Ellie and Ava Wagner are Woodbury sisters and students at Hill-Murray School. They are, like many teenaged sisters, a little competitive with each other. But as you might already know, unlike most teenagers, they’ve also competed on NBC’s hit show World of Dance. Ellie is the eldest at 16. She says her younger sister Ava, who’s 14, is the more competitive of the two of them.
“If I say I can do four pirouettes, Ava will say she can do seven,” Ellie told the World of Dance judges. They both agree that a competitive streak runs deep in them and the judges on World of Dance—Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo and Derek Hough—could see it, too.
The Wagners are members of the fourth generation of their family to work and dance at the Larkin Studio. Their great-grandmother Shirley Larkin founded the studio in the basement of her parents’ restaurant in 1950. Today, the Larkin Studio is a well-known and well-respected institution that has produced many successful dancers and entertainers. It is also still a family affair. Ellie and Ava’s grandmother Michele Larkin-Wagner and cousin Mackenzie Symanietz choreograph their award-winning routines.
Among the better-known students of the studio to achieve national recognition is Eva Igo, who finished second on the first season of World of Dance. She and Ellie have been friends since they were toddlers. Taylor Sieve, who made it to the finals and finished third on So You Think You Can Dance? is another successful graduate. Not all of the Larkin Studio success stories involve dance, though…some of them involve Disney princesses. Former student Linda Larkin (no relation) voiced Princess Jasmine in the 1992 animated hit Aladdin. And the Wagner sisters weren’t the only Larkin Studio folks to compete on this season of World of Dance. The group Trilogy are all members of the studio.
Even though they grew up around all these successful dancers, and even though they’ve been dancing since they were very small, Ellie and Ava were a little uncertain when they left for California.
“We weren’t sure what to expect and we were kind of nervous,” Ava says. “But we knew we wanted to go for it and see what would happen.” And it helped that all the out-of-town contestants stayed in the same hotel. “We all like each other,” Ava says. “It makes it a more fun experience for everyone.”
The show is taped in front of a live audience. After a lot of rehearsal, they have just one performance in front of the judges. The show airs across 11 weeks but is filmed in less time…so the girls were back in Woodbury to watch it with friends and family as they advanced week after week. Spoiler alert if you haven’t caught the news: Though the Wagners didn’t win it all, they did make it to the final round and finished in an impressive third place.
How about future plans? The Wagner sisters say they want to build on the success they’ve already enjoyed in L.A. to try pursuing professional dance careers. Ellie says that she plans to return to Minnesota eventually and teach at the Larkin Studio.
Another thing the competitive sisters agree on is the importance of family and community support. “We owe a big thank you to our Larkin Studio family and the entire Minnesota dance community for all the support they’ve given us,” Ellie says.