Rana Good is the founder of Naïra NYC. A writer for publications such as Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Coveteur, Mens Journal and others, she created her own platform celebrating women of color.
Sisters Chloe and Maud Arnold have changed the face of tap dancing, as they’ve become the most recognizable figures in an industry that has historically underrepresented Black women. Performing together as Syncopated Ladies, some of their milestones include choreographing Hollywood movies, creating their own brand of tap dance shoes, and making tap dance content so compelling Beyoncé shared it (check out the Arnold Sisters take on her hit “Formation” below).
While the D.C. natives have graced the big and small screen, plus many stages throughout their careers, the two are also focused on making tap dancing more equitable and accessible for future generations through their Chloe and Maud foundation and boot camps.
We spoke to Chloe and Maud about how they paved their incomparable way in tap dancing and their advice to pursuing your dreams, even when no one else has done it before you.
You started dancing at a very young age, when did dancing go from a hobby to a career for you?
Chloe Arnold: Already as teenagers, we both knew this is what we wanted to do as a career. I committed to the process at ten years old and then at 16 years old, I met Debbie Allen who made me feel like a professional. The very first professional job I had was performing for Bill Gates’s annual conference. They put us up in a hotel and it felt incredible, like a huge accomplishment.
When was your first big break?
Chloe Arnold: We’ve had three phases of big breaks and you can almost exactly break them up by decade.
In 2003, Debbie Allen gave me the opportunity to be a guest star on a TV show called Brothers Garcia which was followed by One on One and The Parkers. Those were my first big TV breaks. Syncopated Ladies had their first big break in 2013 when Beyoncé shared our work and put us on the map. After that, we were on So You Think You Can Dance and went on tour subsequently. In 2016, I became the lead choreographer The Late Late Show with James Corden, and the next big phase was in 2021 when I booked my first movie as choreographer, Spirited with Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, and Octavia Spencer.
Every decade has put us into another stratosphere of opportunity. Maud is six years younger so with some things, I went into them first and she joined later. With Syncopated Ladies we really became a dynamic duo.
What’s it like to work with your sister?
Chloe Arnold: Syncopated Ladies started from a necessity to see Black women tap dancing and in the forefront on TV. Our Black female tap dance teachers never received the shine they deserved. Successful tap dancers have typically been men with women in the chorus but we didn’t want to wait for men to hire us and validate us. We wanted to shake that whole concept up and didn’t want permission from anyone else. In 2003 Debbie Allen gave us space to start our careers and it took ten years to build a whole package including content, identity, and style.
You have fans all around the world, how did the Internet allow you to build a global community?
Chloe Arnold: Thank God for the internet! I look at it as an equalizer — we grew up poor and back in the day the only way to publicize a dance performance was to buy an ad, and the rate was something like $7,000. We both studied film at Columbia but couldn’t afford the equipment. With the onset of the Internet and iPhone, you could be a filmmaker without having a ton of money. You can get views without spending thousands.
In the world of dance when you make it, you’re performing at these well-known institutions that are typically filled with older rich white people. On the Internet, we could show our work to everyone and it unlocked a global community that was so much bigger than the “you made it” theater. It was a pathway to the world, where you didn’t need to have money to enjoy our work. Now we’re reaching Chloe and Maud, the girls who didn’t have access previously.
What are some other notable fan or celebrity moments you’ve experienced?
Maud Arnold: When Ryan Reynolds called on us by name on Jimmy Fallon and said that Chloe was the best tap dancer in the world.
Chloe Arnold: Another great moment was when I was choreographing the Late Late Show and Will Smith came and we were cross-promoting Aladdin. Maud got to tap dance on a flying carpet and Will told her that he thought she was funny because he heard her making jokes.
Maud Arnold: In 2016 at the BET Awards I was talking to Dave Chapelle, and Questlove came over asking “Dave, do you know her?” Dave goes, “Yes, we went to the same high school in D.C.” and Questlove goes “No, have you seen her and her sister perform? They’re so brilliant.” I explained to Dave what we do and he asked me if I still live in D.C. I told him “No I live in L.A. now” and he gave me a big hug and said, “We made it out, we did it.”
You’re the first in a lot of things, what advice do you have for women of color that might be the first in their field? How do you stick with something when you doubt yourself or don’t see a direct pathway?
Chloe Arnold: The number one thing Maud and I believe in is self-love, and we also support each other’s self-love. When people tell you that your idea is not valid or don’t fully believe in you, your sense of worth and self-love will allow you to continue on. You will be able to tell yourself, I’m smart enough, gifted enough, and have enough creativity and love within me. We have a solid team of women and some men that believe we can do anything even if it’s never been done before. We’re just crazy dreamers but surrounded by other believers, and that will allow you to keep going until your dreams come true. The people who live their dreams are the people who didn’t give up — you have to be in it for the long run, the vision that you want to create.
What’s next for Syncopated Ladies?
Chloe Arnold: We have a movie, Unfrosted with Jerry Seinfeld coming out, which I choreographed. Syncopated Ladies are going on tour; it’s a huge milestone for us, there are no other Black women in history producing their own tap concerts and touring the world. We have two tap shoes, and a new iteration as boots that recently came out. We’re working to sell our own TV show and we have something huge in New York coming up, stay tuned!
Photo by Lee Gumbs Photography. Courtesy of SILLAR Management