CINCINNATI - He’s never taken a dance class; yet he’s traveled across the country, performing at schools and helping spread the anti-bullying message. And he’s soon heading to Los Angeles to rehearse with hip-hop star Jason DeRulo for the singer’s upcoming tour.
Meet Jeff Bullis: dancer, choreographer, anti-bullying advocate, and social media star on the rise.
How does a 19-year-old from West Chester, Oh. go from mimicking YouTube video dance moves to inspiring thousands of students to follow their dreams and stay true to themselves?
To find out, we asked Bullis to share his story and let us in on the secrets to his success (hint: social media!)
Editor's note: The following is a verbatim conversation
Q: How long have you been dancing, and what made you focus your talents on hip hop and dubstep?
A: I started dancing about 3 years ago. I was on YouTube one day and was watching Jason DeRulo’s concert performance--at one point he does a dance-off with his dancers and I thought it was so cool. My friend Melo (fellow dancer Romelo Thomas , 17) and I wanted to learn how they did it. We’d watch YouTube after school and practice.
I listen to a lot of pop and that sort of music, so that’s why I like this kind of dance.
Q: How did you become involved in the anti-bullying movement?
A: My mom works at Jag’s Steak & Seafood, and Keenan West, a singer, was performing there. My mom called me and told me to come down and see him and dance [in the fall of 2013]; halfway through my performance, he was like, “I need your number ASAP.” He told me he ran the Anti-Bullying/Bullying Prevention Tour and wanted me to add me on this tour. At first it was small, I did like one school a month. Then about two months after we started, that’s when my social media started to grow, and so when I’d get to schools, people already knew who I was and what I did and would get really excited.
When we’d first started dancing, Melo and I would start posting videos online and we’d get a lot of hate--a lot of people posting, like “you suck” and that we should just quit. That’s why we got involved with anti-bullying, we’ve been there and we understood it and wanted to help.
Q: You’re extremely active on social media as a way to showcase your talent. Tell us why you decided to reach out to fans on social platforms.
A: When I first started dancing, I didn’t want attention from it. It just made me happy. Then I started going to competitions and meeting people and thought it was cool that they could see my stuff on Twitter and Vine. I started to get a lot of people thinking my videos were really cool.
I’ve never taken a dance class; I learned everything from YouTube. So I really use this to inspire others. Like I’ve been there, I’ve gone through the hate and the bad times so I (want to) inspire people who want to dance to never give up on your dreams.
Q: Did you ever expect to really take off on social media like you have?
A: No. I did not, actually, I never expected to do that. But it’s pretty cool to have started to make a career out of it! (Note: Bullis has more than 13,000 Twitter followers and nearly 17,000 Vine followers.)
Q: So, what inspired you to utilize dance as a means to help spread this anti-bullying message?
A: When I first met Keenan, he went through the whole assembly with me; one of the key points is “show your courage,” like using your talent for a positive means and not wasting it. I knew my talent was dance, and doing this tour, I was spreading this message through dance.
I’ve worked with Justin Bieber at a workshop, and I’ve worked with Jason DeRulo, and it feels like we’re at a concert just working with them, seeing how excited people get. Getting feedback from everyone just makes me want to keep dancing and keep spreading this positive message.
Q: Tell us a little bit about some of the places and schools to which you’ve been able to travel and perform.
A: We’ve been to at least 20 or 30 middle schools and high schools in Cincinnati. We recently worked in Michigan with Project UNIFY and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. He stumbled across my videos and fell in love with the concept. We [Bullis, West, and Thomas] met him for dinner and he had us perform for Project UNIFY as he signed a bill that ended use of the word “retarded.”
We went to California a few weeks ago, Kentucky for two or three school, but most are in the Cincinnati-area, like Sycamore, Mason, Colerain, and Northwest. Coming up, we’re going to Little Miami and Lakota East and West, which is going to be cool because I went to Lakota East and West for high school.
Q: What are some of the reactions and feedback you get from students, educators and parents while touring and performing?
A: Student reaction is insane. After we’re done, they’ll want pictures and autographs . Parents and teachers are like “Oh, here we
go,” when we get on stage. They don’t know what we’re gonna do. But afterward, they get it and see why we’re there and they’re just as excited as the students. We pull up students and teachers to freestyle and dance with us and they love it.
Q: What’s next for you in regards to touring, continuing the anti-bullying campaign effort and your dance career?
A: Definitely gonna keep doing Vine and YouTube videos. I’m getting some offers to do app promos from people who’ve seen me on Vine. I was in a music video a few months ago, someone saw my performances and emailed me, and I did work for the Ultra Music Festival .
Coming up, I’m going to LA to rehearse with Jason DeRulo for his tour. I’ve known the choreographer for a while so I bypassed the audition and get to go for tour rehearsals. I’m also teaching dance classes around Cincinnati. That’s a good thing about traveling to these schools, they always ask if I teach and want to learn, so classes are always full.
Q: What do you want our readers to know about you and the message you help spread?
A: My motto is “dance to express, not to impress.” That means I dance to express my feelings and express the right message, not to get attention or get famous from it.
In terms of a message I want everyone to know, I just really want people to be true to themselves and follow their dreams.
Connect with WCPO Community Manager Jenny Bak on Twitter: @jennyfromthebak