TikTok Star Corey O’Brien & Partner to NFL Player Ryan Russell is Dancing his way to Freedom

Written by | Gay Voices, The Lens

You may know Corey O’Brien from his TikTok dances, which rank in the multi-millions of views. You may know him from his modeling work, his shoots have been both sexy and artful, and he’s appeared in Oprah’s “O” Magazine, Dance Spirit Magazine, Seventeen Magazine, and alongside Nicole Kidman, Michael B. Jordan, and Emily Blunt for W Magazine. You may also recognize him from one of his many high-profile dance performances.

He has trained in dance and gymnastics for over 17 years and his contracts have landed him around the globe, having performed with artists such as P. Diddy, French Montana, Nas, Ne-Yo, Iggy Azalea, Mariah Carey, and more. He has been a featured performer in “Funny Or Die!” segments, Snapchat’s show Sexiest Dance Moves, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and as a personality on the ill-fated MTV reality show Beyond Dance. He also became a media sensation due to his current relationship with NFL player Ryan Russell after Ryan came out as bisexual.

But his most personal project is his recent short film Freedom incorporating dance, nature, and his story to help bring awareness to addiction but most importantly, recovery.

What the world did not know about Corey, is that he has been on a sober journey for 9 years. From suffering from addiction from an early age, the success of his career was also coupled with the consequences that life as an addict can have. He came out, so to speak, about his sobriety during National Recovery Month to inspire youth who are turning to substance abuse as a way to cope with struggling with their sexuality. He is letting them know they are not alone. Sobriety is not often talked about, or even lauded, in mainstream LGBTQ culture where Sunday Fundays, nights at the club, and parties during Pride take focus. But Corey is showing that recovery is possible and sobriety is empowering.

You spent your childhood training at the esteemed Rock School and Rock School West, a nonprofit dance school. What inspired you to get into dance?

I started off as a gymnast but was embarrassed when kids in my school found out, so I quit but still wanted to be creative. I found dance and the rest was history.

What did your family say when you wanted to study dance?

They were so incredibly supportive and my number one fans.

Did you have to deal with bullying for being a dancer?

I dealt with bullying mainly for my sexuality but of course, when people found out I was also a dancer, it was another thing for kids to poke fun at.

Right after high school, you headed to New York as one of the very few accepted into Broadway Dance Center’s first Professional Semester. I can’t imagine being so young in New York. What was your experience in those first couple of months?

I was training really hard with dance. However, I was also finding myself drinking way too much. I was young and so excited to be out on my own but also dealing with depression. And slowly but surely having an addiction grow stronger and stronger.

From all of your travels, what can Americans learn most about the dance culture outside of the states?

To actually slow down and enjoy life.

Going from being on stage to having a camera in your face, dealing with drama, must have been very jarring. What did you learn most from doing Beyond Dance?

To watch what I say and mean what I say. I am an open book and have a big personality. I normally have no problem or regrets with things that I have spoken about in the past, especially as a sober man. I will admit though, I am grateful that MTV did not air the show because I was straight out of rehab and I was a bit all over the place emotionally.

Ok, spill the tea … Does Mariah Carey sleep backstage?

No! It was an honor to share the stage with her. Performing as one of the choir boys in her show was awesome and to see how she captivates an audience was incredible.

Corey is also a teacher and inspiration in the dance world.  He’s taught a number of workshops in studios around the nation as well as masterclasses at high-profile events and has won awards for his choreography. Corey is also versed in teaching and judging at competitions such as Inferno Dance Competition and Curtainline Dance Competition.

How is the younger generation of dancers different than your generation?

I think they are more accepting and understanding especially because they are able to see other performers/dancers on social media who are thriving even if society says they are “different.”

What was your inspiration to come out as sober?

I just wanted to be open and honest about my sobriety in hopes of helping others, especially since addiction is something so many people struggle with. There is just such a stigma around it that stops people from opening up.

What was your creative process in putting together Freedom?

I wanted to share my story in a way that was authentic to who I was and who I am now. Creating art has not only been a passion of mine but it’s been extremely therapeutic in my journey with sobriety. Filming Freedom was a way for me to be vulnerable and reminisce on the past while being able to share my story of growth, which is important. I teamed up with Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse during Recovery Month to bring a message of hope to the forefront and show that recovery is possible for all.

What do you want audiences to walk away with from watching Freedom?

That the love you crave, the acceptance you desire, the strength you need, all comes from within.

You started your struggle with alcohol at age 12 and were in rehab by age 16. How did your addiction start?

I wanted to be accepted by my peers and felt “cool” if I was doing what they were. Then I felt alcohol was giving me confidence, which was something I was lacking, when in reality it was doing more harm than good.

How were you able to handle alcohol use and rehearsal, performing, working out?

I honestly wasn’t able to handle it, and one of the main reasons I’m sober today. I tried my hardest to make it all work.  But that’s why I was consistently fired from jobs and was destructive everywhere I went.

Your family got you into your first rehab program. How were you able to tell them, or were they aware?

It was so obvious. Everything around me was crumbling, I would always end up on their doorsteps when I was fired from different tours and gigs and had to come up with yet another excuse, but they always caught on. There wasn’t an intervention per se, however just conversations from everyone around me saying rehab was the only option for me.

We know the entertainment world and certainly, the LGBTQ nightlife is FULL of addictive substances. Not only is it sometimes viewed a “cool thing to do,” but it’s also a way a lot of networking happens, and can even be seen as a sign of prestige to be seen partying with the best of them. How has your relationship with the entertainment and LGBTQ community changed since your sobriety?

I just don’t interact or surround myself with those people or experiences. I don’t judge those who have that type of lifestyle, it’s just not for me and I would not have much in common with those who do live that way. I have always been a bit of an introvert and never enjoyed the nightlife unless I was partying.

Dealing with addiction is a daily struggle, it doesn’t go away. Nine years of sobriety is amazing. What have been your biggest obstacles?

I wouldn’t say that there have been any huge obstacles but finding friends and people who understand addiction/recovery has been challenging.

Corey’s personality, dancing ability, and honest opinions all play a part in his viral presence on TikTok. Sometimes he appears with his boyfriend, which initially garnered some pushback but ultimately high views, and sometimes he is just having a conversation with the camera. Though the social media buzz is nice, he is staying focused on real life and sharing his sober journey.

You can follow Corey on TikTok: corey_obrien

All photos are courtesy of coreyobrienonline.com

Last modified: December 21, 2021