THAT teaches you to work hard than anyone else out there. I’m fortunate to say I’ve carried that with me into my journey as an actress.
Pop Culture Principle – You made your movie debut in the Disney Channel movie Camp Rock 2: Final Jam as the lead dancer. Can you talk about stepping on a set for the first time?
Carlena Britch – Ha, this is another fun story. I was working as a bank teller at the time, using up all my vacation time and weekends to attend dance workshops and classes, to travel to LA and back to the network, and to train. During one of these trips I attended a workshop for Monsters Of Hip-Hop, and one of the opportunities that weekend was to audition for a dance agency. Being Canadian, I knew I wasn’t technically allowed to audition, but I went ahead anyway and landed my first dance agent at 17. (They’re still my agents to this day!)
I came back to Vancouver to my desk job and got a call from my brand new agent that there was an audition in Toronto for this new Disney movie. I’ll never forget walking into my bosses office, begging for another day off, having the request rejected, and quitting right then and there. I used every last penny to book a next day flight and I went to Toronto on a one-way. I spent three months working on that film and learned exactly what it was like to be a professional.
Pop Culture Principle – You got your first lead acting role in the movie Rags. Did you feel any added pressure as a first time lead for a project?
Carlena Britch – Totally! I was scared to death! I had actually auditioned for the film as a dancer and they asked me come in to read for one of the lead roles. I had no idea what I was doing but boy, did I learn quick. Fake it ‘till ya make it at its finest.
Pop Culture Principle – You won critical acclaim for your role in the Lifetime movie You Killed My Mother. Can you talk about your experience working on that film and how it hit close to home for you?
Carlena Britch – Reenacting some of my actual childhood experiences in this film wasn’t easy, but at the same time, was very therapeutic. I had the opportunity to work alongside so many kind, compassionate professionals and the safe environment that was provided for me gave me the opportunity to explore some of these memories in a positive way. It’s no coincidence that I grew up the way I did and now get to utilize those experiences in my art today.
Pop Culture Principle – You appeared in an episode of The X-files entitled Nothing Lasts Forever. Can you talk about working on such an iconic series?
Carlena Britch – Working on THE X-FILES was a dream come true! As a long time fan of the show (and David Duchovny!) I felt very honored to be apart of the legendary series before it ended. I got to do the majority of my own stunts in the episode and getting that final, “Great job, kiddo” from James Wong at the end of my last day was more than enough to leave me with. The entire cast and crew were so amazing to work with and I’m fortunate to have made some lifelong friendships and connections.
Pop Culture Principle – You also appeared in an episode of the long-running series Supernatural. What was it like working on that show with the cast and crew?
Carlena Britch – Another bucket list! Man, what a well-oiled machine that show is. I absolutely loved it. Got to do all my own stunts on this baby too, and both Dean and Jensen were professional, kind, and very inspiring. We had a ton of laughs and the footage turned out so well. I’m really proud of that episode.
Pop Culture Principle – Both The X-files and Supernatural have huge and rabid fan bases. Did you have any interactions with them on social media?
Carlena Britch – I did! Sci-Fi fans are no joke! I love interacting with people online; it’s the direction our world is heading in and I think it’s really important to keep those relationships positive and encouraging. Whenever I can, I love talking about my experiences working as an actress and life in general. We need more honesty and vulnerability within the realms of the work we do.
Pop Culture Principle – Where do you see yourself 5-10 years down the road?
Carlena Britch – I see myself wholeheartedly creating real, meaningful art in both my own projects and the projects of those I admire. I’ve already started to dabble into directing as well as writing and producing and I know that the trajectory is only up from here. And aside from my career, I see a life full of joy and authenticity! Beautiful relationships, traveling the world and continuing to grow fruits and veggies in my own garden. Oh, and opening a restaurant. That will definitely be happening.
Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about entering the entertainment business?
Carlena Britch – Jump. Seriously, buy the ticket and take the ride. It’s one hell of a journey, but it is SO worth it. And stay true to yourself while doing so. You’re all you’ve got, and sooner or later the rest of these suckers will see it!
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Carlena Britch – This question always makes me laugh! As actors, we feel so much pressure to be like “YES I AM STARRING IN QUENTIN TARANTINO’S NEW FILM” but more than half the time the truth is, that we don’t really know what’s next, but that’s what makes it so exciting! We’re all chasing uncertainty anyways. But, I digress, so, back to your question – I have spent the last 2 years writing and creating a pilot alongside my co-creator / co-writer, Aubree Storm. We’re in the pitching process now, excited to see where and with whom it lands a home. Wish me luck!
A huge thank you to Carlena Britch for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us. She is definitely someone who is on the rise and will be a force to reckon with in the future.
If you would like to keep up with all her latest news and projects, you can follow her official Twitter and Instagram accounts @CarlenaBritch. You can also visit her official Facebook page here.
**So You Think You Can Dance photo courtesy of FOX**
**You Killed My Mother photo courtesy of Lifetime**
**All other photos courtesy of Maya Dondonyan**