Nearly two years after its Broadway debut, Hamilton is still the hottest ticket in town. The show is still sold out every single night, and for Kamille Upshaw, that means bringing her A-game every night—even if she doesn't end up onstage. As one of the cast's swings, Upshaw may fill in for an injured or vacationing cast member, or she could end up getting called in mid-show if something happens to an ensemble member. (No pressure.) She needs to know all the choreography at all times, and needs to be warmed up no matter what. That also means Upshaw, a Juilliard grad and former Dance Spirit cover girl, needs to fuel her body properly so it can be ready to rock in a moment's notice. What does that entail? We got Upshaw to dish on what a day in the life of her diet is like.
(Before we begin—have you heard that we're giving away tickets to the "So You Think You Can Dance" season finale?! GO. ENTER. NOW.)
Wow. "SYTYCD" Season 11 is going to be pretty darn spectacular. This week, we watched 157 dancers travel to L.A. to duke it out for a spot in the Top 20. Guest judges this week included tWitch, Tara Lipinski, Adam Shankman and ballerina Irina Dvorovenko. It was pretty hard to know who would advance and who would be sent packing—the level of talent was just that high. There were also A LOT of cuts: Dancers had to make it through seven rounds, and there were even a couple dance-for-your-life performances. I'm not sure how the show's editors managed to get the entire week of callbacks into one jam-packed, action-filled episode—but they did. Here are my top five moments from last night:
1. Cameron. OK, OK, he’s not a competitor, he’s a newborn. But he was definitely part of one of my favorite “SYTYCD” stories of all time: Steven, a phenomenal hip-hop dancer from New Orleans, got news that his girlfriend had gone into labor right as callbacks began. Obviously, Steven was a little distracted. I mean, THERE WAS A BABY ON THE WAY. Somehow he managed to pull it together for the first few rounds…and then, Cameron arrived! Steven didn't make the cut after Sonya Tayeh’s choreography, but I think he’s already won, regardless.
2. Jaja, the red-headed wildcard. So, OK, she didn’t make Top 20. But to see this girl go from crazy krumper to slinky ballroom dancer just made me smile.
Let's hope Jaja auditions again next year. I know I'd love to see more of her transformations.
3. All the awkwardness. First, there was contestant Amanda’s, um, hiccup, when she said she felt lucky to have Marcquet as a hip-hop partner because, duh, he’s there for hip hop. Well, sorry Charlie, he’s a ballroom expert, and you’ve just learned what happens when you assume things—on national TV. Oops! (Disclaimer: In Amanda's defense, Marcquet can do it all—amazingly. My prediction? Top 4, easily.)
Next, we said goodbye to poor contestant Christopher’s front tooth. During the ballroom routine rehearsals, Chris got smacked in the face by his partner’s elbow. She lost quite a bit of skin and blood, and he lost half a tooth. OUCH.
Thankfully, the judges were kind to this (partially) toothless wonder of a dancer. He made it through the ballroom round.
And finally, did anyone else feel just a little guilty for laughing at the judge’s nasty comments during the group choreography round? Over the first four episodes this season, we’ve applauded the judges for not berating the auditionees who gave sub-par performances. Apparently, though, their snide remarks have been brewing, and after One Love’s group debacle, there was a firestorm of snark. My favorite zinger came courtesy of Adam Shankman: “I see you got your routine from those children on ‘Dance Moms.' " BOOM, roasted.
4. The surprise endings. A lot of our favorites from the audition rounds didn’t make it. This week, we unfortunately—and unexpectedly—bid adieu to Trevor Bryce, Marie Poppins, Megan Marcano, Erik “Silky” Williams, and DS cover beauty Kamille Upshaw.
5. The TOP 20, REVEALED! Without further ado, may we present—in the order they were introduced during the show’s credits—the 20 candidates vying to be America’s Favorite Dancer: Malene, Zack, Emily, Serge, Carly, Emilio, Tanisha, Stanley, Valerie, Nick, Bridget, Marcquet, Jacque, Rudy, Brooklyn, Teddy, Jessica, Casey, Jourdan and Ricky. Congrats, dancers! We can't wait to see what you bring this season!
What did you guys think? Are you happy with this season's Top 20? Was anyone sent home unfairly? Let us know in the comments—and check back here next week for our recap of the first live episode!
Jakob Karr (by Joe Toreno)
Our July/August issue is here! We're so excited to present our NYC Issue featuring musical-theater newbies Jakob Karr and Kamille Upshaw. We met up with them in Tempe, AZ, on the route of the Flashdance: The Musical tour, where they posed for photographer Joe Toreno, rocking huge smiles despite the 100 degree heat. Plus, they shared their anecdotes about transitioning from comp kids to musical-theater buffs. (Read advice from Jakob, Kamille and others in "Your Name in Lights.") Want to learn more about these two triple-threat dancers? Read on for some Fast Facts:
Birthday: June 21, 1990
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Childhood studio: Shooting Stars School of Performing Arts in Clermont, FL
Most-played on his iPod: “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey
Who would play him in a movie? "A hybrid of Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Reynolds"
Favorite teacher/class: “I’m a huge fan of Joe Lanteri’s class at Steps on Broadway. If I’m in town, I’m there, and I’m in the front row.”
Favorite dancer of all time: Gene Kelly. “He’s talented, captivating, subtle, cool, crisp and sexy.”
Favorite food: Mexican
Hidden talent: “It’s more of a birth defect. I can breathe air in and out of my eyeball, like I can blow bubbles out of my eye underwater. It’s kind of disgusting, but it’s a pretty cool party trick.”
If he could be a superhero, his power would be: “Obviously I’d want to fly, but I like to believe that in my superhero land all superheroes fly no matter what. So I’d love to be able to live underwater and become the cooler, modern Aquaman.”
The first thing he does in the morning: Listen to music. “I have to start the day with some jams.”
The last thing he does before going to bed: Check Instagram
Dance crushes: Ryan Steele and Grace Buckley. “They’re my roommates, and they’re so talented. I’m in love with both of them and I can’t get enough of them.”
Favorite dance movie: Dirty Dancing
Must-see TV shows: “Game of Thrones.” “I would never recommend it to anyone under 17, but I’m addicted.”
Dance BFFs: “Again, my roommates. We’re all obsessed with each other. We just really, really like each other.”
Three words that describe his personality: Bright, silly, determined
Three words that describe his dancing: Big, bendy, explosive
Kamille Upshaw (by Joe Toreno)
Birthday: September 9, 1989
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, MD
Childhood dance studio: Spotlight Studio of Dance in Millersville, MD
Most played song on her iPod? “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
Who would play her in a movie? Amandla Stenberg from The Hunger Games. “She’s a complete lookalike of me when I was younger. As she gets older, she could just continuously play me.”
Favorite dancer of all time: “I can’t narrow it down to one dancer, so I’ll say a company. Nederlands Dans Theater will always be my ultimate favorite. They have the most beautifully artistic dancers.”
Favorite teacher/class: “My home studio teacher, Wyndee McGovern. Every time I go home to take her class it’s like I’ve started dance all over again.”
Favorite food: “Anything with goat cheese on it.”
Something people don’t know about her: “I aspire to be a photographer. It’s something I’d like to delve into as I get older.”
If she could be a superhero, her power would be: “The ability to make everyone happy. I’m such a people pleaser.”
The first thing she does in the morning: “Check my phone to see if I have any emails, texts or Instagram comments. Then I roll my ankles.”
The last thing she does before going to bed? “It’s never the same. But I’m a big journal person. Writing is very relaxing."
Dance crush: “My boyfriend, James Boyd, is amazing. But other than that, my dance crushes change quite a bit. It’s whoever catches my eye in the moment. If I chose one, I feel like I’d be cheating on everyone else.”
Favorite dance movie: West Side Story. “I have two VHS tapes and a DVD, and I have it on iTunes.”
Must-see TV shows: “I am a ‘Dance Moms’ fan always and forever. Since I grew up in that world, it fascinates me, no matter how crazy it seems. I also love ‘Revenge.’ ”
Guilty pleasure: “ ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ or anything that has to do with the Kardashians.”
Three words that describe her personality: Caring, confident, corny
Three words that describe her dancing: Passionate, strong, fluid
When we logged on to Twitter this morning and saw that Kamille Upshaw was doing an impromptu Q&A sesh, we were more than OK with it. We love us some Kamille. She first graced our July/August 2013 cover as a full-of-potential musical-theater newbie, and now three years later she's shining as a swing in Hamilton, NBD.
Kamille Upshaw (left) backstage at Hamilton with cast mate Karla Puno Garcia. (Photo via Instagram, @KamilleUpshaw)
The questions that fans tweeted covered everything from show choreo to beauty rituals. You can read them all on Kamille's Twitter feed (@KamilleUpshaw), but we gathered some of the highlights below.
Oh, and if you just can't get enough of this Broadway babe (or her behind-the-scenes Hamilton deets), make sure to follow HamiltonMusical on Snapchat. Kamille and fellow swing David Guzman are taking over the show's Snap story tonight!
To prepare, tendu your right foot forward from first position.
Bring your right foot back into fifth position as you plié, then spring into a small prep jump, landing back in fifth-position plié.
Jump as high as you can, extending your right leg forward and lifting your left leg into a back attitude. Arch your arms and upper body backward as you lift your head toward the ceiling.
Kamille says: "Make sure you hit fifth before the jump, and then reach all the way back using the entire length of your arms. Lift up and out through your chest and sternum so you’re not crunching your lower back."
Photography by Joe Toreno. Hair and Makeup by Diane Aiello.
It takes more than just looking AMAZING in spandex to make it on Broadway. You have to sing, too! (Photo of Jakob Karr in Flashdance the Musical by DRGPhotography)
For our July/August issue, we talked to cover stars Kamille Upshaw and Jakob Karr about making the transition from dancer to dancer/singer/actor, and they gave us tons of good advice—including a few tips on choosing a song to sing at auditions. (As Jakob learned the hard way, "Happy Birthday to You" is not the best option.) This, of course, made the Dance Spirit editors think about what we would sing if we were trying to make it in musical theater ourselves. I asked each editor, “If you were trying out for a Broadway show, what would your audition song be?” Here’s what they said:
“ ‘The Power of Love’ by Celine Dion. It's not a Broadway song, and I really can't hit any of the high notes. I would definitely not get the job, but this song is my jam, so I’d go for it with a ton of passion and a smile.” —Alison Feller, editor in chief
“ ‘All That Jazz.’ Classic and easy to belt out—plus I could throw in a few Fosse-esque moves to distract from the wrong notes, because there’d be a lot of them.” —Margaret Fuhrer, associate editor
“Ah, the question that crushed all my Broadway dreams. I’m tone deaf and have the worst singing voice ever—it wouldn't matter which song I attempted, I'm sure I'd be shown the door immediately.” —Michael Anne Bailey, assistant editor
What would mine be? “Out Tonight” from Rent. I practice in the shower ever morning, and I haven’t had any complaints from my neighbors yet. (Read: I sound amazing.)
The verdict: The DS editors should stick to our day jobs. Collectively, we’d probably make the worst ensemble in Broadway history!
Now it’s your turn. What would your go-to audition song be?
Jakob Karr in Flashdance: The Musical (DRGPhotography)
Jakob Karr, with his amazing extensions, and Kamille Upshaw, with her captivating stage presence, made names for themselves by snatching up award after award on the competition circuit. The two were hired for their first professional dance jobs in 2007—performing together during the halftime show of an alpaca auction in Virginia. And from there, their paths continued to cross: They both moved to NYC for college and then traveled internationally with Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance. But this past year, Jakob and Kamille switched gears and joined the touring cast of Flashdance: The Musical. Now the two friends are officially in love…with musical theater. “From the first day, I just thought, this feels right,” says Jakob. “This is something I could love doing over and over again.”
It’s not unusual for competition dancers to discover they’re destined for musical theater. And with the number of dance-heavy shows on Broadway today, technical dancers are more in demand than ever before. But it takes far more than a killer solo and an impressive collection of platinums to make it on the Great White Way. Read on before you book your ticket to the Big Apple.
Dance This Way
So what kind of dancers do Broadway casting directors covet? Annie choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler says the key is versatility, which many comp kids have in the bag. “The biggest asset young competitive dancers have is the ability to mimic a choreographer’s style,” he says. “At a convention, students take class from five or six teachers, each with very different styles. They’re smart enough to adapt accordingly.”
Kamille Upshaw in Flashdance: The Musical (Courtesy Kamille)
Being a smart dancer also means knowing your strengths and understanding what kind of dancing is expected from you at an audition—a lesson Jakob learned the hard way. “My very first audition was for Mary Poppins, and it was so humiliating,” he admits. “They made us tap, and I’m probably the world’s worst tapper. When I had to perform for the casting directors, I just did time steps over and over again. Believe it or not, I didn’t get the job.” Do your homework before the big day, and take classes in any styles you’re unfamiliar with so you won’t be taken by surprise.
No matter how many dance styles you’ve mastered at your studio, don’t expect a job offer unless you can carry a tune. “I can maybe hire one person per show who can’t sing. Maybe,” says Blankenbuehler, who’s worked on productions including In the Heights and Bring It On: The Musical. And rocking out in the shower or along with your car radio doesn’t quite cut it. “Just as your body is your instrument for dancing, your vocal cords are your instrument for singing, and you have to know how to work them,” says former comp kid and “So You Think You Can Dance” alum Ariana DeBose, who’s currently in the ensemble of Motown: The Musical. “Find a vocal coach,” she says. “Then choose at least three songs and work on them until you can present your best you no matter what.”
Kamille walked into the Flashdance audition—her first musical theater audition—armed with only one semester of voice lessons from The Juilliard School. But she decided confidence would be her greatest weapon. “I figured they were looking for someone who could sell the performance,” she says. “You don’t need to be able to belt like Whitney Houston to be in an ensemble. Even if you don’t feel like you have the best voice, prepare something that showcases your personality.” For Kamille, that was Estelle’s “American Boy.” Jakob’s first audition song? “ ‘Happy Birthday to You,’ ” he says. “I was as clueless as they come, but the next time I had a song prepared. And now I see a vocal coach whenever I’m in New York.”
Ariana DeBose (right) in Bring It On (Joan Marcus)
While some studio kids may have taken voice lessons in addition to dance class, there’s a third component they must master before being a true triple threat: “You have to be a performer,” Blankenbuehler says. “In a musical, dancers won’t necessarily have to sing solos, but they will always have to project emotions.”
Newsies dancer John Michael Fiumara, a past New York City Dance Alliance Senior Outstanding Dancer, says the hardest thing about his transition to musical theater was getting into character. “I never really thought of myself as a musical theater person, but just to be safe, I took voice lessons throughout my dance training,” he says. “The biggest challenge for me in Newsies was understanding the story and imagining myself as my character, Specs. But the directors told me they chose me because they liked the flavor I gave to the role and the look on my face when I danced.” Unfamiliar with acting? Sign up for a class or join a local community theater production.
Even if they’ve never had an acting or singing lesson, competitive dancers have a built-in resource many others don’t: a wide network. “It’s amazing how many people I danced with at competitions who are doing Broadway right now,” John says. “Competing as a kid gives you so many connections to help you get there.” Blankenbuehler, who teaches at NYCDA conventions nationwide, commends the rare dancer who approaches him to ask about upcoming auditions. “The resources are there—you just need to take advantage of them,” he says.
John Michael Fiumara with childhood teacher Abby Lee Miller on the Newsies set (courtesy John)
Once you’ve left the competition circuit, viewing every audition as a chance to expand your network will make lasting impressions that may lead to more auditions. John auditioned twice for Newsies to no avail, but the casting directors remembered him and called him back for a third, invitation-only audition when the role of Specs opened up. And a casting director from an unsuccessful audition for the show Memphis called Ariana back to audition for what would become her Broadway debut, playing Nautica in Bring It On. “That’s how a lot of auditions happen,” Ariana says. “You go in for one thing and you don’t get the job that day, but they’ll like you for something else. That’s why I never turn an audition down.”
“You’re probably going to get a lot of ‘no’s’ before you get a ‘yes,’ ” adds Kamille, who auditioned for many shows while taking a short break from the Flashdance tour this spring. “This industry is hard. You audition more than you work.”
After countless auditions and callbacks, nothing beats the feeling of finally nabbing that role. “I got the call and had to leave for the Flashdance tour the next day,” Kamille remembers. “There were so many emotions happening at once. But jumping into it like that has been one of the highlights of my career.”
If you’re a comp kid who’s caught the Broadway bug, these dancers prove it’s never too late to start tuning your vocal cords, brushing up your acting chops and getting into musical theater auditions. “I didn’t grow up singing or acting—I was at a ballet barre in a dance studio,” Jakob says. “But with musical theater, I get to do what I love and get paid for it. I’m a part of this world now, and I hope to be part of it for the rest of my life.”
It’s been five years since DS kicked off its annual Cover Model Search contest. We’re so proud to report that the finalists and winners have since had a ton of dance success! Here’s what they’re up to now.
Winner, 2006: Member of the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre
Paula van Oppen
Finalist, 2006: Featured dancer in Burlesque, which hit theaters in November
Winner, 2007: Performed in Emily Shock’s “Find Me To Forgive” at the 2010 Capezio A.C.E. Awards
Finalist, 2007: Dancer in Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One” video; dancer on Lifetime’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance”; dancer for Tyler Shamy
Sara Michelle Murawski
Finalist, 2007: Dancer with Dresden Semperoper Ballet in Germany
Winner, 2008: Sophomore at Seton Hall University majoring in biology; member of both the dance team and cheer squad
Finalist, 2008: Corps de ballet member at San Francisco Ballet
Finalist, 2008: Freshman at Marymount Manhattan College and member of Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance
Winner, 2009: Freshman at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts; 2010 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts winner
Finalist, 2009: Performed as a backup dancer with Kanye West on “Saturday Night Live” in October
Finalist, 2009: Senior at Juilliard; attended the Springboard dance program in Montreal, Quebec, studying with Margie Gillis and Sylvain Emard; performed at NYC’s Fall for Dance Festival in October in a piece by Larry Keigwin
Winner, 2010: Performed in Jaci Royal’s Beneath the Surface show in NYC; performed in Misha Gabriel and Teddy Forance’s “Bulletproof,” which was the second runner-up at the 2010 Capezio A.C.E. Awards
Finalist, 2010: Freshman at Wake Forest University; member of the Wake Forest Dance Company
Finalist, 2010: Senior at the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C.; competed at the Beijing International Ballet Invitational in October
It’s your last chance to apply for the 2011 Cover Model Search! Upload your best solo video at dancemedia.com before December 31 for your shot at next year’s cover.