Cost n’ Mayor: Creating dance in the age of social media

Cost n' Mayor in their 'Flip the Mix' line. Photo by J Gray Photography.
Cost n' Mayor in their 'Flip the Mix' line. Photo by J Gray Photography.

Cost n’ Mayor is a dynamic choreographing duo taking centerstage on social media. What started as a joke during Covid, has paved the way to working with countless brands – such as Target, Neutrogena and Blue Bunny – and provided a platform to share their talent with millions of viewers around the world. Dance Informa had the privilege of chatting with Austin and Marideth Telenko – the married couple behind Cost n’ Mayor. 

Austin and Marideth began dancing at ages nine and 14 respectively, with his training rooted in theater and hers in street style. Eventually, they broadened their training to include a variety of styles. Each landed in New York – Austin in 2017 dancing professionally, and Marideth in 2019 on the Richard Ellner Scholarship at Broadway Dance Center (BDC). 

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.

Austin and Marideth met in 2019, while performing at Six Flags New Jersey in a Halloween show. Over the next few months, their paths kept crossing, and after the show ended, the two continued spending time together. They began “officially” dating in February 2020, a month before Covid shut down New York. 

Marideth shares, “I will never forget the day everything closed in New York. Austin was at my place with me and my roommates, and everyone started getting messages that BDC was closed, Steps on Broadway was closed, our jobs were closed. We were both scared of getting stuck in New York long-term. My mom encouraged me to come home, and I told Austin, ‘Just come with me to North Carolina. We’ll wait it out for two weeks and come back.’” What they thought would be two weeks turned into a year-long stay. 

Stuck together in North Carolina, Austin and Marideth began making up dances and teaching them to each other. Eventually, they began choreographing together and decided to share their posts on social media under the Cost n’ Mayor name – an inside joke from their time in New York. “We were in the park one day playing cards and wanted to keep score, so we pulled out a phone and said, ‘Hey, Siri, make a note that says Aust and Mar’. The closest real words that Siri knew was Cost and Mayor. We thought it was the funniest thing ever and it became an inside joke,” shares Austin. 

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Mary Daley Photography.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Mary Daley Photography.

TikTok dances were a quarantine trend, but when Cost n’ Mayor surveyed what was trending, they found a different approach. “We saw a gap in the space and started making original work that really was focused on music. We took sounds that are recognizable to your ear and made something that looked like the sound. I think that scratched a satisfying itch for people and made it stand out from other choreography,” says Marideth. 

The duo had to pivot from stage performance to creating and sharing on a phone screen – a pivot with a steep learning curve. “On a phone screen, you’re a lot closer up, so you can see more nuanced movement, whereas if you’re in a 20,000-person stadium, a nuanced movement is lost. But you’re also limited – if you do anything too large, you’re out of frame,” reveals Marideth. 

Cost n’ Mayor also began working with brands – a creation process which posed some unique challenges. “When a brand hires us to make content for them, we’re not just providing choreography – we’re the choreographer, the performer, the actor, the producer, the editor and the videographer,” Marideth says. “The brand will tell us, ‘Our priority is to show this product and highlight X, Y and Z about it.’ The challenge is to create choreography that’s authentically us, but also promotes a product and highlights what the brand wants us to.”

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Tiffanie Marie @steezystudio.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Tiffanie Marie @steezystudio.

“When we’re dancing together for fun, we’re showcasing fun moves and our performance quality,” Austin adds. “But when we’re dancing for a brand, we’re promoting a product, service or key message into a story that resonates with people enough to stop and watch an ad.”

Despite the new challenges the duo faced, the two thrive on a challenge. “I think when you’re cranking out the amount of content that we do in a week, it helps to have these prompts to spur new ideas. It helps the creativity have longevity,” Marideth explains.

A hallmark of a Cost n’ Mayor video is their contagious joy. Cost n’ Mayor’s ability to maintain strong connection with an online audience is one reason for their popularity. “Because we’re passionate about it, we genuinely have so much fun doing what we’re doing, and we have mutual love for each other, it’s easy for a viewer to also feel that joy,” Marideth shares.

Austin continues, “Not to mention that we do all of our stuff in our living room in comfy clothes and socks. It gives off this feeling that we’re just like you – we like to dance in our living room, we have fun and laugh about it when we mess up.” 

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Mary Daley Photography.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Mary Daley Photography.

Cost n’ Mayor now has over six million followers across platforms. When asked if they felt the pressure of these numbers, Marideth was honest about the highs and lows of a large following, “On one hand, sometimes we can get in our head about choreography because we want to impress a gigantic audience. On the other hand, because everyone is creating in such high quantities now, if you put out something that is very experimental and it kind of sucks, no one is going to remember it. You’ll do something new tomorrow. It’s like a safety net almost, and I feel the safety net side of it more than I feel the pressure most of the time.”

Austin continues, “Sometimes, we have to take a step back from it and say, ‘Did we choreograph that for the six million people who are across platforms, or did we choreograph that because we wanted to do it, we felt good about it, we had fun with it?’ I think when we remind ourselves that we choreographed for us, that’s when it’s best received by everybody else.” 

When asked how they take care of themselves and prevent burn-out, it was clear both take self-care seriously. “Sometimes, we have to say if we’re not feeling it today, that is 100 percent okay,” Austin says. “It goes back to are we creating for them or are we creating for us? We try to post something every day, but that’s just a personal preference. Sometimes, we do have to remind ourselves that if it’s not in us to post something today, it’s okay.” 

“In this chapter, we heavily focus on putting out things that we’re really proud of, and had fun making,” adds Marideth. “If we start choreographing and are like, ‘I’m not really into this,’ we’ve learned to give ourselves the grace to say, ‘If we don’t like it, there’s no use forcing ourselves to come up with something.'”

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.

Shifting to the future of online creation, Austin and Marideth admit it’s hard to predict what that will look like, but had some thoughts on what’s to come. “As social media and entertainment progress, we strongly feel that the two industries are going to collide,” Marideth affirms. “We’re going to see a lot more cross-over and a personal brand like ours facilitating a career in the mainstream industry. More than ever, it will be important to have an established platform and personal brand on social media. That package will become much more valuable to the traditional industry moving forward.” 

She delves a bit further into the shift in the industry, “Traditionally, in the dancing/choreography space, your career has been in the hands of other people. This era is unique because it puts that power back into the hands of the artist. We got to name our brand Cost n’ Mayor because we thought it was funny. If I have an idea, the only thing that stands between us and sharing that idea with the world is videoing it and hitting ‘post.’” 

When asked what advice the two have for the rising generation of performers and choreographers, they agree it depends on your goals. “As choreographers who wanted to grow a brand online, a year ago, our goals were much more around growth. If you’re trying to grow a personal brand, there has to be an element of worrying about how your work is being received. Once you’ve achieved that goal of growth, then you can show people all of the things that are your personal inspiration,” says Marideth.

“We can’t lump together dancers, performers and choreographers,” Austin adds. “As a dancer, you can have goals of wanting to work with certain artists or choreographers, or be in certain movies. If you take to Instagram or TikTok to learn things, then learn the choreography and regurgitate as much as you want. But if, as a choreographer, your goal is to put your concepts and creations in front of the people who can make those things happen, then you should be creating things and doing whatever you can to get them in front of those eyes.”

Interestingly, Austin and Marideth began their dance careers just a short time ago as performers, but have quickly shifted more to choreography. While Marideth says choreographing was always her endgame, Austin had different goals. “I remember a time, living in New York saying, ‘I just want to perform. I would love to be working with these creatives and choreographers – please just tell me what to do.’ That’s where my goals were until I learned that I have this really cool person that I love very much and we have really great ideas. Now, my passions are in choreography and the creative side.” 

Cost n' Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.
Cost n’ Mayor. Photo by Heights Digital Media.

A partnership birthed during quarantine has taken Austin and Marideth further than they ever imagined. They were contributing choreographers for this year’s National Dance Day routine, and this fall, they’ll be launching the second athleisure collection in their sustainable clothing line. Cost n’ Mayor designed their clothing line alongside their team at Sew Sew You, who bring their amazing pieces to life using recycled and sustainable luxury materials. 

The couple’s first collection “Flip the Mix,” inspired by ’90s hip hop and celebrating individuality, was extremely successful, and they’ve just announced that their fall collection will be called “24 by Cost n’ Mayor.” The new line is a celebration of the growth the couple has experienced in their careers, with their community, and as a couple over the past year, and will be launched for a limited time only on November 9.

Marideth says, “I really am excited about it. I thought that we couldn’t top the last line because we loved it so much, but I really think that I like the fall line better!” 

Look out for their new line this November, and follow Cost n’ Mayor on all social media: @cost_n_mayor.

By Melody McTier of Dance Informa.

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