LOS ANGELES – Mandy Moore wanted to be a dancer “the minute I stepped into dance class.”
Starting at 8, she remembers older girls saying they couldn’t wait to go to college to become doctors or whatever. “And I had a thing in my head, ‘What do you mean? They don’t want to be dancers?’ I didn’t get that it could even be an option for me. For me, it was the only thing.”
While the St. Louis native moved to Los Angeles when she was 18, she always had a teaching gig to help pay the bills. “It was my day job. When you do that, you’re always dealing with an element of choreography.”
Today, she’s a two-time Emmy-winning choreographer who just landed a gig as a judge on “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors.” The new job, she says, is an ideal way to marry her two identities.
Moore, in fact, is such an in-demand choreographer it’s rare that a dance show will emerge without her participation in one way or another.
She got into television through “Dancing with the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba. “She asked me to be her assistant and when ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ was starting, she brought me along.”
That led to jobs on numerous shows, including “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“I’m the luckiest chick ever,” Moore says. “'Dancing with the Stars,’ for me, has been about big production numbers and working with celebrities who don’t know how to dance. ‘Think’ has always been about the duets and emotional stories. I love being able to compartmentalize my creative process for both shows.”
Dancing, the 42-year-old says, can be stressful for many people. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe we’re all middle schoolers or elementary students and we think we can’t dance. We’re traumatized. But everyone can dance.”
When she was working on the Oscar-winning “La La Land,” Moore says she heard frequent complaints from stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling about tap dancing. “They hated it. Emma said, ‘This is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done.’ And it’s true.
“To be a good tap dancer, you either need to be a mathematician or you just need to let it go. You actually do a disservice to yourself the more you think about it. Your brain can’t move fast enough to coordinate with your feet. But if you just listen and let your weight work in the way it should, it works.”
When the producers of “Good Morning America” were prepping a piece on Moore and the new show, she ran into a video of her as a girl choreographing a routine around deck chairs on her back porch. “Thank goodness for my parents, who sat through many performances,” she says.
When she started to get film and television work, Moore had to register her name with the Screen Actors Guild. The actress Mandy Moore (who’s on “This is Us”) got there first, so the choreographer is officially known as “Mandy Jo Moore.”
“When she had a hit single, I had a bunch of friends call me out of the blue and say, ‘Hey, I hear you’re going on tour. Can I dance for you?’” Moore says. “It was so weird. They thought I was the other Mandy Moore.”
With “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors,” she’ll get a chance to step out from behind the curtain and let viewers see what Mandy Jo Moore is like.
“Anytime you’re catapulted into a new position, there’s always nerves,” she says. “Most people don’t know I’ve had 20 years of teaching kids behind the scenes and judging them in competitions. It should be a natural transition.”
And those Emmys? They’re nice, but not essential.
“I’m a firm believer in there’s a piece of pie for everybody,” Moore says. “Just because Travis (Wall) wins, doesn’t mean my work sucks. I can celebrate whoever wins.”
For the record: She won her second just last month. And, yes, she beat three other choreographers from “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“One win is like seventy-hundred,” the seven-time nominee says. “You’re really excited and grateful.”