Ainsley Bailey, an actress on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up, is still trying to wrap her mind around everything that has happened during the past year.
Strangers recognize her when she is in public. Most of these new fans are teens and “tweens.”
“One girl was so excited to meet me that she just started crying,” says Bailey, a 20-year-old from Plano. “It’s so strange, the idea that someone can get star-struck meeting me!”
But that’s the power of Shake It Up, a dance-themed sitcom that airs at 7:30 p.m. Sundays.
It’s one of Disney’s most popular series, about two teenage girls (played by Bella Thorne and Zendaya) who become regulars on a Chicago dance show.
Bailey has a scene-stealing recurring role as Dina, the girlfriend of Deuce (Adam Irigoyen). She “tawks” with a Jersey accent and, like Deuce, she goes everywhere with headphones around her neck.
Bailey was cast not because of her dance skills but because of her flair for comedy. She initially was to appear in only a few episodes, but she quickly became a more frequent presence on the show.
“It has happened pretty fast,” she says. “This is the first TV show that I’ve ever worked on, so it’s been pretty life-changing for me. I feel very, very lucky to be part of this show’s success.”
Bailey has been acting since she was 10 years old.
“One day at school they handed out materials about extracurricular activities and one was an ad for a local children’s theater,” she says. “My friend and I decided to try it, and I immediately fell in love.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is where I’m supposed to be. This makes sense.’”
Bailey was a natural from the very start, too.
“My first role was in The Princess Diaries, the play version,” she says. “I thought I would wind up being, like, ‘Princess in Training No. 3.’ But I got Princess Mia. I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled.”
At 17, Bailey started pursuing TV and film roles in Los Angeles.
When she auditioned for Shake It Up, she didn’t know until moments before that Dina would need to talk with a Jersey accent.
“The casting director just sort of mentioned it as an offhand comment before I went in,” she says. “I’ve never really been to the East Coast, but I’ve heard that accent and I’ve always liked doing fun little accents and adding them to my repertoire. So I just said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’
“Thank goodness he said something. I had to wing it. But it worked out.”
During a recent visit home in North Texas, a girl approached her and said, “You look like Dina from Shake It Up.” But when Bailey said she is Dina, the girl wasn’t convinced until Bailey did the accent. When Bailey isn’t acting on the show, she’s busy trying to hone her performance skills. That includes studying with The Groundlings, a legendary Los Angeles comedy improv company that launched the careers of many Saturday Night Live cast members.
“That’s definitely a dream of mine, to be on SNL or something like that one day,” she says. “I love comedy. I love making people laugh.”
For the time being, though, Bailey doesn’t find it the least bit confining to play a 14-year-old on Disney Channel.
“I’m 20 years old, but I look younger, which for acting is a great thing,” she says. “So I’ve just kind of embraced it. Besides, I love Disney. I watched Disney growing up. So it’s fun.”
Bailey says that she hopes that kids watching the show find it more than entertaining. She says she hopes that they are inspired.
“One of the important messages of the show is to follow your dreams,” she says. “The show is about these young girls who love to dance, who just went for it, and now they’re living their dreams.
“I can relate to that. Once I was just a little kid who wanted to be on TV. Now I am. It might sound cliché, but if you’re passionate about it and you work hard, you can totally achieve your dreams.”