Back to the Big Apple: SYTYCD Season 12 Auditions–New York City

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Big Apple...Big Talent!

We’re wrapping up the last of the auditions with the hopefuls in New York City. It’s been a while since they’ve been held there, and as noted at the top of the show a number of memorable contestants, including Season 3 champion Sabra Johnson and Season 10 co-champion Chehon Wespi-Tchopp, have been discovered here.

Virgil Gadson, 27, Philadelphia, PA, Team Street
Before he opened his mouth I thought two things: that he looked familiar and that he looked like he could be related to Fik-Shun. I was right about the first thing–he auditioned way back in Season 8 and got all the way to Green Mile before being cut. He figured he needed a little more training before trying again, so he went ahead and booked a Broadway show…..yes, in a reverse move Virgil joined the ensemble of the musical After Midnight, which tightened up his stage skills and expanded his dance palate. Going back to his street roots for this audition, he infused huge amounts of humor and some ridiculous skills. The judges were clearly impressed with his versatility and didn’t hesitate to give him a berth to Vegas.

Alexia Meyer, 19, Orem, UT, Team Stage
Wants to show her edgy and sassy sides along with her technique; she has Melanie Moore-like strength and Sonya Tayeh-worthy quirk. Paula praised her showmanship while pointing out her wavering connection with the audience  (which elicited boos from the crowd before she was even finished with her explanation), and Jason and Nigel were equally drawn in. A definite yes to move forward.

Korey Cleveland, 24, St. Louis, MO, Team Street
A rough childhood and troubled life, from drug addiction to incarceration….and dance is saving his life. His style combines elements of animation, house and krump. Channeling Michael Jackson in some of his moves and Shabba Doo in some of his hair (both really good things). Dude’s passion fuels him and touched the judges, who give him a shot at Vegas.

Korey’s breakout audition is followed by a montage of street dancers–b-boy, vogue and freestyle. The last dancer looks a lot like Shafeek Westbrook (who most recently auditioned last season)….we’ll find out for sure in the callback shows.

Justin Ballasy, 18, Allentown, PA, Team Street
White boy in tap shoes aiming for Team Street. Yeah, you read that right. Knows his history and everything. Judges impressed with his footwork but were confused by his choice of music and the difficulty of determining his rhythm signature…and called him on it. Still loved his proficiency though, and sent him through.

Mr. Hollywood?!? L.A. was last week, sweetie…..
Thomas Condello, 20, Staten Island, NY, Team Street
At least he’s marginally better than “Sex.” (Go back to Seasons 2 and 3 to know who I’m talking about.) But um…..NO. They loved his heart, though.

The female Les Twins–Cookie and Angyil–are auditioning for Team Street.
Angely “Cookie” Deaza, 22, Washington Heights, NY, and Angela “Angyil” McNeal, 22, Kansas City, MO, Team Street
I have never seen a female bonebreaker before, and Cookie does it well. She and Angyil work together very well with the blend of animation and hip-hop, and Angyil even added a little stage flavor to her freestyle. Both Paula and Nigel think Cookie needs to raise her style from the perceived monotone that they dubbed her performance. I don’t know what it is that the judges weren’t seeing, but I enjoyed both girls’ performance. The panel splits up the team–Angyil goes to Vegas, and Cookie is sent home to work on her skills for the next season. (Two things that lit up my night–those bodacious Afros and the mention of Washington Heights. If you follow my whole blog, you’ll understand why that second one is special.)

Allison Wilcox, 18, Las Vegas, NV, Team Stage
Currently working in Las Vegas on the Strip in a medieval show, she’s a contemporary dancer with very good technique. Paula thinks she’s better than the choreography she was dancing, and I agree. Jason loved the whole package, and apparently Nigel did too, because she got a ticket to callbacks.

Three young men in this Team Stage montage, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear they’d given Stanley Glover another chance at the show.

Alain “Hurrikane” Lauture, 28, New York, NY, Team Street
A Haitian immigrant specializing in locking. I have to go back and see who the captions listed as the artist for this song, but what I do know is they did not write Bobby McFerrin, whose voice this is. That aside, ol’ boy is locking his ass off. OK, never mind…clearly whoever this is did a master mix with Bobby’s vocals. The judges are extremely impressed with his smile and his spirit, as well as his dancing, so off to Vegas he goes.

Kenya Welch, 18, Franklin, NH, and Connor Birmingham, 18, Windham, NH, Team Stage
A contemporary duet, auditioning together and will be considered as one act, and so far from what I can see they’re quite good. out of sync on the turns but the emotional connection is strong in their technique is good. Judges were impressed with the skill (Paula mentioned strength, technique, flexibility and emotion, all of which I saw as well), and especially impressed and surprised by Connor.  Nigel tried to swerve, but couldn’t split those kids up with a straight face.

Day 2 brings on the blizzard in New York City.

Ryan Rafflouer, 18, Brooklyn, NY, Team Stage
This has got to be the first child I seen put into a ballroom class to get away from the streets. And his mother is taking no prisoners–good job mom! He’s doing ballroom solo, but the magnetism that he has when he begins reminds me straight off of season 2’s Dmitry Chaplin (Although his extremely defined collarbone freaked me out a little at first….). And clearly it reminded Nigel as well, because as soon as I paused to take my notes a clip of Dmitry shows up on my screen.  Nigel mentioned it was a little over the top, but appropriate to enhance his solo. Nigel mentioned it was a little over the top, but appropriate to enhance the solo. Paula pulls out je ne sais quoi, Jason calls a grand presence that feels “expensive.” It’s enough to impress for Vegas.

Bobby “Anime” Major, 21, Brooklyn, NY, Team Street
He has Cyrus’s animation skills and tWitch’s humor. Can’t wait to see what the team captain does with him when they send him to Vegas. And I’m quite certain they’re about to send him to Vegas. I knew before the standing ovation.

This season’s history lessons would be sorely lacking–particularly with this being the New York auditions–without a mention of breaking. Ken Swift, one of the dance’s pioneers, gives a very good background and breakdown. Hard to believe it’s been 40 years….

Eliazer Chapman, 18, Bronx, NY, Team Street
This young man lived in a homeless shelter with his dad for 10 years; street performing fueled his passion and earned enough money to get them out. “Bronx style” b-boying (original, creative and raw, by his description)….he has some insane freezes and huge potential. He’s moved when he gets yet another opportunity to get ahead when the judges award him a spot in Vegas.

Eliazer is followed by a run of solid and unique street dancers also on their way to Team Street. And then there’s this dude….

Ian Williams, 30, South Floral Park, NY, Team Street
Breaker ballet….you’d better have the skills to back up all this talk. Aaaaand, nope. He barely had the ballet part down. Where was the popping, waacking, locking and tutting promised in the package? PLUS he had the nerve to be out of condition for it? If you’re seriously going to develop this bit of fusion you’re going to need to do some research and better physical preparation. That the judges even entertained him coming back knowing full well he was at the age threshold is just all kinds of uncalled for. Over seven years of dancing, though? Chile, BYE. You are throwed. The fact that you ran out into the snow with your street clothes in your hand is evidence of that.

This paved the way for some other tragic mashups–street salsa, kung-fu ballet  (Jim Nowakowsi already did that already, and flawlessly), and something that I can only describe as Valley Girl kitchen sink–hyper and bubbly with a little bit of everything. Trouble indeed, J-Hud…trouble, indeed.

Darius Drooh, 22, New York, NY, Team Stage
HUGE Paula Abdul fan. As in inspired to start dancing huge. Armography was a bit one-note and all over the place but the technique and control are evident. Jason and Nigel made similar observations and Paula also noticed his strength, power and style. At this point, before the poor baby passes out from Paula’s praise, Nigel asks if he remembers any of her choreography….which leads to a lovely dream come true moment for Darius and a friend of his who also worships at her altar, and they perform a few bars of her “Coldhearted” video choreography, to Paula’s everlasting delight. (I think I stole some of those moves back when I was teaching….gotta relearn that for shiggles.) If he hadn’t already impressed with his solo, that would’ve definitely cinched his Vegas ticket. Y’all know that bad boy is getting framed and put on a wall, right?

Alyssa Guerrerri, 19, Pittsburgh, PA, Team Stage
Contemporary; inspired by her grandmother, a former dancer. Nigel is flirting already…. I would have liked to have seen a larger display of skills from her, but her flexibility is insane. The judges are impressed though, and she gets the last ticket to Vegas of the audition show. And Nigel gets a dance with, as Cat put it, an age appropriate partner.

So the callbacks are set–114 Team Stage vs. 105 Team Street dancers. Who of these 219 hopefuls will survive this rigorous week and punch their ticket for Hollywood? See you in Vegas!

Dumbass Diaries 15: Bear Bares All

I’ve had a few articles in the queue for this that I took a little too long to address–the separate entrance for poor people to a New York apartment building, a few regarding some outdated and draconian views on children’s hair (which I’m sure I’ll eventually write because it’ll come up again), a bunch of professionals who never studied Latin or language and some two year old article on a perceived racist headline. But as asininity goes, this takes the cake.

No, really, it actually TAKES. THE. CAKE.

Baking has gotten quite elaborate–gone are the days when the simple sheet cake will suffice (and even those have gone to include computer-generated photos and graphics made edible). Three-dimensional sculpted confections have become wildly popular, and this woman named Sharon Green decided to order such a cake for her three year old daughter’s christening celebration at their church–a lovely little sheet case topped with pink blocks and two little teddy bears with pink bows. Cute, right?

Clearly not to Ms. Green (or any of her extra-churchy church friends). Apparently the toy bears’ rendering included an indentation representing the seam one would find on a toy bear–a seam that was interpreted as….wait for it…a labial fold.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ms. Green was upset because, to her mind, the bakers gave the teddy bears a VAGINA.

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Bear-ly an issue, if you ask me….

I don’t even know where to start. First of all, in all my years of owning stuffed animals, I have never in my life seen an anatomically correct teddy bear. And considering it’s a BEAR, in what world would you attribute this physical characteristic to an animal?!? I mean, clearly as a mammal the female bear does have one, but I’m fairly certain it looks nothing like ours, nor is it that prominently visible. Hell, even beloved character Winnie-the-Pooh is drawn WITH A SEAM ON HIS STOMACH. Which is the other curious thing here–the “boy” version of this cake is made exactly the same way but blue.

But OK, she saw what she saw and was offended. Instead of checking the cake in-store (or even, perhaps–and I realize this is a foreign concept–asking about the design BEFORE ordering), she complains about the cake’s vulgarity and demands a refund. Still a bit prudish and projecting to my way of thinking, but still within her right to ask for a satisfactory product. Here’s the kicker: the bakery provided her with candy flowers to cover the “offending” crease, in an effort to placate their customer. After which, not only did she actually put the cake out to be served, but she put the flowers strategically to cover the “crease”–which actually calls more attention and actually looks more suggestive than the original design.

Considering she’d ordered the cake well in advance she probably couldn’t have gotten a substitute from this particular bakery on such short notice. But there were several more logical and less, well, anal solutions she could have gone for. Get a butter knife and smooth out the “offending” crease. Get an inexpensive sheet cake from somewhere else. Take the teddy bears off–it’s just as lovely with just the blocks. Or here’s a crazy thought–DON’T PUT IT OUT. I’m pretty sure little Tahlia could have cared less whether or not there was cake at this party, or if she did, what it looked like. it’s CAKE. For slicing and eating. And I’m guessing those bears were either going to get taken off the cake anyway for slicing OR sliced up for serving. Who’s gonna see a friggin’ crease once you cut it up? Was she somehow afraid that ingesting it would somehow translate into performing cunnilingus? I repeat–IT’S. A. CAKE.

Though they probably could have handled it better, I’m just as nonplussed as the bakery owner about this lady’s complaint. I wouldn’t have even interpreted that had it not been suggested, and the fact that Ms. Green did makes me wonder about what levels of repression and projection she’s dealing with. I also can’t believe she took that type of complaint to the public side of social media. Since the post has been deleted I can’t confirm whether or not this was a page post or an inbox message, though considering this story actually made news I have to assume the former…and if that was the case this lady really is a piece of work. Again, customer satisfaction is key and she had the right to complain about not getting what she thought she’d requested, but she approached it sideways to begin with. The tone of her complaint, the seemingly immediate jump to a refund request instead of inquiring about a suitable correction (or again, CHECKING BEFORE SHE LEFT AND MAKING THE CHOICE TO NOT TAKE IT), and the pubic public chastisement all leaned more towards throwing a tantrum instead of seeking a compromise.

I’d bet even little Tahlia has better manners than that.

DUMBASS.

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Stars of Stage and Street: SYTYCD Season 12 Auditions–Los Angeles

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L.A. brings its best!

This week’s auditions bring us to Los Angeles, home of the greatest number of show champions and a huge pool of elite talent. Here’s how things shook out:

Asaf Goren, 23, Burbank, CA, Team Street
Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, he’s dubbed himself the “Hebrew Breaker” This ought to be interesting. *2 minutes later* Alright, I didn’t quite see that coming. I don’t know where the culture part came in, but he had definite b-boy skills. Even Cyrus and Fik-Shun were in the audience like, “WOW…OK, he DID that.” I had the same thought as Jason about his demeanor possibly being off-putting but his ability and swagger back it all up. Having been compared to both Rock Hudson and Alladin, he won’t be needing a magic carpet to fly into Vegas.

Avo Karapetyan, 29, Boston, MA, Team Stage
A ballet dancer originally from Armenia, he breaks out this contemporary ballet routine to Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” that combines these insanely technical jumps and precise pirouettes with some very expressive modern dance transitions. I can’t say he was as electrically riveting to watch as, say, Chehon….but I was drawn in and absorbed with his performance. And as the judges were visibly moved–Jason gave him TWO standing ovations–a future in Vegas is a foregone conclusion.

Jana “JaJa” Vankova, 22, Van Nuys, CA, Team Street
SO glad to see JaJa back in the house! Fellow IaMmE dance mates Phillip Chbeeb and Emilio Dosal have made their way to the SYTYCD stage, and I’m pleased that JaJa didn’t give up after one try. What pleased me more than her getting her inevitable ticket to Vegas was that her IaMmE crew members, with the exception of Chachi Gonzales and Brandon Harrell, were there to cheer her on and celebrate.

Allen Genkin, 24, Philadelphia, PA, Team Stage
Ballroom dancer (looks like his specialty is West Coast swing), his mom died in his teens AND he survived testicular cancer. I can see definite joy when he dances, but I feel the judges–particularly Nigel–may have something to say about his lack of connection with his partner. Although, he was the only one of the two actually auditioning, so we’ll see…. Floored judges and a Benji comparison. Yeah, that’s the ticket to Vegas.

A Team Street streak leads to the audition of two Swiss breaking brothers, Bolin and Illias Suzufi. Ages 29 and 30….they are just making the age limit, but they look like they may have the goods. I tell you, if the head pirouettes–because the positions they get into transcend them from mere head spins–don’t get them at least to Vegas, something is wrong with those judges. The judges don’t disappoint, and more international flavor joins Team Street.

Mary Kate Levoir, 21, Minneapolis, MN, Team Stage
A jazz dancer, she does a series of strength moves but the transitions are uninspired. Not many turns and very few jumps. She clearly has talent and technique, but the audition performance is slightly one-dimensional. Another dance dad display….at least this one’s humble. Nigel didn’t have to drag Paula into this, too, with the “old” dig. Dad was cool with it though…I’d hang at the club with him. Mary got in a couple of digs at her dad along with the judges before they gave her the Vegas go-ahead. And if Dad on the spot wasn’t enough to prove his heart, him emotional after she got her ticket was more than proof. Way to go, Dad.

Before they came back from break with the history of krump, I thought I had seen Tight Eyez in the promo. I was not wrong. And I appreciate them taking the history back through to clowning, which does not get quite as much publicity. (Props for the mention of Rize, which, pun intended, gave rise to the public’s notice of Tight Eyez, Tommy the Clown, and an up and coming dancer known as Lil C.)

Nigel, I’m ashamed of you. You’ve made yourself familiar with so many other forms of street dance and so many other street dancers, yet you’ve never heard of Tight Eyez? Back to school for you.

James “B-Dash” Derrick, 26, Compton, CA, Team Street
Rize saved him from the gangs and put him into krump, been an underground battle dancer for years and now trying to move to the next level. And if this audition is any indication, he’s well on his way. It’s like someone went into the lab with Russell and Cyrus’s DNA and came out with B-Dash.

Are there ANY duds in Los Angeles this year? One hour in and not one rejection yet… Never mind, here’s the montage of bad dancers. Although the Polynesian guy and the long haired guy that was a girl weren’t  horrible–they just needed more oomph.

Jim Nowakowsi, 25, Rochester, NY, Team Stage
South Korea born, American adopted as a baby; he was born with open cleft lipped palate and had several surgeries to correct…but he says dance always made him feel beautiful. Awww…. Performing contemporary ballet….I hesitated to compare him to Alex Wong simply because he’s of Asian descent, and then his music started and it was all I could do not to conjure up Cole Horibe. A martial arts themed ballet piece that combines all the best elements of each of those forms. As shoulders of giants to stand on, Jim couldn’t do any better. My first Top 20 call. Nigel made the inevitable comparison to Alex, but highlighted their similarities in technique and professional background, hailing him as stunning and the best audition ever on SYTYCD. I can agree to that. Paula used the word exceptional, and Jason also threw out stunning as well as unbelievable. (Thank you, Nigel, for not carrying that bad math joke any further.) Of course he’s going to Vegas!

Cody Carlson, 19, Sacramento, CA, Team Street
Now I know full well this is a gimme addition, but damned if Cody doesn’t actually have some skills. There should be a special edition–no pun intended–of the show for differently-abled dancers. This is what I love about the show–they now allow dancers to audition that have the heart to dance, whether they have the professional staying power or not. And those that stand out because of that heart often get featured. And I’ll bet dancing in front of his Idol Jason Derulo didn’t hurt, either. The best part of this is Nigel mentioning dance becoming a part of the Special Olympics before explaining the rigors of this competition to Cody. I do so love when he encourages dreams like that. No, scratch that…the best part is Jason offering his own dime to get Cody to Vegas. Good on you, boy!

Jacy Jordan, 18, Manvel, TX, Team Stage
I typically get chills when I hear these near-death car accident stories, but when this child said “I could feel the cars rolling over my hair,” I had to stop the playback for a while. My dad was in an accident where the car rolled over, and he wasn’t even ejected from the car…and on the converse, a seatbelt saved ME from flying through a windshield. So I KNOW what a miracle it is for her to be alive. I just don’t have any words for this child’s resilience….none. I somehow knew Nigel was going to be tough on her technically, because in all fairness she did favor her stronger right leg in all of her strength to moves. But, as I also suspected, Jason and Paula overruled him, so we’ll see her in Vegas.

Jessica Rabone, 29, North Hollywood, CA, Team Street
Japanese descent, older sister shadow syndrome, as her sister is a popular TV host in Japan (I can relate, sister….I can SO relate.) Performing a combination of waacking and house…and has a connection to Comfort. (One of these days the term waacking will NOT elicit a laugh when Nigel says it.) Ahem… idiot producer that told this girl “the world doesn’t need another Becky…we already have one [in your sister]”, you’re right, because she’s JESSICA. Dumbass. Girlie was cool and funky and sexy with it all at the same time. Nigel compared her to Toni Basil, who Jessica reveals gave her some of her training. Though both Nigel and Paula remarked on her expanding her dance vocabulary, they along with Jason agree that she deserves a shot in Vegas.

Jessica is followed by a montage of other Street girls, with what looks like Mary Poppins amongst them. All of them are kicking ass and taking names…and naturally, going to Vegas.

This next montage of auditioning dancers gives the first male liturgical dancer I’ve ever seen, breakers, Bollywood dancers, and whatever the hell “Epic” is. But this next fellow……

Kareem “Anointed” Ali, 22, Newark, NJ, Team Street
“All style, spiritual, vibrational dance.” OK, you have my attention. I’m going in with a fully open mind on this one, because the last time I gave something like this a side eye, Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams shut down the stage. Alright, he does a quirky blend of freestyle hip-hop with lots of other elements thrown in that you wouldn’t think would work in a hip hop routine…but they do. Kareem to me is a photo negative image of Shafeek, who auditioned in two previous seasons. I’d love to see what this ticket to Vegas does for him…after all, the last street performer that audition for this show ended up winning season 10.

Brandon Armstrong, 20, Lehigh, UT, Team Stage
Brandon auditioned with Lindsay Arnold in 2012. At the time, he did not meet the age requirement, but he so impressed the judges that they hand wrote him a ticket to Vegas for the next year. Two ironies here: Brandon is now officially auditioning and has an underage partner, and in his interview he is backed by a picture of Witney Carson. Gotta love it. (Sorry….THREE ironies. He’s partnered with Jensen Arnold…Lindsey’s little sister. I’m sure we’ll see HER next season.) Passed on that shoo-in ticket for a mission trip….dude. That’s dedication.  Ballroom to Uptown Funk….alrighty. But it worked…..the audition piece was awesome, Jensen got a promise ticket (do I see an Arnold family comeback for Season 13?) and Brandon finally cashes in his.

The numbers are dead even for Team Stage and Team Street as we head into New York for the last round of auditions…and then the hard work begins!

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Who ya with? #StagevsStreet

Motor (City) Skills: SYTYCD Season 12 Auditions–Detroit

Week 2 of the 12th season of So You Think You Can Dance brings us up north to Detroit, Michigan–audition home of Season 10 co-champion Amy Yakima and of the Detroit Jit, a popular local street genre. Let’s see how the Stage/Street balance plays out this week…..

Christine Shepard, 18, Team Stage
A contemporary dancer, Christine has all the elements of former greats like Melanie Moore, Sasha Mallory, Ellenore Scott, with a touch of Travis Wall. #Everything, indeed. A resounding unanimous yes from the judges.

Kenya “Standing O” Sutton “Queen of Detroit”, 29, Team Street
The first big girl since Donyelle and Natalia, and one of very few female animators, Kendra has a flirty, sexy style, and some hard-hitting skills. The judges agree to send her to Vegas.

Kelly MacCoy, 19, Team Stage
Tyrell Noll, 21, Team Street

What might be our first audition level couple, Kelly met and got engaged to Tyrell, a street dancer she met at last year’s auditions. Kelly’s technique and expressiveness very good, but her transitions a little too far apart for me. The judges are impressed, though, and she gets through to Vegas

Tyrell performs a self-described freestyle/animation, a lyrical animated freestyle that reminds me of Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams, only slightly less dramatic; Nigel was not impressed with his performance, but was overruled by Jason and Paula, who appreciated his emotive ability. So the pair of them gets to go to Vegas for the next round.

Did Cat really just say “Jit happens”?!? (No, that was Paula…figures.)

And y’all gon’ stop ragging on my Phillip about that Russian Folk…..

Corey “Mission” Whitfield, 30, Team Street
One of few who audition at the top of the age range, Corey has definite skills but his audition piece seemed to be more of a disjointed series of tricks, so it didn’t wow ME. Jason, however, was impressed with the combination of breaking and house, Paula love his spirit and ability, and Nigel calls for Mission’s students…and they burn up the stage before they hand the man his ticket to Vegas.

Brooke Fong, 18, Team Stage
She has a very crisp style and good personality, I was about to crack on her layout that wasn’t until Nigel noted that she’d slipped going in and STILL managed to hold on to the move…so that shows strength and tenacity. Judges think she’s a great contender, so off to Vegas she goes.

Chelsea Harold, 26, Team Stage
A bullied, mixed race child of a single parent, dance was her saving grace. Her audition was emotive and expressive, but I’m not sure her technique will hold up against the judges’ scrutiny. As predicted, the general consensus was that she was good, but not outstanding. NO

Jessica “J South” Southwell, 23, Tap/Charleston
The “stage name” is hilarious. Her dancing, however, was way too heavy and taps were unclear, the performance itself was sassy but her feet needed to be more grounded than they were, plus some slip guard on the bottom of those shoes would have helped. However sexy she was, it was a no for Vegas for J. South.

Samantha “Sam-I-Am” Reyes, 19, Team Street
Samantha drove in with her friend Chelsea, who had just been let go by the judges. Samantha had a tough childhood–her mom is disabled, her dad is battling alcohol, and she serves as primary caregiver for siblings while trying to find her own way to cope with the world. One of many dancers you might see on the New York subways, she tries to channel all of her negative emotions into performing. I’ve never seen a female bone breaker before…she hss great musicality and interpretation and I love her spirit. Jason just said the same thing as well as her passion, but he and Paula agree that she needs more structure. Nigel also appreciates the strong/soft duality she expresses, and she gets a yes.

Miranda Wilking, 18, Team Stage
Literally auditioning on her birthday, Miranda is a fierce dancer with solid evidence of technique and great performance energy. Plane tickets make great birthday presents…..and the judges agree.

Aaron Viland, 27, Team Street(?)
“Pop-and-Lock-a-Mation”…..oookay…… The fact that these three jackasses are standing up dancing with the guy, AND  encouraged the audience to join in does not bode well for his Vegas chances. It’s a no for the competition, but a great deal of fun.

We pause for a brief history lesson on the Detroit Jit…..they even tracked down the originators!

Mike Manson (that be dancin’), 26, Team Street
Yes, that is literally his nickname. Mike had very quick feet; judges wanted more of a mix of styles but wound up giving him a ticket after a slew of Jit puns.

Kelsey Rose Young, 18, Team Stage
Kelsey brought clean, fast taps with a side of attitude; Nigel thought it was a little over the top but enjoyed it, Paula was pleasantly surprised, Jason admired her “bringing tap to the mainstream” and giving it a fresh modern face. She’ll have a chance chance to go further in Las Vegas.

Gaby Diaz, 18, Team Stage
Another tapper, Gaby auditioned in Dallas and was let go…but she’s back to try again.  I don’t know what they didn’t see in her first solo, but with the dimensions she added to this one I don’t see how they can send her home a second time. Luckily, they’re not that stupid….she made it!

Roydell Shannon, 26, Team Street
Roydell is the first krumper in a while…he was orphaned at an early age and raised by his older brother, and is now a father himself–to one of the most adorable scene stealers we’ve seen in the audition shows. How dude pulled off a hard-hitting and sexy krump routine I have no idea…and can we talk for a second about the laser focus his son had on his dad while he was on stage dancing? Can’t wait for Season 30! Meanwhile, dad gets a pass and will be in Vegas for the next round.

The next audition stop is in Los Angeles, and I can’t wait to see the talent that comes out of there!

Next Stage (vs. Street): SYTYCD Season 12 Begins

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Stage or Street--Team tWitch or Team tWavis? ;-)

I was over the moon when they announced back in November that So You Think You Can Dance was renewed for a 12th season, though I was wary about yet another format change. This new season not only seeks to balance the number of street dance contestants that make it to the Hollywood stage, but essentially assembles them as a team against the dancers with more traditional stage training. A tricky concept to pull off, it was given a huge draw by assigning alumni All-Star dancers Travis Wall and Stephen “tWitch” Boss as mentors to the hopefuls. Travis and tWitch, both runners-up in their respective seasons, have forged indelible names for themselves not only on the show but in the current dance industry as a whole, and are massive fan favorites. Add to that the addition of new show judges Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo, this proves to be a very interesting season.

(There are some complaining about the level of expertise these new judges wield; Derulo, while being a relative show business newcomer, manages to pull off scores of exciting and well-received live performances and proved his judging mettle last season. And while this generation of viewers may remember Paula’s slightly kooky antics on American Idol, many of us who grew up in the 80s are well familiar with her extensive dance and choreography resume.)

This season’s audition tour starts in the South for the first episode, visiting Memphis and Dallas. For the third season in my memory, we kick things off with a Louisiana dancer–Peyton Albrecht, a 19 year old young man hailing from Robert, LA vying for a spot on Team Stage. The judges are largely impressed with his skill, foundation and stage presence, he’s compared by Nigel to a young Travis Wall. Personally I saw a Robert Roldan/Billy Bell combination, but I see a great deal of potential–as did our judges as they handed him the first ticket to Vegas of the season. (And apparently, we are going back to Vegas this year instead of Pasadena like last year….)

Next up is Andre Rucker for Team Street….avid viewers will remember Andre from Season 9 as one of three of the members of Dragon House to audition and get to Vegas. Andre was the one so overwhelmed by the choreography that he just quietly left the competition….and as we all know, his fellow housemate Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer rode his star that season all the way to second place. So on the heels of that and his other housemate Dorian “BluPrint” Hector making the show, he’s back to try again…and he doesn’t disappoint. His creativity and precision wows the judges and gets him a return trip to Vegas….with an inside warning from Nigel about not crashing and burning the first day.

Jordan Hilgenberg is next up for Team Stage, bringing her newlywed mom and stepdad in tow on their honeymoon. She impresses with beautiful lines and incredible control and technique, giving a good enough impression to move to the next round.

Of course, we can’t leave Memphis without at least one jooker crossing the stage…and as a first that I’ve seen on the show, a young lady–Ladia Yates–brings her talents to the stage. Not only does she produce a killer audition, she’s a youth mentor, bringing her young dance team with her for support. Of course, we can’t let the moment pass without letting the kids on stage and having them dance to a Jason Derulo track. The kids’ energy is so infectious, it inspires Jason himself to take the stage and grab a microphone, giving the kids a one-of-a-kind experience. Oh, and their teacher a ticket to Vegas.

Our last “street” dancer for Day 1 is an irrepressible energy from last season–Courtney “How you doing?” Barnes returns bigger and more flamboyant than ever, if you can imagine such a thing. What is amazing, though, is that even with the inflated persona, Courtney has picked up some skills and gives a pretty amazing audition with some technical prowess and versatility I hadn’t expected. There’s still room for growth, but this year’s audition is greatly improved….and the judges see it as well, giving him a Vegas berth.

There was so much megawatt talent on Day 1 that they blew Memphis out–literally. Day 2 opens with a power outage in the auditorium (and several blocks of downtown Memphis) due to an underground fire in a substation. The hopefuls spend hours waiting to hear if their dreams will be realized or if they’ll have to go home before they even begin. The dedicated and resourceful crew, however, manages to find a generator and with a bare minimum of lighting and energy, creates an atmosphere for the dancers to audition after all. Though slightly more condensed than usual–the dancers perform in groups according to their style, and the standouts get a second solo look to see if they get to move on–at least all of the people who have spent their hard earned money to travel to Memphis get their chance at their dreams.

From there the auditions move to Dallas, where we meet valet Guillermo Morales, a relative newcomer to dance trying for a shot at Team Stage. For only three years dancing, he has incredible expression and technique. That, plus his engaging personality, is what I’m certain moved the judges to give him a ticket to Vegas.

Next to the audition stage is Jaclyn Hamric, an 18 year old jazz dancer with a technique and vibe reminiscent of last year’s Jessica Richens–even down to the flirty sass. So of course, she gets a berth to the next round to represent Team Stage.

Team Street is represented next by an unlikely specter in New Orleanian Steven Ban, who looks more help desk than ‘hood. But this long, lanky Bill Gates wannabe pulls out some incredibly smooth, intricate and surprising animation moves. His unique, laid-back, left of center approach is intriguing enough for the judges to give him a pass to the next round.

Another Team Street hopeful, Vishonda Sims, was inspired by the new format to throw her hat in the ring, delivering a freestyle performance that blends animation, ticking and krump in a vibrant but subtle way, and while Nigel hoped for more fluidity from her, he and his fellow judges agree there’s enough there in her presentation to go through to Vegas.

Next up vying for Team Street is Kiosh Monroe, a slightly different level of flamboyance than Courtney Barnes but just as memorable. His audition, while energetic and enjoyable, did not meet the judges’ expectations for the show–though it did prompt Jason to suggest he focus in the fitness arena, and inspired an impromptu “class” onstage and a phone call from Paula to Richard Simmons to look at him as a protégé. Personally, I thought he gave a solid audition (a combination of jazz, vogue and African) if slightly technically weaker than most, and I think he’d be amazing as a choreographer for Flash Mob America….but hey, I’m just a blogger and fan. Still, I may look him up and suggest that.

Day 2 of Dallas begins with Lily Leyva, a contemporary dance hoping to be the next Team Stage candidate. With the level of Sonya Tayeh-worthy technique she displayed, she’s definitely on her way. Her audition is followed by a montage of widely varying styles, from contemporary ballet to ballroom to clogging to praise dancing, which though not new to the show was remarkably moving, and I was glad to see it represented. So you’d think that Jaden Ziara, a contestant promising a blend of ballroom and hip-hop, would wow us. Yeah….the music mix had more soul. Jaden had a great personality but displayed classic “dad-dancing”…you know, the type of thing you see at somebody’s wedding after a few drinks. But the judges had fun with it.

We take a brief break from the audition tour to head to the White House with with the SYTYCD All-Stars and FLOTUS Michelle Obama. The dancers, which included team captains Travis and tWitch, joined the First Lady on the White House lawn to help promote her “Gimme Five” initiative under the Let’s Move program, geared to inspiring more movement and exercise to stave off obesity. It’s an absolute dream for all of them, but particularly the All-Stars comprising the day’s “Team Street”– tWitch, Comfort, Dominic and Fik-Shun, specifically.

Last up in the Dallas auditions spotlight is Edson Juarez, a returning auditioner from last year aiming for Team Stage. His turn at contemporary is hailed by the judges as the best yet of the audition tour, and naturally gets him a ticket to Vegas.

The next audition episode spotlights Detroit, Michigan…should be interesting!

Commencement Speech from Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 | News @ Wesleyan

Because it’s Lin. Because Hamilton opens for previews on Broadway in two weeks. And mainly because it’s badass.

A commencement speech many of us could learn from.

http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2015/05/24/mirandacommencementspeech/

Simply Golden: Dancing With the Stars Season 20 Finals

Again, I find myself reviewing an episode of Dancing With the Stars. And again, it’s about making history.

The finals aired last night, which I was already excited about because the three professionals involved–Sharna Burgess, Allison Holker, and Valentin Chmerkovsky–have never won the mirrorball trophy. I already have obvious sentimental attachments to Val and Allison (Val being Maksim’s brother…and talented and hot in his own right; Allison being a SYTYCD alum and married to one of my favorite dancers of all time), but Sharna’s work has been exemplary this season. But even more than that, their celebrities are CRUSHING it. Rumer Willis and Riker Lynch are the nearest to absolute perfection in non-trained dancers, and Noah Galloway’s strength and passion have me seeing him as not just an incredible dancer despite his physical shortcomings, but as an incredible dancer PERIOD. Seriously, some of his numbers I really have to look hard at the left side of his body–I’ve seen people with all four of their given limbs try and fail to move with that kind of grace.

Going in I couldn’t pick a winner, but figured I’d get a nudge from the freestyle dances, known for packing an extra in-your-face punch. So naturally, not a one of them obliged me, going for somewhat subtle and understated. Which, in itself, was a sneakier hit. Noah’s contemporary based freestyle again pulled from his life experience and put all his vulnerabilities on display; Riker went classic Old Hollywood in look and a medley of old school and new jack swing in movement; and Rumer stripped her routine down to just her and her partner, dancing sharp, Latin infused choreography to music they themselves covered. All were excellent in their own way, and at the close of the show Rumer and Riker were perfectly tied, with Noah right behind them with a respectable score of his own.

Only one of these couple will actually hoist that golden mirrorball tonight. But all three are champions….and ultimately, we are the winners for having witnessed it all.

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