It's My Life PBS Kids Go!
Celeb Scoop: Ayla Kell

By It's My Life on May 13, 2011 1:23 PM | No TrackBacks

ayla1.jpgShe's a former dancer who's now an actor who plays a gymnast. Confused yet? That's Ayla Kell, who you might know as Payson Keeler on the hit ABC Family TV series "Make It Or Break It"...someone you definitely can't pigeonhole.

Ayla spent her childhood and teen years studying ballet and even performing on professional stages, on top of appearing in TV and commercial roles. These days, when she's not bringing her "Make It Or Break It" character to life, you might find her cooking (she's a certified baker) or working as an activist for homeless families. So yes, she's versatile and a great role model too. We'd roll our eyes if we hadn't chatted with her and found her to be such a sweet, smart, and insightful person! Here's what else we learned about Ayla during our talk:

IML: How are you and Payson alike, and how are you different?

Ayla: I'm similar in a lot of ways to Payson. Payson is ultra-driven, ultra-focused, has blinders on to everything else but what her goals are. And I'm very much like that as well, in that I can totally throw myself into one thing and be 100% about it. I'm unlike her in that she doesn't know where her voice is as a young woman, as anything outside of gymnastics. That's where we're different. I've figured out this nice balance of not letting what I do define who I am.

IML: Does the world of "Make It or Break It" match the experiences you've had in your life as a dancer, in terms of the pressure and competition and relationships?

Ayla: Everybody's personal experience is different. Gymnastics is very different from dance. In any type of competition, you're always going to have people who will try to put you down in order to make themselves higher. That's going to happen in anything; it can be volleyball, soccer, anything. I've seen that in both sides of what I do -- acting and dancing.

IML: What positive messages would you like tween audiences to take away from Payson and the show in general?

ayla_as_payson.jpgAyla: I love that Payson doesn't let herself get distracted, and I think that's an important lesson for young girls to have. It's so easy to get caught up in, "I want a boyfriend, I want to be wearing the best clothes, I want to look like this," when that's not really what it's about. Payson doesn't really care what she looks like as long as she's working toward her goal. I think that's an important lesson that gets put by the wayside in our culture, with the value put on looks. I think it's a different kind of lesson to have with a strong young female character who cares more about goals than everyday things. My thing is gymnastics on the show; my thing in real life was dance. But these ideas can apply to anybody -- someone whose interest in fashion, interior design, running...anything!

IML: As a dancer, what were your favorite roles or pieces that you've danced?

Ayla: I did a dance called "Little Sparrow" in Japan that was definitely one of my favorites. It's a stunning piece about three girls who've all been betrayed by the same man and it's two of the girls warning the last girl not to go into it. So it's an intricate, involved, intertwined piece that's really emotional. It's quite an acting display, not just a dance display. I did it with two girls and on that trip, it was like we were sisters.

IML: What did performing add to your life when you were younger?

Ayla: Performing added a lot to my life. It let me know what I wanted to do from an early age. I knew that I wanted to be in front of people and make them smile, laugh, cry, feel something. It's such a different experience when you're doing it onstage through dance because the audience is right there. Now, doing it for TV, I'm not sitting in everybody's living room acting out the show. I actually love it when strangers come up to me and tell me how much they like the show because otherwise I have no idea!

IML: You're heavily involved with the organization Imagine LA. Tell us more about that!

Ayla: Imagine LA is an organization that deals with the homelessness problem where I live in Los Angeles. It's so easy to see pictures from Cambodia, Africa, anywhere you have such extreme levels of poverty and know we need to help. But you could take pretty much those exact same pictures in downtown Los Angeles and wouldn't have any idea that it's less than 40 minutes from Beverly Hills. There are 8,000 families sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles every night -- not just adults, not just children, but entire families. Imagine LA not only gives them a blanket and food, which is just a quick fix; it aims to give them the keys to success for their entire life. It's a problem all over the world but this is my home, so I'm acting locally. You don't have to go far away to help.

IML: Sad but true that there's poverty everywhere. What can young people do to make a difference in their own local areas?

Ayla: It's so easy to make a difference now because of the Internet. Everybody has a voice because everybody has a computer. One way I got involved when I was a tween was that I started donating my time with my mom. We would go do what needed to be done, whether it be cooking, packaging food, handing out blankets. Time is just as valuable as money, and I know transportation can be a problem if you're younger, but I bet if you're offering to do something like that, somebody won't have a problem giving you a ride. If that's too much as well, just getting the word out about these organizations and the issue of local poverty and homelessness, using social networking tools, is a big deal. So you may not be able to do more than that, but an older sibling or friend or relative may learn about the issue from your information and be able to help.

IML: Who are your role models in life and work?

Ayla: My mother Jane Kell is one of my biggest role models. She's a saint, that woman! I'd say one of my acting inspirations is definitely Katharine Hepburn. "Adam's Rib" is one of the best movies I've ever seen; she and Spencer Tracy are just magical. It had a comedic timing that was different for the time. Beyond her acting work, she was just really forward-thinking for that day and age, and I respect the way she lived her life.

IML: What would be your dream role as an actor?

Ayla: My dream role is to play my grandmother in a script about my grandfather. It's a family story that's quite complex but it would be the greatest opportunity to showcase part of my history and where I am now. The script is already written by my parents. I'm waiting for the right time, obviously I'm not yet old enough to play my grandmother! But aside from that, I'd love to do something totally different from what I do now. For instance, I'd love to do a Marx Brothers style broad comedy...that would be really fun for me.

IML: It's so cool when people do something unexpected and then really nail it! We hope you get that chance. Thanks for chatting with us, and good luck!

Ayla: Thank you!

For more information about Imagine LA, visit

Main Index