Dancing clean: Lindsey Stirling strings together killer career of song and dance

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Lindsey Stirling’s 2018 milestones include buying her first house and touring with Evanescence now through September. Her BYU education in film and recreation management — and her missionary experiences in New York City — prepared her for life as an electronic violinist with 11 million subscribers on YouTube and thousands of attendees at her sold-out concerts. (Photo by Photo by Shervin Lainez)

One of the most common phrases Lindsey Stirling hears from fans is, “You should’ve won ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”

Her second place finish in November 2017 introduced her to millions of new fans who are intrigued by her style as a funky dancing violinist. This BYU grad now has more YouTube subscribers than Justin Timberlake, OneRepublic or Kanye West.

“For ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ I was stepping into ballroom shoes and doing things my body had never done before,” she says. “It was terrifying to take myself out of a world where I’m extremely competitive and throw myself into a world where I was a baby.”

But she handled the stress with the wisdom of her late-grandmother, who she often asked to help her during specific prayers.

“Most people on DWTS put their lives on hold and focus only on the show,” she says. “I was getting ready to tour and had all those rehearsals and details to attend to as well. I realized I had set out to do the impossible, and I was in tears many nights.”

Her prayers became specific, fervent and frequent.

“I would tell Heavenly Father that I needed Him to make it possible,” she says. “I would tell him I only had two hours to practice, but I needed it to count as 10. I would tell him I only had five hours to sleep, but I needed to wake up refreshed as if I had slept 12.”

Lindsey and partner Mark Ballas took second in “Dancing With the Stars” in 2017. Their most emotional performance was dedicated to her late father and performed to “Anchor” by Provo’s Mindy Gledhill.

In a priesthood blessing, she was promised that angels — specifically her late father — would be with her every step of the way.

“I relied on that blessing, and ‘Dancing With The Stars’ became one of my most spiritual experiences,” she says. “I would ask to be bold like my dad and to have the creativity of my grandma. Prayer works.”

Each time she stepped out onto the dance floor and in front of cameras and critics, she danced better than she had before. Her most heartfelt and memorable performance was to Utah-based Mindy Gledhill’s song “Anchor.”

“That dance was dedicated to my father who passed away in 2016,” Lindsey says. “When my partner Mark Ballas walked out of the dressing room that night wearing my dad’s signature hat and scarf, I was very emotional.”

At the finale, Lindsey was so tired, so nervous. Her last prayer went something like, “I know in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter. But I’ve made it this far and this really matters to me.”

She was overcome with the feeling that if it was important to her, it was important to God.

“That was a turning point in my life,” she says.


Lindsey began violin lessons at age 6 but got burned out with the rigid classic exactness as a teenager. She originally planned to set music aside, but on her LDS mission she knew she would come home and use her creativity to influence the world. (Photo by Olivia Mas Stagnaro)

The Music Burnout

At age 6, Lindsey began studying violin and training her fingers how to fly. A strict teacher in her teens kept the budding musician regimented on classical music, where the notes are in black and white.

“There was very little expression, and I got burned out. The thought of practicing for eight hours a day made me want to hide in a corner,” she says.

Lindsey started joining bands in Arizona near her high school and making it fun again. She jammed on top of other people’s music and came alive as she learned she didn’t have to stick to the notes on the page. Earlier this year, Lindsey Instagrammed about the time her mom went on tour with her and the band Stomp on Melvin because she was only 16. The mother-daughter duo continue to travel and chat as often as possible.

Provo Verse

After Lindsey neared high school graduation, she only applied to one school — BYU — and never saw herself anywhere else. Her parents were both Cougars and told happy stories of dorm life. Lindsey’s education was in two parts — studying film before her mission and then graduating in recreation management after serving in the New York New York North Mission.   

“I’m so grateful for my two years in film now that I direct a lot of my own music videos,” she says. “On my mission I decided I wanted to work more with people and influence them, and my education helped me understand therapeutic recreation and how to find wellness — which I’m obsessed with.”

“I also gained some of my closest friends who were roommates in Provo. Utah is the foundation for my career.” — Lindsey Stirling

Now when Lindsey returns to Provo for social reasons or performances, she always notices the spirit around BYU’s campus.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but the feeling there stands out from anywhere else I’ve been,” she says. “I also gained some of my closest friends who were roommates in Provo. Utah is the foundation for my career.”

Our community also gave Lindsey her long-time friend and collaborator Kim Delgrosso.

“As a student, I got asked to perform at the Jazz game, which was a huge opportunity,” she says. “I went to Center Stage and asked Kim for two dancers who I would pay $50 to dance with me at this gig.”

From there, Kim saw the vision for Lindsey’s style that others didn’t yet understand, and she helped the violinist connect with choreographers and collaborators in the industry.

Lindsey also worked at New Haven in Utah Valley for about a year helping youth become the best version of themselves.

“We are all good at our core,” she says. “We all chose to come to earth, but the teenage years can be so trying. If I had known certain things, I might have been spared some of my challenges as a youth. So I try to help others avoid those pitfalls.”

With years of perspective behind her, Lindsey is grateful for what she learned facing her own demons of anorexia and depression.

“It’s an important part of my story and my learning,” she says.

Even though the music industry is dominated by men, Lindsey has always seen her gender as a source of strength. Lindsey treasures relationships with women from all the chapters of her life and describes females as “soft but strong. It’s refreshing to have a woman who steps in and knows her stuff. Right now it’s a women’s empowerment era,” she says. (Photo by Shervin Lainez)

The Happiness Project

While Lindsey lifts her fans, she had to first lift herself. She’s gone public about her struggles with body image and mental health.

“I’ve learned how to be happy, and those themes show up in my music,” she says. “I want to leave fans inspired with a new thought. My rec management degree taught me how to relate every experience to life. How can this uplift? I’m always writing and creating from that standpoint.”

Lindsey used to see happiness as a reflection of who a person is and where they are in life. But she realized we have a say in how we feel about ourselves.

“So much comes from our inner dialogue,” she says. “If I’m not OK with the words in my head, I can wait until tomorrow to have a good day, or I can take steps right now to exercise gratitude in my life. I have practiced gratitude so much that it has become my default state.”

Exhibit V: When Valentine’s Day arrived earlier this year, she knew previously it had been a hard day to be single. But instead of wallowing, she had a Galentine’s Day dinner and was overwhelmed with the incredible relationships in her life.

“When I’m in LA traffic, I can be grateful I get to listen to my audiobook for longer or I can remind myself that I get to live in one of the coolest cities in the world,” she says. “You don’t have to sit in the passenger seat of life. Every person has the ability to sit in the driver’s seat — and it starts with thoughts.

Messages of positivity, ambition and self-love play out when Lindsey speaks at firesides or teaches the youth in her Sunday School class.

“You don’t have to sit in the passenger seat of life. Every person has the ability to sit in the driver’s seat — and it starts with thoughts.” — Lindsey Stirling

The Style File

While Lindsey’s musical style is all her own, it’s her fashion that lands her in national magazines and splashed all over social media. Her clothing confidence started with her dad.

“My father danced to the beat of his own drummer, and he was unashamed to be himself,” she says. “He had a rack in his seminary classroom full of scarves and hats that students could grab.”

His funeral was life-changing for Lindsey, whose career was already on a major upswing.

“I love how Mormons do funerals,” she says. “People told stories of untold acts of service, and the focus was on how we would all see him again. I think about my dad every day. And now that I have someone I love dearly who exists in that next place, my prayers are more heart-felt and my testimony is deeper. I believe so much in guardian angels.”

Lindsey’s strength and creativity also come from her mom, who traditionally sewed Lindsey’s Halloween costumes. When this trick-or-treater was 8 or 9, she wanted to be a kangaroo, but her mom didn’t have time for a big sewing project. So she showed Lindsey the concept of a pattern and took her to Joann Fabrics to pick out cloth.

“I created a pattern out of newspaper, including feet and ears. It was a pretty darn good costume!” Lindsey says. “And it’s all because my mom believed I could do it, so I believed I could, too.”

Whether from her parents, her heavenly parents or her innate drive, Lindsey believes in the big picture of her dreams.

“The body and mind move toward what you focus on, and your energy flows in a strong way toward your thoughts and beliefs,” she says. “You have to imagine amazing things will happen, and then you don’t have the worry because you know it WILL happen.”

The Power of the Wall

As a teenager, Lindsey had a poster of Amy Lee of the band Evanescence on her wall.

“My friend and I did a music video to her song, and it’s so terribly bad it’s hilarious,” she says. “But Amy inspired me so much, and now I am sharing the stage with my teen idol. This is just one example of what we put out in the world can happen. Sometimes we let facts get in the way and we believe we might not make it, but if we think that way, we don’t take the same risks.”

The Evanescence tour runs July through September (see LindseyStirling.com for dates and locations). She’s also planning a Christmas tour in Utah, where she says she gets recognized far more than she does in Los Angeles where she lives now.

Practical Splurge

When Lindsey’s albums and concerts began to turn coin, her first big splurge wasn’t a fancy car or a five-star vacation.

“My parents needed a new roof, and I’m a very practical person so it made sense for that to be my first big purchase,” Lindsey says. Her second splurge was for herself and happened four days before her interview with Utah Valley Magazine.

“I had always thought you didn’t buy a house until you got married and had a family, but my life was moving forward in every other area so I finally decided to live life without waiting and get my first house,” she says. “The lease on my car is also up, so I’m doing all kinds of adulting right now.”

Lindsey’s frugal nature came up multiple times during this interview, as she told of finding cheap tickets for herself and her mom for the Taylor Swift concert on Craig’s List. And when she spoke about attending concerts, she said one of the things she notices is the budget.

“I’ll have thoughts like, ‘That was an expensive three seconds right there!’” she says.

One of Lindsey’s greatest struggles is being judged by those inside and outside the LDS Church, especially as she navigates the constant pull to use the body and sexuality as a way to get more acclaim or to be more desirable. “That’s the low hanging fruit,” she says. “It’s an ongoing temptation, but the gospel provides standards that help me make choices. I don’t want to be obsessed with physicality.” (Photo by Livia Mas Stagnaro)

On a Mission

One of the topics Lindsey loves talking about (in addition to wellness) is LDS missions, which are often described as the best time 18 months or two years.

“My mission was so hard at first,” she says. “I was feeling like I was a bad person and I wondered if I would hate my whole mission.”

She grew to love her service mostly for the lessons it taught her, which she freely shares with others now.

“I tell missionaries if they are struggling and still giving 100 percent, they are truly making a sacrifice and God knows that,” she says. “It does not mean they are a bad person.”

Lindsey’s mission prepared her for a lifetime mission that includes multiple companions, areas and transfers.

“My mission gave me a deeper understanding of the gospel right before my life was about to turn upside down. It was the training ground. They say the Lord will bless you tenfold for the service you give him, and I have been hugely blessed largely because my heart changed on my mission. The music side of me became unblocked during the 18 months in New York.”

The rejection on the streets of the Big Apple prepared Lindsey for the rejection she faced early on as a dancing violinist doing electronic music.

While Mormonism comes up often in Lindsey’s media interviews and professional conversations, it never comes up faster than in her dating life.

“People always want to take me to a bar,” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Can we go to ice cream?’ It brings up serious conversations early on. Second dates often lead to deep talks on standards and religion, and sometimes I just wish we could chat about hiking. But I know people are genuinely curious. They don’t want to be preached at, but people are comfortable talking about religion these days.”

Roles and Goals

Lindsey’s life has shown her there are no barriers and no “impossibles,” so her next goals include writing a Broadway show, developing her own line of violins, and producing music.

“Only 2 percent of songs are produced by females, and I don’t love that statistic,” Lindsey says. “I think women look at the industry and get intimidated thinking only men know the technology and the ropes to produce, which is why we need women to produce music and open the doors for other women to follow. I’m going to work on that. Women can lead out.”

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