Sophomore business major Malayna Valree spends her days shuffling between classes and dance practice with the Georgia State Pantherettes. In her free time, she performs with some of the music industry’s biggest stars.
Georgia State sophomore Malayna Valree celebrated the first day of the fall semester rather unconventionally. More than 700 miles from campus, she performed on stage with Missy Elliott at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in Newark, N.J.
We chatted with Valree about the hard-to-land gig — a defining moment in her dance career — and how she balances her work with life as an undergraduate.
How long have you been dancing?
Ten years. I started training when I was 9 after being an all-star competitive cheerleader for three years. I trained in several dance studios in Atlanta and Los Angeles. I’ve also trained in various dance conventions since I was 12.
You performed on stage with Missy Elliott at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards. How did you swing that?
I've been training under Sean Bankhead, Missy Elliott's creative director, since I was 12. Missy saw and liked my work, and I had already told Sean that I wanted to dance with her one day. We rehearsed for more than a week in Atlanta and New Jersey.
That must have been an incredible experience.
It was! I was so excited to be on stage with Missy and some of her former dancers. And I got to meet other inspirational artists, like Lizzo and Todrick Hall.
Have you performed with any other celebrities?
Yes! I’ve performed with Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber and Queen Latifah.
Have the Pantherettes been supportive of your success?
My fellow Pantherettes have always been supportive of my career and dreams. They had a watch party for the VMAs, and I really appreciated all the love from home. The coaches were always supportive when I booked jobs during the season. The team and staff have always encouraged me to follow my passion.
What would your dream performance look like?
I don’t have a dream performance, but my dream career is to work with artists who appreciate the impact of dancers. Missy Elliott dedicated her VMAs award to the dance community, and it was such a powerful, inspirational moment. She said, “Dancers are not just props but the icing on the cake and the beat to the heart.” I loved that.
How do you balance dance, college and the fame you’ve gained?
Proper time management is essential in balancing school and a career in the entertainment industry. I stay grounded by keeping my faith and being true to myself. I encourage anyone with a passion for something to believe in their gift and do what they love.