Scene Stealer: Harry Shum Jr.
He’s an amazing dancer, has a warm, outgoing personality, works hard and is simply a great guy. That description could just as easily apply to Harry Shum Jr. as Mike Chang, the character he plays on “Glee.” And like Mike, who’s gone from a quiet background dancer to a vital member of New Directions, Harry has recently stepped into the spotlight as a prominent player on the L.A. dance scene.
In addition to his role on “Glee,” Harry is one of the choreographers for “The LXD,” the online series created by director Jon M. Chu about a group of superhero dancers. He’s also a member of the cast, playing Elliot Hoo, a bumbling goofball who acquires serious dance skills when he slips on a pair of magical shoes.
In reality, Harry doesn’t need any help with his moves. He’s a gifted hip-hopper who balances grace with athleticism. His sparkling charisma gives each step a pop of excitement. Above all, he’s a confident freestyler. “He’s not afraid to take risks,” says Harry’s mentor, choreographer Chuck Maldonado. “If you want him to do something flamboyant, he’ll do it.”
Though he’s a polished performer now, Harry got a late and unconventional start. As a high school sophomore in Arroyo Grande, CA, he joined the dance team on a dare. “It wasn’t the coolest thing to do,” Harry says. (Sound familiar, “Glee” fans?) So he and his friends set out to transform the group. They learned choreography from music videos and gave it their own spin. They performed at school assemblies and put on shows in the area. “It became really popular,” he says.
After graduation, while attending San Francisco State University, he kicked up his training with classes at Dance Mission Theater. “Dance was on my mind a lot,” he says. When Jesse Santos, an L.A.-based dancer, taught at the studio, Harry reconsidered his path. “Jesse showed us his resumé and I was like, ‘You can make money dancing?’ ” Within a year, Harry moved to L.A.
Like many L.A. newcomers, Harry spent most of his time at Millennium Dance Complex, EDGE Performing Arts Center and Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio. “I bought unlimited class passes,” he says. “I was living at the studios.” Choreographers Rosero McCoy and Jamal Sims spotted Harry at EDGE and invited him do a UK tour with a pop singer named Kaci. “It was an awesome experience,” he says, “especially for an 18-year-old kid who was completely new to the industry.”
After the tour, Harry steadily built his resumé. He was one of the dancing silhouettes in the early iPod commercials, did motion capture work for the movie Shark Tale and danced with Beyoncé on the Ladies First tour.
In early 2009, Harry was called to audition for a “nameless role” on “Glee.” Harry read two scenes for the casting team, and two weeks later, he found out he had been hired as a dancer—even though he never danced at his audition. Harry had no idea what to expect. “Then, they called us for rehearsal the next week,” he says. “It just never stopped.”
Around the same time, Harry was working on the first season of “The LXD” with director Jon M. Chu, who Harry had met when he was cast in Step Up 2: The Streets. The group made its big debut on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 6 with a hip-hop ballet conceived by Harry and co-choreographer Christopher Scott.
Today, both of Harry’s big projects are still going strong: Season 3 of “The LXD” will premiere later this year and Harry’s role on “Glee” continues to grow. This summer, for the second year in a row, The LXD opened for the Glee Live! tour, with Harry acting as The LXD’s artistic director. He also hopes to direct for the online series and says he would like to do an episode in the style of classic Hollywood musicals (he’s inspired by performers like Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor). “I’m a huge fan of old musicals,” he says, “how special it feels when you watch them and how creative yet simple they are. I want to bring that back.”
Birthday: April 28, 1982
Favorite movies: Singin’ in the Rain and Good Will Hunting
Dance idol: Gene Kelly
Dance crush: Cyd Charisse (from Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon and more). “She was gorgeous and danced beautifully.”
Hidden talent: “I can cook. I make up random dishes. My parents used to own a restaurant, so I learned a lot from them.”
Something people don’t know about you: “I was born in Costa Rica. Spanish was my first language, but now I’m a little rusty.”
Harry’s Favorite “Glee” Routines
- “Bohemian Rhapsody,” from the Season 1 “Journey” episode: “We saw the episode while we were on tour and that number made me cry. The way choreographer Zach [Woodlee] and the director were able to mix the number with the storyline—it all worked out so perfectly.”
- “Me Against the Music,” from the Season 2 “Britney/Brittany” episode: “Heather Morris delivered in every possible way. She was powerful but didn’t overdo it. She really impressed me.”
- “Make ’Em Laugh,” from the Season 2 “The Substitute” episode: “Matthew Morrison and I went to a gym and tried to learn a wall flip—they had stunt doubles, but we wanted to do it. We wanted to pay homage to Donald O’Connor because he influenced us so much. Matt broke his finger during one of the first couple takes, but he’s a trooper and kept going. It was one of the most joyous dance routines I’ve done on ‘Glee.’ ”
- The final number in “Funk,” from Season 1: “It was a free-for-all. Everyone had shining moments. That’s what dance is about: letting go and having fun.”
- “Valerie,” from the Season 2 “Special Education” episode: “I danced with Heather and Naya Rivera [who plays Santana]. This was a moment for the underdogs. We were newbies and it was really special when they gave us the spotlight.”
What People Are Saying about Harry
- Chuck Maldonado, choreographer: “His freestyle is different—it’s animal-like and fluid. It can be weird and spooky, but it’s amazing to watch. When he started teaching, I realized that he can also choreograph. I said, ‘You’re going to make it one day. I don’t know what it is that you’re going to do, but you’re going to do it.’ ”
- Christopher Scott, choreographer for “The LXD” and “So You Think You Can Dance”: “Harry is the type of leader people should model themselves after. He treats people with respect and there’s no ego, which is the only way The LXD works, because it’s so collaborative.”
- Heather Morris: “Harry is the biggest dork in the whole world. I see him as a modern-day silent-film comedian. He’s so entertaining to watch. He’s also a nerd and loves technology. He likes his iPod a lot and he has really cool wireless headphones.”
- Matthew Morrison: “There are a lot of people in this business who get jaded, but Harry always comes in with a positive attitude and he’s so hungry to learn. As a dancer, he has a tremendous strength in improv. Whenever he performs, my mouth is agape. I’m so in awe of him. He’s a terrific human being too, but what he can do with his body, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
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Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.