Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

During one of her modern dance classes at UNT, Ginny Wheeler ('18) needed a partner. She asked her classmate, Danielle Willis ('18).

"I think she works hard like I do," Wheeler thought at the time. "We were having to do stuff that involved a lot of trust, like having to bend over backwards over Danielle's back. And ever since then, I feel we became glued at the hip."
Their friendship, which began around their sophomore year, has evolved into a working partnership that centers on one of their favorite musicians. They perform as part of Red: A Taylor Swift Tribute, a band that tours at local festivals and venues around the nation.

The duo notes that they are bringing an experience to fans who may not be able to see Swift in concert. Willis remembers their first show, which sold out.

"When you perform dance -- live or musical theater -- you feed off the energy from the audience, and it's just a different feeling than if you were to dance by yourself in the studio," Willis says. "But when we got on that stage, with all the screaming, cheering Swifties, that energy was so high. It was so visceral. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced from an audience."

A New Adventure
Ginny Wheeler and Danielle Willis wearing their mortar board caps in a a dance studio
Danielle Willis (’18) (left) Ginny Wheeler (’18) (right) met at UNT in dance class. They perform as part of Red: A Taylor Swift Tribute, a band that tours at local festivals and venues around the nation. (Courtesy photo)

After graduation, they pursued graduate degrees at different colleges. They both now teach dance appreciation at the University of Texas at Arlington. Wheeler, who took up dancing when she was 17, also works at other colleges and Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth. Willis, who was 4 years old when she began dancing, conducts guest classes at UNT and teaches Pilates and yoga.

In 2021, Wheeler met Lauren Corzine, lead singer of the Red tribute band, who told her she was interested in adding dancers to the act.

"I reached out to Danielle," Wheeler says, "and I was like, 'Hey, would you like to go on this adventure with me?'"

The duo choreographed nine routines in two weeks before the band officially launched in 2022. They created everything from scratch, but they also studied Swift's mannerisms and stage presence.

A big challenge is translating a routine for a local audience versus a stadium crowd. They drew from the lessons they learned at UNT.

"We were constantly learning how to improvise, and learning how to choreograph, and also learning how to work different sized spaces, which definitely has helped us on this tour because we never know if we're going to be on a tiny stage or a huge stage," Wheeler says. "And once you've set choreography, you can't readjust. I say that Danielle and I can read each other's minds, and I can just look at her and we know what to do."

Willis adds, "We have a very accurate, silent communication that happens onstage."

Wheeler says UNT trained them to be professional and to think quickly.

"There's been times where we couldn't make it across the stage in time because there was something in our way, or we're on a smaller stage, the movement has to stay big but tighter. And I'm like, 'We're just going to go with it. And it's going be amazing.'"

Life on the Road
Ginny Wheeler and Danielle Willis

Each weekend, the duo either climbs into Wheeler's Jeep or takes a flight to their next gig.

They get quite an assortment of reactions. Audience members range from kids to adults in their 80s. They often trade friendship bracelets and meet other Swifties.

"We had a guy who came to our show last year with piercings and tattoos -- not who you would expect to be a Swiftie -- and he knew every word," Wheeler says.

Wheeler serves as tour manager, scheduling the gigs, flights and hotels. Willis handles social media and helps design costumes for Corzine, the lead singer. They often grade papers on the road.

"It's very tiring, but it's worth it," Willis says.

And they get to work with each other.

"I always used to say when Danielle and I finished undergrad, 'You know, one day we're going to work together,'" Wheeler says. "How lucky am I that I get to perform and travel with my best friend."

Ginny Wheeler (’18) (left) and Danielle Willis (’18) (right) met at UNT in dance class. They perform as part of Red: A Taylor Swift Tribute, a band that tours at local festivals and venues around the nation. (Courtesy photo)

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