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Mississippi native dances into international spotlight with wife in Apple commercial

If it weren’t for a twist of fate Christopher Grant might have spent the past 10 years studying ecosystems and examining coral reefs instead of advertising scripts, and he might have been partnering with scientists instead of a pretty brunette from New York.

But destiny has a profound way of tapping you on the shoulder at just the right time. Chris, a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, was keen enough to accept the intervention that helped catapult him to dancing stardom.

The endearing story of Christopher and Lauren Grant has enough twists and turns to fill any ballet hall. A husband-wife team, collaborators, dreamers, best friends, and professional dancers. You may not know them personally, but chances are you have seen their artistry on TV or your cell phone.

Chris, a 2007 USM graduate, and Lauren, a 2005 graduate of New York University, snared the lead roles in Apple’s recent holiday commercial called “Sway.”

The captivating video has had more than 10.2 million views on YouTube and now the story of how a young man from Jackson, Mississippi and a young woman from Long Island, N.Y., met, fell in love and got married is in the spotlight. How the Grants toured together as professional dancers and ultimately landed a game-changing video spot involves a mixture of hard work, timing, and perhaps a sprinkle of serendipity.

“It [dance] was never something that I thought I would want to pursue or thought that it would even be possible to pursue a career in that…” said Chris Grant. “It’s kind of a crazy story to go from marine biology to dance, but when the universe tells you that this is your route, you take it.”

Although he took a somewhat circuitous route to his chosen career, Chris said he firmly believes he was born to be a dancer.

“Absolutely. No question about it,” Grant said. “Sometimes, it takes a little while to figure out exactly what your purpose is in life. But once you have reached that point, then you realize nothing else will satisfy you. In my case, I have no doubt that I’m doing exactly what I was born to do. I have to dance. I have no choice.”

While it might be a stretch to say Lauren Grant was practicing dance steps in the womb she says dance has been her passion for as long as she can remember.

“On the day I was born, my mom said that I was an actress out of work,” said Lauren. “I’ve been dancing and performing since I was about 3 years old. There’s a freedom that comes with dancing that is unlike anything else for me. It’s about being lost in the present. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful. It has been my saving grace.”

Chris said that while the passion for dance has remained for himself and Lauren, persistence is the key to their success.

“Lauren and I’s motto is ‘keep going’,” Chris said. “In this industry, its tough and you are going to get a lot of no’s. You are always going to get no’s and every once in a while you will get a yes or you will get a maybe and it will keep you inspired and wanting to go.”

After graduating from McLaurin High School in Florence, Chris enrolled at USM with dreams of becoming a marine biologist. When not immersed in his challenging classwork, Chris found time to nurture his favorite recreational pursuit – dance. In particular, hip-hop dance.

Blessed with natural rhythm and timing, he danced as often as possible in the local night spots. He danced in his dorm room; in parking lots; in hallways. A chance encounter one Halloween evening altered the course of his collegiate studies.

“I remember me and some others guys were on frat row just doing some impromptu dances,” said Chris. “This girl dressed like Alice in Wonderland came up to me and complimented my moves. I saw her again later on campus and she said, ‘you know we have a dance program here. You should think about looking into it.’ “I was caught completely by surprise. I honestly had no idea that you could major in dance or anything like that at USM.”

Armed with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance performance and choreography, Chris left Hattiesburg bound for the ultimate dance mecca – New York City. There he met fellow dancer Lauren Yalango while both were auditioning for Pilobolus Dance Theater in 2007. A year later they began dating. In the summer of 2014, they were married. Today, they live and work in Manhattan, N.Y.

Their talents have carried them across the globe performing in numerous stage productions. As members of Pilobolus Dance Theater, they made national and international TV appearances, including the Conan O’Brien Show and BBC’s The One Show. They have even enjoyed the distinct privilege of performing for the Queen of England.

“Unlike your typical marriage or relationship where you go off to separate jobs and then you come home together, for us this is how it has always been,” said Chris. “When it comes to work we can always fall back on each other because we basically finish each other’s sentences when it comes to movement and when it comes to talking about what we love so much.”

Last summer a phone call from their agent changed the trajectory of the Grants’ already hectic and successful careers.

“Our agent said that a big-name company was looking for dancers to star in a new commercial,” Lauren said. “It was all very secretive. Like U.S. government secretive. They specifically wanted a couple that could move like one organism. Our agent thought we would be perfect and asked if we wanted to submit an audition tape. We didn’t have any idea what the commercial involved, but we thought it was worth a shot.”

After passing the first screening, the Grants were asked to submit a second audition tape. Shortly thereafter, the couple found themselves being whisked to the Czech Republic and its capital city, Prague, for Apple’s elaborate commercial shoot that took five days to film and up to 14 hours per day.

“It was the best job I think I have ever had in my life,” Chris said. “It was so challenging but so fulfilling because we got to work with a really incredible team… Everybody was on their A game because of course, it’s Apple and they are only going to do the best of the best stuff. We were glad to step up to the challenge.”

In the commercial themed, “Move Someone This Holiday,” a woman (Lauren) walks down a snow-dusted street and briefly stops to whip out her iPhone X. She dials up Sam Smith’s “Palace” — transmitted through her AirPods. As she dances wistfully through the gorgeous scenery, she bumps into a handsome stranger (Chris), who catches her mid-twirl. As they lock eyes and imaginations, the woman puts one of her AirPods into his ear, establishing a connection that enables them to move together.

The commercial runs for less than two minutes. But the breathtaking flips, dips, and spectacular symmetry of these polished artists required a large number of rehearsals and long day and night shoots. Upon seeing the finished product, the Grants said they were left practically speechless.

“It was really incredible,” Chris said. “The best thing I think I’ve done hands down and it shows because it is a beautiful commercial and we are so fortunate to have done it together. We are going to look back years from now and our kids and grandkids are going to be able to see this thing that is I think, going to be timeless.”

While the Grants’ success has risen so has their desire to give back to the dance community. Professor Stacy Reischman Fletcher, Interim Director, School of Performing and Visual Arts at USM, coordinated the Grants coming for a guest artist residency appearance earlier in February that included master class instruction and a weekend workshop.

Reischman Fletcher estimates that she spent hundreds of hours working with Chris during his time as a USM student. She taught him modern technique, composition, senior capstone, and thesis writing – among other critical necessities. Along the way she noticed and admired qualities that enabled Chris to perform at a premium level.

Photo courtesy of the University of Southern Mississippi. Photo credit: Danny Rawls.

“Chris always had a love for dance and a drive to learn all he could about it,” said Reischman Fletcher. “His heart, his generosity, and his partnering ability allowed him to stand out. When I worked with him in rehearsal, he inspired me as a choreographer. He took risks and was committed to the vision of the work. He reminds me why I do this – why we as faculty work for hours with our dance majors in the studio.”

Returning to the Hattiesburg campus for the first time in years, Chris was flooded with wave after wave of nostalgic emotions.

“I got pretty choked up about it because a lot of feelings returned,” Chris said. “This is where my love and appreciation for dance really began. I started remembering all the fun I had during my time here. The football games. The classes I loved so much. USM will always be very special to me.”

USM sophomore Casey Collier says the opportunity to watch the Grants in action, while learning under their tutelage, made the Master Class experience unforgettable. The three days of intense instruction showed her the significance of creating movement and expression with a partner.

“Their class was all about giving and receiving information from your partner,” said Collier. “The tools they taught stretched my mind and creativity and pushed me out of my comfort zone. My eyes are opened to a whole other world of partnering that I will now use for the rest of my life.”

The show never ends for dancers. Chris and Lauren are starting rehearsals this July for their Broadway debut in New York for the new musical King Kong. Chris said the previews will start in October and then the show will officially open on November 9th of 2018.

At age 33, Chris Grant said he believes there is still plenty of creative juice in his veins and a limitless twinkle in his toes. Stillness he says is for statues.

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