On the February 14, 2014 episode of the variety-talk show “Ellen,” host Ellen DeGeneres introduces two dancers, whom she calls “amazing.”
“They are a dance duo, who happen to be husband and wife, and they’re going to show us where they see themselves in 50 years,” Ellen says to the audience. “Please welcome Keone and Mari!”
As the stage doors slide open, Keone and Mari Madrid, who resemble 80-year-olds with hiked up pants, white wigs, and cardigans, waddle to the middle of the stage as their piece to Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” begins.
And for the next two minutes, they slide, intertwine, clasp and unclasp, and jump across the stage as two senior citizens doing life together.
Although they may be in character, Keone and Mari don’t have to look very far for inspiration.
“Keone and Mari got married on June 10, 2012. But Mr. and Mrs. Madrid is not just a fun title they can put on their resume. Nor was marriage just the next rational step in their four-year dating relationship.
It was more than that. Their marriage represents, in every way, a ministry.
Mari met Jesus within the first year of dating Keone. Although she grew up “borderline atheist,” Keone’s gentle forwardness about his Christian faith made an impression. So, she agreed to go to church with him.
She half-expected to see people point fingers at her and call her “sinner.” Or maybe people getting exorcised in the aisles. But what actually happened surprised her. As she sat in the chair next to Keone, she observed what looked like people from all walks of life—old, young, single, married, rough, kind— eager to be at church.
eager to be at church. It seemed as if they were there to learn and celebrate something, or someone, that made them happy.
Mari continued to go to church, but she also refused to change her beliefs just for a guy. Keone, too, didn’t want to push her into a decision that wasn’t ultimately hers. So, he did the only thing he could. Keone left it up to the only One who could make a difference. Jesus. And like always, He delivered.
“I remember there was a specific service that [Keone] took me to,” Mari says. “And in the middle of it, I felt like the pastor was only talking to me. I felt like there was nobody else in the room. And it wasn’t a feeling of conviction. But all of a sudden, I felt really inspired to make something and create. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time. I never expected to feel that from church. It was really weird to me, really foreign.”
But it had awoken something in Mari that kept her wanting more. From that service on, she read books and listened to sermons, until one day, she simply decided to follow Jesus. Although she doesn’t remember the exact moment, her journal reveals a change overnight. On one page, Mari quotes Descartes, the philosopher who famously said, “I can’t doubt that I’m doubting.” And on the next page, a doodled cross stretches across the page with the words, “This is all that matters now,” below it.
After that, Mari and Keone’s relationship began changing drastically, beginning with the physical. About four months into their relationship, as God slowly became their center, they knew that they needed to take their sex life out of the picture. Perhaps it seemed rigid and old-fashioned, but in their hearts, they wanted to respect what God intended for marriage. Knowing they couldn’t do it on their own, they had no choice but to let God’s hands carefully build their relationship.
By the time they celebrated their one-year anniversary, Keone and Mari did nothing more than “peck-kissing,” a term they playfully coined during that time. No tongue, just Disney kisses, Mari wrote on her blog.
“We got so much closer to God because of that,” Mari explains. “We totally could not have done that…it was absolutely all the Holy Spirit.”
This is a story that they shared during their wedding ceremony. It’s a story that they are transparent about with friends, family, and the public, often eliciting a lot of “What?! Why?” reactions. But for Keone and Mari, the three and a half years of peck-kissing and holding hands (not even cuddling, Keone adds) proved powerful…albeit difficult.
And together, as they travel overseas to teach dance classes, as they choreograph pieces for international dance competitions and popular television shows, one thing is for certain. Their love, their marriage: it inspires.
Which explains why their partnering work, the stuff they choreograph together, exponentially trumps their solo work in popularity. According to both Keone and Mari, if that weren’t the case, they’d both stop doing it. They laugh when they say this, but they’re not joking.
Mari’s calculated, methodical choreography coupled with Keone’s spontaneous approach result in eight-hour days at the studio. That same dance probably takes one of them only three to four hours to create. Their technical, mathematical, and intertwined partnering work results in a lot of water breaks, cool-downs, and resets.
“We both have a creative vision, and we both have to sacrifice for each other’s creative vision, too, being husband and wife,” Keone says. “It’s the same thing in a relationship: sacrificing and being understanding and letting your pride down and all that stuff. We definitely have to deal with that in the creative process. It’s…really difficult. It definitely teaches us a lot about patience.”
“And forgiveness,” Mari interrupts.
“We go through a lot of tribulation with every piece,” Keone adds.
And yet, as you watch their piece “Dangerous” on YouTube, which has rallied up almost 4 million views, or their piece “Is This Love,” clocking in at over 1 million views, a unity that can only come from their sacrificial, effort-filled marriage exudes. And when one watches it, goosebumps erupt. The type of goosebumps that can only be provoked by love.
In 2010, almost two years into their dating relationship, Keone and Mari decided it was time to stop dancing. Teaching, performing, competing, and traveling were fun, but a career in dance just didn’t seem feasible for either of them. A life of getting paid under the table, not having health insurance, and lacking the resources to pay taxes just didn’t seem like the type of life that could sustain a couple who wanted to get married.
“We were just going to stop traveling and stop teaching and almost stop dancing,” Keone explains. “We would go back to school. Mari already got a job at Peet’s Coffee, and I was signing up for classes again. And she was going to go into nursing, and I was going to go into sports medicine.”
They had it all planned out. They choreographed and filmed their last piece—what they called their last hoorah—and put it on YouTube. The piece, titled “We Need You,” was inspired by Matthew chapter five, verses 14-16, the Bible passage that reads, “You are the light of the world.
Bible passage that reads, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
“It was a piece that straight up glorified God,” Keone explains, “and that’s how we wanted to end our YouTube, our dance career, note.”
Keone and Mari may have been ready to give up dance. But God had a plan to infiltrate the dance industry. And that plan included them.
Around the same time they choreographed the piece, a friend presented them with an opportunity to be a part of a management company that would help book them gigs, provide resources for health insurance, and essentially make dance a career that could actually sustain them. But because they had already set their minds on “growing up,” they said, “No.”
They posted the video to YouTube, expecting to receive superlatives like “dope” and “cool” in the comments section that were common for dance videos at the time. But the response they got overwhelmed them. This video challenged the way people perceived Christianity and dance in the same world. Viewers commented that they didn’t know it was possible to dance like that and glorify God at the same time.
And then, Keone received a message from a guy through Facebook, who stood on the verge of committing suicide. That is, until he saw their video.
“Mari and I were crying and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much more powerful than we thought,’” Keone explains. “And we prayed about it. It was just so much clearer that God wanted us to do this, and we couldn’t stop. And that opportunity that was presented to us around that time, it was there for a reason.
reason. And it was always clear that [God said], ‘You glorify Me first in your dancing, and I will provide for you.’ And I think that’s where our lives transformed again because what we loved to do had so much to do with our love
for God. And the purpose was so much greater.”
From that moment, dancing was no longer a hobby or even just a passion. For Mari and Keone, it was more than that. Dancing had one purpose: to glorify God.
Within months, Keone and Mari were invited to teach dance classes overseas and hired to choreograph for a Korean pop (K-pop) artist. A drastic change in their career presented open door after open door. And as Keone and Mari entered each door, they trusted that God went before them in each one.
They’ve never been explicitly turned down from a gig for their faith, but both Mari and Keone are aware that being labeled a “Christian” in general, but especially in the entertainment industry, has a stigma attached to it. And that stigma probably prevents them from getting hired for certain projects. But they’re okay with it.
“If anything, I feel like God protects us from not doing what He doesn’t want us to do,” Mari explains. “Or He shows us that, maybe, we shouldn’t go in this direction.”
If their experience has taught them anything, it’s that obedience isn’t a setback but rather, a launching pad.
Like the time they auditioned for the pilot episode of a talent competition show from the producers of “Shark Tank” in 2012. Although they rarely did television gigs, they decided to try it because it provided an incredible opportunity to perform in front of the top talent bookers of the world.
Keone and Mari were set as the last ones to audition. After a long couple of days, it was finally their time to perform.
of days, it was finally their time to perform. They moved to a room, where contestants waited right before going on stage. With Keone’s family there to
support, Mari and Keone waited in costume, mic’d up, and pumped to show the bookers their piece. But just seconds before they were supposed to be introduced, the producers came in with some bad news.
“We can’t have you guys perform in front of the bookers,” the producers said. “We just can’t afford more time. Thank you for waiting, and we’re very sorry that you guys didn’t get to go on stage and do your thing.”
“It was very like, ‘Ugghhhhh!’” Keone remembers. “We were just so frustrated in that moment. But when we calmed down and thought about it, we had both prayed before the whole thing and said, ‘God, if You don’t want us to do it, show us. Give us a sign that You don’t want us to do it.’ And it was up until the very last second where God said, ‘No.’ But I think it was a test for us.”
A test in trust. A test in obedience. A test in keeping their promise to glorify Him, always.
Four months later, the popular reality-television dance competition “So You Think You Can Dance” hired Keone and Mari to choreograph the very piece that they couldn’t perform on the pilot show. Had they performed it in front of the bookers, the show would have owned the rights to the piece, preventing them from choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“So it was kind of like, well, that’s what God wanted,” Keone says. “I guess that’s where God wanted us instead.”
And with that same faith, they’ve gone on to do work for Hyundai, who hired them to do a commercial that they initially thought would only be on YouTube. Today, however, that commercial loops on a huge digital billboard in the middle of Times Square in New York City.
in the middle of Times Square in New York City. They have yet to see it in person, but many a friends have shown them through videos on their smartphones.
Lately, Keone and Mari are observing a change in the direction of their careers that they can only attribute to God. Aside from the Hyundai commercial, the husband and wife duo have made two appearances on “Ellen,” appeared as guest choreographers for “So You Think You Can Dance,” and choreographed the dancing for an entire season of the reality singing competition “X Factor.” Both Keone and Mari continue to choreograph for high-profile K-pop artists from the top record labels and talent agencies in South Korea, including JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and SM Entertainment, to name a few.
And when they’re not choreographing, Keone might be found on the computer at their home in San Diego, California, responding to emails for Cookies, a hip-hop dance crew he co-directs. Or one of them might be on the phone, partnering with an organization for the merchandise company they founded in 2012, called Kingdom Made, which donates a quarter of profits to helping others. Or both Mari and Keone might be in a studio overseas, teaching aspiring dancers and connecting with them on deeper levels. Some of the countries they’ve traveled to for teaching include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, France, Poland, Spain, Russia, South Korea, Japan, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. And that’s not even all of them. In each of these countries, Mari and Keone have had opportunity after opportunity to meet individuals, who share a passion to fuse dance with their faith.
“I love teaching, and you can find little ways to sneak God in there,” Mari says.
says. “And you can see how people are affected. Sometimes, I don’t think they even realize what has happened to them, but they’re just like, ‘Woah.’ And it’s a really great way to share God with people, who don’t know Him at all, but they love dance. And you have that connection with them. So they’ll listen to you, especially if they’re in there taking your class. And they’re wanting to be in there, and they’re wanting to hear what you have to say. It’s a really great environment for sharing.”
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