As she makes her way through the crowd, she can’t help herself—her right leg slides into a dance move, then her left. This is how Redondo Beach’s Charlie Sue Birznieks, 20, makes her way through a crowded Tompkins Square Bagels in the East Village of New York City. “I started dancing around 3 years old, but honestly I have been dancing since I could walk,” she says.
“I saw a spark, a passion and determination in Charlie Sue when she was very young and first started studying with us,” explains Donna Perkins, co-artistic director of Dance 1 in Redondo Beach. “She approached every class with an inquisitive nature and worked very hard to improve all skills.”
Born with confidence, Charlie Sue is unapologetic in her mission to always be her authentic self, whether that means acceptance by her peers or not. Perhaps that confidence came from her famous family—her great-aunt is actress Goldie Hawn, and her cousins are Kate Hudson and Oliver Hudson. Joie Shettler, her mom, was a Laker Girl and one of the original creators and dancers of the Pussycat Dolls.
“Dance has always been her joy and where she would come out of her shell,” says Joie of her daughter.
“Charlie Sue is so incredibly kind and sweet, but the music starts, and her fierceness lights up the room,” adds Donna.
As a senior at Mira Costa High School, Charlie Sue took AP studio art. “It was a random class for me but really changed the direction of my life,” she says. For her senior thesis, she examined burlesque dance: “finding beauty and feminine sexuality in things that are taboo.”
After graduating in 2021, she headed to the Big Apple in search of her future. The decision didn’t come lightly. She knew she could get work in Los Angeles with her mom’s connections, but something drew her to New York City to be a dancer. Attending classes to become a stylist was her backup plan.
“I just lived out my childhood dreams alongside the best dancers ever. To move with you guys was the biggest blessing.Gonna treasure this experience for the rest of my life.”
Charlie Sue studied communication design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I used to do styling internships, but I found myself lugging hundreds of pounds of Louis Vuittons to freight basements for free, and I decided it just wasn’t for me.”
Charlie Sue made the choice to focus solely on dancing. “You must commit to what you want to do,” she says. “That’s when things really start to happen.” At Super Bowl LVI in 2022, Charlie Sue danced at the preshow tailgate party for the crowd at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
This September Charlie Sue fulfilled a wish: performing as a dancer for pop star Olivia Rodrigo on MTV’s Video Music Awards. “I just lived out my childhood dreams alongside the best dancers ever. To move with you guys was the biggest blessing,” she posted on Instagram. “Gonna treasure this experience for the rest of my life.”
“I’m grateful I grew up in the 5, 6, 7, 8 ballet world because it taught me how to use my body and foundational elements,” she says of her early training. Currently, she takes a weekly class with Kyla Bullings called Ugly Movement. It encourages dance choices that are expressive and out-of-the-box without conforming to any one style.
While she is mostly self-supporting, Charlie Sue has found that social dancing is foundational and an important aspect of her work. “A lot of people in New York are using their parent’s credit cards, so it can be challenging to exist next to it but not fully in it,” she explains. “It has also made me search for really fun jobs and made me committed to finding work that aligns with what I like.”
In addition to professional dancing, Charlie Sue often gets hired to be a “club kid” at popular NYC venues. Alongside friends, she wears crazy outfits and helps get customers out on the dance floor. “I’ll go up and get on the microphone with the DJ and dance around.”
But she points out the vibe can change quickly. “You would be surprised, but people don’t care to dance on their own anymore. So my friends and I just have a good time.”