It was the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. We had been rehearsing for a month, five or six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day. The crowd, the noise: It would be deafening. And I knew I’d have to handle a costume change — I would wear a metallic horse outfit as Katy Perry performed “Dark Horse” and then slip into a seven-foot-tall blue shark costume for her number “Teenage Dream.”
No matter how many times we rehearsed the routines, I knew I could not go on autopilot. The Super Bowl is the biggest stage there is — a dream for every dancer. This was it. Now I had to give it.
After I danced, the cast and I watched the rest of the halftime show from the sidelines, and we were back at our hotel by the fourth quarter. By then, I already had friends texting me: “Please tell me you were one of the sharks.” I replied that yes, I was. “Which one?” they wanted to know. I had no idea.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I began to understand what had happened. I was on the first flight out of Arizona to Burbank, Calif., and I’d gotten up at 6 a.m. When I got off the plane and turned my phone back on, my voice mailbox was full. Every major network and newspaper, every agent had called. They all wanted to talk to “Left Shark.” I still have no idea how they got my phone number.
Doing something “rogue” at the Super Bowl is not an option. The National Football League does not mess around, especially after the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction in 2004. Every rehearsal was filmed. And it was only a few seconds, a snippet, maybe four or five counts, when I improvised in my giant blue shark costume. I channeled the joy of the moment and let my body move as I felt my character would; the audience at home saw a few moments when one shark moved his fins out of sync with the other shark. But people went crazy. And the phenomenon of Left Shark was born.
By then, I’d been dancing professionally for more than a decade. I’d worked with major artists, including Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga. I’d danced at all the major awards shows and in movies. I’d been dancing with Katy Perry for nearly five years. And there was nothing unusual about what I did during the halftime show.
As a dancer, you take on the vibe and the energy of whatever piece you’re performing. Just because you’re working with a pop star doesn’t mean you aren’t presenting an art piece. Improvisation is part of our job: We perform the choreography, but we’re also supposed to fill in the gaps. If I’m instructed to go from one side of the stage to the other, I don’t just walk across like I’m shopping at the mall. I was a big shark. I had to be a big shark. That’s what makes a dancer a performing artist — the ability to fill in those gaps and to interpret the work.
And when you get a chance to improvise, as a dancer, that’s your moment. It’s a gift. And you’re entrusted with those moments to improvise because you are known as an artist who can handle it.
The responses to my performance were overwhelmingly positive, including from Perry (who is an amazing person), my dance peers and the public. At rehearsal the next week, I was still getting bombarded with media requests. Her managers helped me navigate the situation. (I declined to do interviews, as I didn’t want to violate my contract with Perry or with the NFL.) And she joked around with me about it, sure, but it was just another day for us. It was something to laugh about and be proud of, together. All of my fellow dancers and I had grown up watching Michael Jackson and Prince at the Super Bowl, and we’d all dreamed of being part of the halftime show. To perform with an artist at the peak of her career — it was a dream come true for all of us, and we all shared in the moment that was Left Shark. Perry included.
I think people were so attached to Left Shark because America loves an underdog. They love to root for one. The Super Bowl is a machine, so heavily planned and executed, and then along came this goofball. It gave people something to connect to.
I performed with Perry until the end of 2015. I believe that once a dancer, always a dancer, but I also believe in evolution. I had given my dance career a long, healthy shot, and now I wanted to give my stylist career a chance. I buckled down, paused dancing, went to cosmetology school and got my license. Now I’m a hair stylist at Mare Salon in West Hollywood, Calif. My life has slowed down since the Super Bowl. But for me, fashion, hair, styling, dance — it all blends together. I’ll continue to dance and be a stylist.
It’s been three years, and we’re still talking about Left Shark. I’m glad it makes people happy. These performances should be uplifting and joyful. It did change my life — I didn’t become a millionaire, but I lived one of the biggest dreams any dancer can imagine. It was an experience I’ll always have. I hope other people keep following their dreams, keep growing and are never afraid to be that quintessential left shark.