Kida the Great: Why Kida Burns Is Skyrocketing Toward Stardom
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)
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)
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."
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.
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:
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."
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
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?
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)
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:
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.
Get Dance Spirit in your inbox
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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!