And The Winner Is...Lauren Froderman!

America fell for the last girl standing. Lauren Froderman took Season 7’s “So You Think You Can Dance” title after spending the final five weeks of the competition as the sole remaining female contestant. “I never felt alone,” says Lauren. “I felt the support of my family, my fans and the All-Stars.”

From her debut at the L.A. audition, Lauren’s ability to deliver one solid performance after another got viewers to pick up the phone and vote for her. Each week, she adapted to new styles—from ballroom to Tahitian—with an all-American, can-do smile. Her ability to sustain a balance a second longer and make each move she was given just a bit bigger kept audiences wanting to see more. She took chances in her solos, cutting through space with a confidence and bravura that rivaled the top men in the competition. She was technically solid with a sexy edge. And in the end, the Phoenix native was rendered speechless in front of 7.7 million viewers when she was named “America’s Favorite Dancer.”

So what did the surprised, perky 19-year-old want to say after the balloons and confetti shot across the “SYTYCD” stage that night? “I wanted to say how grateful I am, and how much it means to me that my fans believed in me,” Lauren says. “To be on the same list as Nick, Benji, Sabra, Joshua, Jeanine and Russell is so astonishing. I find it surreal that now I’m the one inspiring others. I am blessed and honored to be in this position. It shows that hard work can pay off.”

“Don’t learn to be perfect in one style, but learn to be great in every style”

When Lauren was growing up, her mom took her to different kinds of dance classes, which helped her develop an appetite for new styles. “I love learning and am never satisfied with where I am. I get bored easily, so I always push myself to try new things,” Lauren says.

Lauren put her versatility to use on the competition and convention circuit. She started competing with her studio, Dance Connection, when she was 6 years old before switching to Bender Performing Arts a few years later. It was Meri Bender’s training philosophy that put Lauren on the right track. “Don’t learn to be perfect in one style, but learn to be great in every style,” Bender says. “The well-rounded dancer will have the longest and most successful career.” Bender wasn’t surprised by Lauren’s “SYTYCD” success. “She’s not only an incredible dancer, she’s an incredible person. With all her talent she remains very humble,” Bender says. “She takes any challenge thrown her way and makes it work.”

It was also at Bender’s studio that Lauren started honing her musicality. “I’m not naturally musical,” Lauren says. “It’s something I have always had to work at.” She credits Krista Coney, her R&B–loving jazz teacher at Bender Performing Arts, for helping her develop a knack for timing.

At 14, Lauren became a teacher’s assistant at JUMP Dance Convention, which proved to be a valuable experience on the journey to “SYTYCD.” “I learned to pick up choreography really quickly,” she says. She also grew accustomed to getting critiqued. “During Vegas Week, the judges criticized me for connecting too much to the audience and not enough with my partner,” Lauren says. “At competitions you emphasize the audience, so I needed to make some changes.” She did—and judges Nigel Lythgoe, Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman noticed. For Shankman, the third week of the show proved a crucial turning point for Lauren. “She stopped competing and just started having fun,” he says. “Something snapped in her and she just started dancing her heart out. It was as if she decided to really enjoy herself and that showed through.”

“Kent and I have such a bond”

Once she secured her spot in Season 7’s Top 11, Lauren stunned audiences with her ability to look good no matter the challenge. And she rarely got the chance to do what she does best, contemporary. “It’s amazing that I only picked contemporary twice all season,” says Lauren, who counts her routine with Kent Boyd, set to Howie Day’s “Collide” and choreographed by Travis Wall, among her favorites. The dance placed the pair in a post-prom scenario, not that far from their real lives. Judges and fans responded to Lauren and Kent’s sheer honesty and total trust in each other in some of the riskiest partnering seen all season. Lauren believes the dance went beyond the fuss over that now-famous ending kiss. “Kent and I have such a bond,” she says. “We had both just graduated from high school and were the youngest contestants. We connected right away and shared so much over the course of the show. It came through in our dancing.”

That same week, Lauren performed a Jean-Marc Généreux cha-cha routine with All-Star Pasha Kovalev. While many contemporary dancers in seasons past couldn’t quite master the style—lacking either the fluidity in their hips or the stability in their upper bodies—Lauren attacked the routine with power and finesse. After the performance, Lythgoe dubbed Lauren “the best contemporary dancer in ballroom on the show.” “I was so flattered by that comment,” Lauren recalls. “But the whole time I was so insecure. It drove me crazy that I didn’t have ballroom training. I’m a perfectionist.” Still, Lauren got bit by the ballroom bug and says she intends to continue honing her ballroom skills.

There’s something magical about Lauren"

The bulk of Lauren’s feedback on the show was positive. Mia Michaels, especially, was an ardent supporter. After Lauren’s Latin ballroom performance with Kovalev on the finale, Michaels told her, “If I was still dancing, I would want to dance just like you.” Not a bad compliment from one of the dance industry’s toughest critics. “My whole generation looks up to Mia,” Lauren says. “To have her say something like that to me on live television, at this stage in my career, was simply amazing. I know I have to live up to it now.”

Over the course of the show’s 10 weeks, Lauren embraced the season’s format changes: a Top 11 instead of a Top 20, who would be paired with All-Star contestants from previous seasons. She learned from the All-Star dancers and feels the show gathered new momentum from their presence. “We all had favorite former contestants and wondered what they were doing,” she says. “To bring back so many great dancers made it really exciting.”

One of the All-Stars was none other than Lauren’s old studio-mate at Bender, Lauren Gottlieb. “Having her on the show offered me some stability,” Lauren says of Gottlieb. “To have someone to turn to was such a blessing. I only wish we could have danced together—but maybe they thought two Laurens would be confusing!”

Gottlieb wasn’t remotely surprised by Lauren’s success. “When I got word from our teacher that she was going to the first audition call, I knew right then she would be on the show,” Gottlieb says. “There’s something magical about Lauren. She did an amazing job of being a chameleon and keeping her bubbly personality at the same time. And that’s what the show is all about.”

“It’s important to know your limits”

As viewers know all too well, Season 7 wasn’t all happy discos and fox trots. The contestants seemed cursed, and week after week one after another was ousted from the competition due to injury. After Alex Wong’s devastating elimination, Lauren took a diligent approach to self-care. “Eating healthy, stretching and properly warming up were my secrets for keeping injury away,” she says. “Dancers can be the worst when it comes to acknowledging an injury. It’s important to know your limits. I took a proactive stance, going to physical therapy for even a minor ache.”

Newfound fame aside, Lauren is a normal girl offstage: “I love going to new places, new restaurants and creating chaos like any obnoxious teenager,” she confesses. And she’s a self-proclaimed bookworm, often burying herself in a Jodi Picoult or Harry Potter novel. “I could read them all over and over,” she says.

“Can you really trust a 19-year-old with money?”

As Lauren wraps up the show’s live tour this month, she’s considering all of her career options. “I want to branch out into acting,” she says. “We got to meet the actors from Step Up 3D and I was so inspired.” Shankman agrees that acting would be a good move for Lauren. “She definitely has it in her,” he says.

As for the $250,000 cash prize? “Everyone keeps asking me about the money,” she says. “Can you really trust a 19-year-old with money? I want to save some and send my parents on a vacation. They deserve it for all the time, money and effort they’ve spent on my dance education. They believed in me even when I doubted myself. I would not be the dancer I am if not for them.” And after “SYTYCD” her family has grown a bit more: “I love all the contestants on the show,” Lauren says. “They are my new family.”

Fast Facts

Birthday: September 6, 1991

Favorite dance style: Contemporary

Most-played song on your iPod: “I Like It” by Enrique Iglesias

Must-see TV: “Glee,” “Modern Family” and “Family Guy”

Favorite food: Cheeseburgers

Who would play you in a movie? Dakota Fanning

Movie star crush: Taylor Lautner

Dream co-star: Jennifer Aniston

One thing you can’t live without: “My friends”

Pet peeves: ”People with big egos”

Favorite “SYTYCD” costume: “My Tahitian costume was so crazy and fun, and I felt totally ‘bucc’ in my hip-hop costume with tWitch.”

Least favorite “SYTYCD” costume: “My fox-trot costume, because it was really heavy!”

One thing people don’t know about you: “I love taking walks outside and people watching. And I was homeschooled from fourth through eighth grade.”

Advice for readers: “Dancers experience a lot of rejection. You may get knocked over again and again, but if you hang in there, persevere and work hard, eventually you’ll succeed.”

Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

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