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."

The Conversation
How To
San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung in rehearsal (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)

Even for natural turners, pirouettes from fifth can be a challenge. You need to take off from a small crossed position and stay straight over your supporting leg, from start to finish. "It's the hardest place to turn from, because you can't access your plié as much as you can from fourth," says Jennie Somogyi, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and director of Jennie Somogyi Ballet Academy in Easton, PA. "I'm always telling my students to plié more!"

If you're struggling with pirouettes from fifth position or want to refine your approach, try these pro tips.

Keep reading... Show less
via joffreyballetschool.com

It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.

With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Stars
Sykes Photography, courtesy Keisa Glover

At the tender age of 9, Destiny Wimpye moved cross-country with her mom so she could train at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. The leap of faith paid off: Destiny's spent summers training at the School of American Ballet, the Ailey School, and Pacific Northwest Ballet; performed for Michelle Obama at the White House; and danced beside Mariah Carey in a TV special for Disney. Now she's a full-time student at the Colburn Dance Academy under the direction of former New York City Ballet principals Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, and it seems fated that Destiny will one day dance her dream role, Dewdrop in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. "I'm a jumper and a turner," Destiny says, "so I think it fits me pretty well."

Keep reading... Show less
Dear Katie
Erin Baiano

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I've been battling Achilles tendinitis for months—it never seems to get better. How can I deal with it? Could there be an issue with my technique that's causing the problem?

Fiona

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

Ever since starting her professional career, Broadway dancer Amber Ardolino has cupped. Using the holistic wellness practice to improve performance and take care of her body, Ardolino cupped before it was cool—even beating the 2016 Rio Olympics' purple polka-dotted athletes to the punch. But Ardolino's only one dancer who has put this therapy to regular use. Dance Spirit asked Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, and performance rehab specialist with St. Vincent Sports Performance who works with Indianapolis' Dance Kaleidoscope; and Thomas Droge, Chinese-medicine doctor and founder of Pathfinder Institute in NYC, to explain the ins and outs of cupping therapy.

Amber Ardolino in "Hamilton" (courtesy Ardolino)

Keep reading... Show less
See photo credits below

What inspires you most as a dancer? What keeps you going on the days when the motivation just isn't there, and makes you feel like all the hard work, rejection and sacrifice is worth it for the pursuit of your dream? What makes you want to run into an empty studio and create something new?

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.

In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Inside a Rockette audition (Amanda Schwab/Starpix)

Let's be real: Auditions can be rough. No matter how prepared you are, a lot of variables go into every audition—which means even the best of us mess up sometimes! Here are 7 audition fails every dancer has experienced at one point or another.

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

4 hiring powers-that-be told DS their "do's" for dressing to audition.

Keep reading... Show less
via joffreyballetschool.com

It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.

With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.

Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
How To
San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung in rehearsal (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)

Even for natural turners, pirouettes from fifth can be a challenge. You need to take off from a small crossed position and stay straight over your supporting leg, from start to finish. "It's the hardest place to turn from, because you can't access your plié as much as you can from fourth," says Jennie Somogyi, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and director of Jennie Somogyi Ballet Academy in Easton, PA. "I'm always telling my students to plié more!"

If you're struggling with pirouettes from fifth position or want to refine your approach, try these pro tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Via YouTube

Oh, baby I'm a wreck (wreck) after watching Kinjaz's new music video.

Set to Post Malone's "Sunflower," the lead single from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, the vid features the dance crew's ever-fabulous men—who appear to have Spidey senses, because seriously, how else do they stay down-to-the-fingertips in sync?—performing Vinh Nguyen's super-tight choreography, with an overlay of comic-book-esque graphics by editor Jonathan Shih.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Nathan Sayers

Chloe Misseldine has every reason to be nervous as she and her partner run through the challenging wedding pas de deux from Don Quixote. Their performance is just days away and the two American Ballet Theatre Studio Company dancers have only had a week to prepare. Add to that the fact that ABT principal Gillian Murphy, one of the world's most famous ballerinas, is at the front of the studio taking notes.

Keep reading... Show less
Body Buzz
Getty Images

If you haven't followed through on your New Year's resolution to practice more self-care, then Valentine's Day is the perfect time to start. Below, we rounded up the best ways to pamper, indulge, and heal everything from your muscles, to your skin, to your mind. Your body (and your dancing) will thank you.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
State Ballet of Siberia dancer Yury Kudriavtsev wearing Siberian Swan shoes (courtesy Siberian Swan)

As ballet's gender roles grow increasingly blurred, more men than ever are reaching new heights: the tips of their toes.

It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistry. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).

The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

Are you a college student curious about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite magazine? You're in luck—because Dance Spirit is searching for an editorial intern for summer 2019!

We'll be accepting applications through March 1. Internships pay an hourly stipend and require a minimum two-day-a-week, onsite commitment in our NYC office from June to August. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)

If you're interested, please send a cover letter, resumé and two writing samples to Margaret Fuhrer at mfuhrer@dancemedia.com. Be sure to put "Summer Internship Application" in the subject line. All attachments must be formatted as PDFs.

We will interview selected candidates in March in person or by phone, and let candidates know by mid-April if they have been chosen. Please note that we do not accept high school students, or any students under 18, and that we give preference to college juniors and seniors.

We can't wait to meet you!

Dance on TV
CBS

Need more evidence that K-pop is taking over the universe, one infectiously catchy song and impeccably choreographed dance routine at a time? Look no further than BLACKPINK's fabulous appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" last night.

Keep reading... Show less

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways