Cover Story

What's Next for "SYTYCD" Winner Lex Ishimoto?

Photo by Joe Toreno

After 13 seasons, "So You Think You Can Dance" viewers probably thought they'd seen it all. From "Ramalama (Bang Bang)" to Bollywood, Travis Wall to tWitch, it seemed like there couldn't possibly be any room left on Mary Murphy's Hot Tamale Train.

Then came 19-year-old Lex Ishimoto. When Lex showed up at the show's Season 14 NYC auditions with an improv solo in lieu of a choreographed routine, the judges were shocked—and then brought to their feet by his show-stopping creativity. From there, the jaw-dropping moments kept coming. In week one of the live shows, Lex busted out a super-crisp tap (!) routine. In his Episode 12 solo, he pulled off a triple (!) tour en l'air. And in Episode 14, he and fellow finalist Taylor Sieve revealed that they'd been dating on the down-low (!!!).

To dance insiders, Lex's name isn't new: It first popped up in playbills when he joined the national tour of the musical Billy Elliot at age 11. Last year, he was featured in Sia's "The Greatest" music video, and he's toured with Travis Wall's critically acclaimed contemporary company Shaping Sound. But now, Lex is officially a household name as America's Favorite Dancer—and has a first-class ticket on that Hot Tamale Train.


"I Wasn't Born to Be a Dancer"

Like most of the 15 "SYTYCD" winners before him, Lex kicked off his dance career at a young age. "Between watching my sister perform and seeing You Got Served, I got hooked on dance," says Lex, who grew up in Irvine, CA, and began training at age 7 at West Coast School of the Arts in nearby Costa Mesa. "I wanted to do what the other kids were doing, but I wasn't born to be a dancer. I was pigeon-toed, and I wasn't flexible one bit. It took five or six years of hard work for me to be able to move like a normal dancer. I call those the dark ages for me, but it was worth it." Eventually, Lex began attending competitions and conventions, including JUMP, The PULSE on Tour, and Youth America Grand Prix. He trained in jazz, tap, ballet, and hip hop, and dabbled in Broadway during the Billy Elliot tour, where he was one of four boys performing the lead role. "That was a pivotal moment in my life," Lex says of the Billy tour. "I could definitely see myself doing Broadway again. I'm officially retired as Billy, though."

Photo by Toreno

Lex won Teen Best Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2014 and Senior Male Best Dancer in 2016. He moved to Boston and danced with Boston Ballet II for two years before getting hired as an assistant and choreographer with Break the Floor Productions, the parent company of JUMP, NUVO, 24 Seven, and The Dance Awards. Shortly afterward, he booked Sia's "The Greatest" video, and was tapped to go on tour with Shaping Sound.

At that point, most dancers would be ready to take a big ol' nap. But Lex was ready to try his hand at live television.

"This Was My Time to Show the World What I Do"

Lex is an OG "SYTYCD" fan. "I started watching the show when it first came out," he says. "I remember being a kid and seeing Nick [Lazzarini] on Season 1, and ever since then, being on the show was one of my dreams." He knew Season 14 was his shot. "I felt like this was my time to go out and show the world what I do," he says.

And that's exactly what Lex did, from the minute he set foot on the NYC audition stage. "We were all shocked and thrilled by Lex's audition," says judge Nigel Lythgoe. "We saw some excellent contemporary dancers this season, and I knew there would be a real battle in achieving a place in our Top 10, but I was certain Lex was going to be there."

Photo by Toreno

At The Academy, Lex was drafted onto Season 12 winner and resident tapper Gaby Diaz's All-Star team, a surprise to viewers who expected Gaby to nab a fellow tapper. But her choice was strategic. "Once I heard the All-Stars would be performing in different styles every week, I knew I wanted a dancer who had trained in everything," says Gaby, who had also performed with Lex as a fellow member of Shaping Sound. "Lex was the most well-rounded dancer out there."

"I Didn't Want to Show a Fake Side of Myself"

Despite his impressive work at The Academy, Lex faced significant criticism once the live shows began. While his technique and performance quality earned praise ("I knew from the first live show that he was a contender," judge Mary Murphy says), the judges worried that he wasn't connecting with the audience. And on a show where your fate is determined by audience votes, that connection is key. But Lex wasn't discouraged by the feedback. "I didn't want to show a fake side of myself," he says. "I may not have the brightest personality, but I know a lot of people are like me, and I thought maybe those people would connect with me." He thought right: Lex soared through all seven of the live shows without ever landing in the bottom three.

Lex and Gaby Diaz in Anthony Morigerato's tap routine "More" (photo by Adam Rose)

Though he made it all look easy, Lex faced a few challenges along the way, especially when it came to the physical demands of the weekly show. "I think because Lex is so great, his routines were always really difficult, and that started to take a toll on him," Gaby says. Old injuries—rotator cuff issues in both shoulders, a problematic right ankle, a bad back—started to flare up. "There was a point where I wasn't sure if it was safe to continue pushing him," Gaby says.

But Lex never faltered in his full-outness. He also says he never got nervous for the live shows, even during those final weeks when the contestants were performing up to five or six routines apiece. "The stage is my second home," he says. "I thrive on the nerves and pressure. I've grown up with it, so it's a natural feeling for me."

"He's Going to Change the Game"

Photo by Toreno

Right now, the Season 14 Top 10 are wrapping up their 39-city national tour. After that, Lex isn't sure what's next. Desmond Richardson has invited him to train with his company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Lex says one of his dream jobs would be to tour with Justin Timberlake. But wherever Lex ends up, Lythgoe knows one thing for sure: "He's going to change the game and go down as a legend."

A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Lex Effect."

Show Comments ()
How To
Thinkstock

Picture this: You're in rehearsal, and you finally get a move the way the choreographer wants it—except that it makes your back twinge each time. Should you say you're in pain, or should you suck it up and keep going? You don't want to injure yourself, but you also don't want to jeopardize your role.

The dance world often teaches students to be quiet and obedient around authority figures. That said, there are definitely instances when you need to speak your mind. Try these tips to navigate sticky situations.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

Keep reading... Show less
Victoria Caban brought the heat with her flamenco routine. (via YouTube)

I never thought we'd make it here, you guys, but after 11 grueling weeks of competition and five rounds of Duels, "World of Dance" will enter The Cuts phase of the show next week. The talent is unreal this season, which makes the goodbyes that much harder. Last night, during the last round of The Duels, we witnessed a mass exodus, as only six acts advanced to the final round. My heart still hurts a little, and I've got no more tears left to cry, but I'll pull it together to recap the evening for you.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Showstopper is the nation's leading dance competition. It provides the perfect platform for dancers, teachers, and choreographers to showcase their talents and hard work. Showstopper's environment is inviting, motivating, and above all, inspiring. If you haven't experienced it, now is the time!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
He's been appearing on/choreographing for the show since 2006. (Adam Rose/FOX)

"Mister Travis Wall," as Cat Deeley would say, has had one heck of an epic "So You Think You Can Dance" journey. Since first appearing on the show as a contestant during Season 2 (back when he had frosted tips!), he's become one of the series' most respected choreographers and mentors. In fact, his work for "SYTYCD" has earned him Emmy nominations every year since 2011. EVERY. YEAR.

To celebrate his latest Emmy noms—for "SYT" Season 14's "Change is Everything" and "Strange Fruit"—The Wrap magazine talked to T.Wall about what the show has meant to his life. And as always, Travis was full of dancy wisdom.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Class at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (photo by Ema Peter, courtesy USC)

If you closed your eyes and pictured dance paradise, what would it look like? Maybe you'd start your morning in rehearsal with a renowned contemporary choreographer, and then work on a dance driven by computer programming, and then run to a music video audition, and end the day discussing the impact of African dance styles on American pop culture.

Guess what? That dance paradise isn't just a dream. It's the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, a young program that's already attracting some of the most talented dancers around—for good reason.

Click here to meet Alyssa Allen, Simrin Player, and Jake Tribus, three of USC's standout students.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Jo Rowan (front) teaching ballet class at Oklahoma City University (photo by Shane Bevel, courtesy OCU)

Let's say this right up front: Everyone agrees that a talented dancer can move to NYC or L.A., start auditioning, and get booked without a dance degree. And graduating from a program doesn't guarantee that you'll have a successful dance career. So, what weight does a degree carry in the industry? "The reality today is that if you don't get a degree, you will be at a disadvantage," says Dr. Sally R. Sommer, director of the Florida State University dance department's semester-long immersion program in NYC. Proactive and engaged college students become more adaptable, thoughtful, and resilient dancers. Combine these qualities with a deeper understanding of dance history, practical experience with the professional expectations of choreographers, and access to a growing community of peers, guest artists, faculty, and alumni, and it's easy to see why a degree could mean more doors are open to you.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

In case you missed it, our favorite actress/dance fangirl Jennifer Garner hit the studio this weekend to brush up on her technique (stars, they really are just like us). And the end result might be even better than Garner's #TutuTuesday posts. At the request of American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, Garner took to her Instagram story to participate in Lil Buck's #GoinInCirclesChallenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Jo Rowan (front) teaching ballet class at Oklahoma City University (photo by Shane Bevel, courtesy OCU)

Let's say this right up front: Everyone agrees that a talented dancer can move to NYC or L.A., start auditioning, and get booked without a dance degree. And graduating from a program doesn't guarantee that you'll have a successful dance career. So, what weight does a degree carry in the industry? "The reality today is that if you don't get a degree, you will be at a disadvantage," says Dr. Sally R. Sommer, director of the Florida State University dance department's semester-long immersion program in NYC. Proactive and engaged college students become more adaptable, thoughtful, and resilient dancers. Combine these qualities with a deeper understanding of dance history, practical experience with the professional expectations of choreographers, and access to a growing community of peers, guest artists, faculty, and alumni, and it's easy to see why a degree could mean more doors are open to you.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The Top 10, sporting some EYEBROWS, in the opening number (Michael Becker/FOX)

And then there were eight. Just as we were starting to get attached to the Top 10, those pesky "So You Think You Can Dance" rules came into play and forced us (er, the judges) to slash two of the finalists from the competition. How rude! (But, Nigel announced ever-so-proudly, the entire Top 10 will be going on tour together once the season wraps.) Before the eliminations, each couple performed twice—and never in any dancer's own style. "So anything could happen," explained Cat Deeley, clad in a splashy, sequined floral minidress and a massive hair bow. And oh boy, a LOT of things did.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Soooo gorgeous. (via Instagram)

Edgar Degas' famous sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen has been getting a lot of love recently—and by "love," we mean everything from a tutu upgrade to a full-on musical telling her story. But artist Doyle V. Trankina's reimagining of the sculpture, with none other than Misty Copeland taking the place of the young Paris Opéra Ballet School student who inspired the original? It might be our favorite Little Dancer tribute yet.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

Tired of uncomfortable tights that dig into your waist and create unflattering bulges? Body Wrappers' knitted wide-waisted tights will keep you comfortable and give you the confidence you need to perform your very best during dance class. Enter below for your chance to win a pair!

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Thinkstock

Because they're the one part of college applications you don't do yourself, teacher recommendations can feel like big, scary question marks. As Sarah Langford, college counselor at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, says, "When admissions chooses between equally talented candidates, a memorable letter can put you in the 'yes' pile." But take heart: You have more control over what ends up in these letters than you might realize. Here, Langford and Sarah Lovely, director of college counseling at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, spill the secrets to ensuring you'll get letters that'll help launch you into the dance department of your dreams.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The P-rouette shoe is made from 3D-printed fabrics—and our minds are seriously blown. (via Dezeen)

Pointe shoes printed on a 3D printer may sound like something only possible in the future. But imagine our surprise when we found out these high-tech shoes actually exist! Yes, you read that correctly...you can PRINT pointe shoes—and the end result offers less pain and way more durability than traditional methods.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Giphy

Although we watch "So You Think You Can Dance" for the killer choreography and fantabulous dancing, sometimes the show is downright hilarious, too. Here are seven laugh-out-loud "SYT" moments that still have us giggling.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The Top 10, sporting some EYEBROWS, in the opening number (Michael Becker/FOX)

And then there were eight. Just as we were starting to get attached to the Top 10, those pesky "So You Think You Can Dance" rules came into play and forced us (er, the judges) to slash two of the finalists from the competition. How rude! (But, Nigel announced ever-so-proudly, the entire Top 10 will be going on tour together once the season wraps.) Before the eliminations, each couple performed twice—and never in any dancer's own style. "So anything could happen," explained Cat Deeley, clad in a splashy, sequined floral minidress and a massive hair bow. And oh boy, a LOT of things did.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Giveaways