Dancer to Dancer

Kida the Great: Why Kida Burns Is Skyrocketing Toward Stardom

Kida Burns (Joe Toreno)

Precision. Musicality. Charm. Swag. Kida Burns' talents were on full display during the finale of “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" in September. He was his All-Star partner Fik-Shun's equal in the two routines the pair revisited for the finale: Misha Gabriel's bee-themed piece and Kida's own feel-good robot number. He returned to his animation roots with a solo that was pure joy. He even stole the spotlight in Luther Brown's group hip-hop routine, which featured all of the season's finalists and All-Stars in that genre.


But the Kida who won “SYTYCD" is not the Kida who auditioned. As executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe points out, Kida had less classical training than the rest of the Top 10 contestants. “He epitomized that this show is a journey," Lythgoe says. It wasn't just about building technique, though the show certainly pushed Kida outside his hip-hop comfort zone. “Once he developed his performance—his smile, his warmth, the cheekiness—Kida became really terrific," Lythgoe says.

Now that he has the title of “America's Favorite Dancer," what's next for this 14-year-old phenom? Dance Spirit talked to Kida right after his win to get the inside scoop.

Born to Dance

Kida's first teacher was his oldest brother, Shaheem Sanchez, who started mentoring him when he was 4. Another early influence? The dance movies Kida watched with his dad, including the 1984 classic Breakin' and the Step Up series, which launched in 2006. “Those movies inspired me and helped me branch out with my movement," Kida says.

His mom put him in formal dance classes when he was 5, at Studio T Urban Dance Academy in his hometown of Sacramento, CA. At 7, Kida moved to Step 1 Dance and Fitness, also in Sacramento, and at 11, he began studying at Chapkis Dance Studio in Suisun City, CA, where he still trains and competes. (Among other titles, Chapkis Dance won gold at Hip Hop International in 2015.)

Outside of the studio setting, Kida has been a member of a dance crew, The ART of Teknique, since he was 8. Kida, Gavin Pecson and Kris Ragonjan met at a dance battle, and, only a couple months after joining forces, scored their first viral video. “People like Tyrese and Ludacris were posting it, saying 'These kids are dope'!" Kida remembers. The clip landed the crew on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in 2010. “That appearance is when I started to think, if I work hard I could really do something with dance," Kida says. The ART of Teknique went on to briefly compete on Season 6 of “America's Got Talent," and continues to post videos and battle today.

Kida has also seen viral success on his own. When he was 12, one of his battle videos got more than 100 million views, resulting in appearances on “The Queen Latifah Show" and “The Rachael Ray Show." The latter is when Kida—then known as Lil Kida—first met soon-to-be-mentor Fik-Shun. Everything was starting to fall into place.

Kida (left) and Fik-Shun (Joe Toreno)

Enter “SYTYCD"

The decision to audition for “SYTYCD" wasn't just about this year's younger age range. “I feel like my generation has the chance to show America not to limit us," Kida says. He also had a personal reason for wanting to compete: His father, who was one of his biggest champions, had passed away from flu complications in 2014. Kida dedicated his time on “SYTYCD" to his dad.

He impressed the judges at the L.A. auditions, but it wasn't an easy road to the live shows. After Fik-Shun chose Kida to be on his team during The Academy, the pressure was on. “Fik-Shun told me that I was not his top pick," Kida says. “Before the contemporary round, he said, 'If you can't do this next style, I'll have to let you go.' I thought about that 24/7!"

The hard work and focus paid off. “Kida's solo showed me his raw talent, but the determining factor for me was watching him do contemporary," Fik-Shun says. “He connected it to something real. Everyone watching him felt something. After that, I knew he needed to be on the show so America could feel that too."

A Wild Ride

From his favorite routines (“Winning," choreographed by Christopher Scott, as well as the number he choreographed himself) to the one that challenged him the most (his paso doble with fellow contestant Tate McRae), Kida kept rising to the occasion technically on “SYTYCD." But the judges were initially concerned about his performance energy.

“I think early on, Kida was really worried about learning the steps and dancing perfectly in time with Fik-Shun," says judge Maddie Ziegler. “We told him, 'Once you get the steps, forget about them. Perform.' " Maddie has one word for Kida's stage personality by the end of the show: “Wow."

“I always believed Kida had more showmanship in him," Fik-Shun says. “I told him, 'You have the skills. Now you need to share the joy you feel when you dance.' "Fik-Shun's mentoring also included rehearsal tactics. “Kida's a music learner," Fik-Shun says. “He gets the counts, and then he goes home and listens to the music—and when he comes back, you can tell. We share that learning style. But I worked with him on making sure choreography was in his body before moving on. If he said 'I got it,' I'd make him do it three times full-out. I noticed that later, he started doing that on his own."

Kida's All-Star couldn't have been happier with the final results. When host Cat Deeley said Kida's name, “I picked him up and spun him around," Fik-Shun says. “I'd told him every week, it doesn't matter if you win. As long as you take something from this process, you've won. For him to actually win was the icing on the cake."

The Next Steps

So where does Kida—a.k.a. Kida the Great, a nickname given to him by his sister Tajanique Cheatham—go from here? “I want to travel the world," he says. “My dancing got so much bigger, just from this show. How much more can I expand?" He definitely sees choreography in his future. “I'd also love to open a studio one day," he says.

But for now, he's enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done. “What I got from this journey is that I can do any style you throw at me—just give me a couple days," he says. “I can't doubt myself. If I work hard, I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to."

Fik-Shun (left) and Kida. (Joe Toreno)

Fast Facts

Full name: Leon Akida Burns

Birthday: April 8, 2002

Favorite color: Red

Favorite artist to freestyle to: Drake

Favorite TV show: “I'll go old-school: I love the show 'Martin.' "

Favorite movies: Breakin' and The Warriors

Favorite school subject: Science

If he weren't a dancer, he'd be: “A football player. I'm a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan."

Advice for DS readers: “Don't ever doubt yourself, and don't ever give up. Your time to shine could be any time! You have to be patient, and you have to put in the work to make it happen."

The Judges on Kida:

Nigel Lythgoe: “I'm thrilled Kida won. He's mastered hip hop, so now I want to see him take classes in everything. The world's his oyster!"

Paula Abdul: “Kida showed incredible tenacity. He had a hunger to prove himself. He also has the intuition to know how to make choreography look good on him. There aren't a lot of dancers who can stand beside Fik-Shun, but once Kida's showmanship improved, you couldn't imagine either of them with anyone else."

Maddie Ziegler: “Seeing Kida grow has been incredible. He's now such a strong, mature dancer. It's like he morphed into a mini version of Fik-Shun! And he's humble and professional—he's going to go far."

Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Joe Toreno

Some might say Charlize Glass' fame kicked off with a single three-letter word. In 2014, Beyoncé shared a video of the then–12-year-old dancer performing to "Yoncé" on Instagram, along with a simple caption: "WOW!"

But by that point, the hip-hop mini had already performed at the MTV Video Music Awards and on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and won first runner-up with her crew, 8 Flavahz, on "America's Best Dance Crew." And her Queen Bey Insta shout-out wasn't even the pinnacle of her tween career: She earned a spot on The PULSE On Tour as an Elite Protégé for the 2014–2015 season, and performed with Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show in 2015.

These days, the 16-year-old spends her time touring the country as Brian Friedman's assistant at Radix Dance Convention and blowing up YouTube and Instagram with her class-video cameos. And while the Char Char we fell in love with was a hip-hop cutie pie, the more mature artist we see today is sure to rock the dance world for years to come.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
We bet Tate McRae would love these. (Photos by Erin Baiano)

What's better than a good dance joke? They're corny, they're punny, and they're exactly what you need to get you through long Nutcracker days. These 10 jokes are guaranteed to put a smile on your face—no matter how much your feet are hurting.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Erin Baiano

You're obsessed with class videos. We're obsessed with class videos. The passion, energy, and talent showcased in these clips, which give us an insider-y peek at the commercial dance world's hottest classes, are totally irresistible.

But at what point does the phenomenon go from being a good thing to a bad thing for dancers and the dance world? Is the focus on filming distracting from the work dancers are supposed to be doing in class? Are overproduced videos presenting a dangerously misleading picture of the dance world? Is the pressure to be a class video star becoming too much for dancers to handle? These are some of the questions A-list dancer and choreographer Ian Eastwood—no stranger to the class video himself—has been asking on Twitter. And they've sparked a lively, important debate.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Lex and Taylor in Mia Michaels' "You Matter To Me" (photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox)

"So you Think You Can Dance" Season 14 finalists Lex Ishimoto and Taylor Sieve shocked fans at home (at least the ones who hadn't thoroughly scoured their respective Instagrams) during Episode 14, when choreographer Mia Michaels asked if either of them had ever experienced "the kind of love that takes your breath away." They confessed that, yup, they had—with each other. The two met at The Dance Awards in the summer of 2016, where they were each named Senior Best Dancer, and went on to tour with the convention as assistants. Before long—and long before their "SYTYCD" journey—they became a couple.

Take a look at Dance Spirit's exclusive interview where they dish on everything from their favorite dates to the dance moves that give them all the feels.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Melina and Regina Willoughby (photo by Ashley Concannon)

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

Read more at dancemagzine.com!

Watch This
National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina being amazing (via Instagram)

Yes, we all know dancers are strong. But sometimes it takes a truly epic workout video to remind us JUST HOW INSANELY STRONG they actually are.

Behold, National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina's oh-so-casual pre-class exercise:

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
via YouTube

Beyoncé's choreographer + Beyoncé's dance captain + the greatest duets of our generation = dance video greatness. Yes, it may seem too good to be true, but the dance gods have gifted us with this very sequence—and it's the best thing we've seen in a long time.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Future Star winner Kaitlyn Chapa (photo by Rainbow Dance Media Center, courtesy Jennifer Chapa)

Dance Spirit is beyond excited to announce the first round of 2017 Future Star winners! Every year, DS partners with competitions to recognize dancers with exceptional presence and ability. The second round of winners will be featured in our January issue, so stay tuned!

Keep reading... Show less
Quiz
Original photo by Nathan Sayers

It's time for a tutu test! So many iconic ballets, so many beautiful tutus. Can you figure out which ballet each of these costumes comes from?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored