Kyle Hanagami

Photos by Michael Chevas for the book Your Shadow/Courtesy Jacob Jonas

When Kyle Hanagami dances, it’s as if the music were specifically designed for him. Every sound is accentuated with a sharp elbow or a slow tilt of the head, with no nuance left untouched. The feeling of the song sets his choreographic style—hard-hitting and funky to Ludacris’ “How Low,” Fred Astaire–smooth to Michael Bublé’s “Moondance”—but his hop-hop moves are always unique and precise.

At only 25, Kyle has already danced for superstar artists, including Justin Bieber and The Black Eyed Peas, and choreographed for FOX’s “The X Factor.” But while he’s a force to be reckoned with now, a younger Kyle would never have called himself a dancer. “At middle school and high school dances, I was really self-conscious,” says the L.A. native. “I never thought I had rhythm.”

As an economics major at University of California, Berkeley, Kyle befriended dancers and auditioned for their hip-hop team for fun. He made the cut, and started choreographing for the group almost immediately. “As I learned to dance, it felt natural to choreograph as well,” he says. “It helped me listen to the music and use my body in different ways.” Before graduating, Kyle was accepted into the hip-hop company Funkanometry San Francisco, and started teaching their company classes. Post-college, he decided to return to L.A. to test his luck on the professional dance scene. Kyle found that his reputation—as both choreographer and teacher—had preceded him, and the contracts came rolling in. “That’s when I thought, ‘This is something that I want to do for the rest of my life,’ ” he says.

Now, only seven years after his first dance class, Kyle’s credits span more than 50 countries, and he’s started a company, The Lost Kids, with fellow L.A. choreographer Ellen Kim. His classes at Debbie Reynolds Studio and EDGE Performing Arts Center are packed, and you can catch him touring the country with iHollywood Dance convention. But before you step into Kyle’s dance class, be warned: His choreography is only getting more complicated, innovative and precise. “My goal is to make sure I’m not creating movement just for the sake of movement,” he says. “Everything needs to have an intention behind it.”

His best advice for future dancemakers? “Don’t follow choreography trends. If you do, you’ll just fade out with them. The most noted choreographers in history stand out because they were true to themselves, and they weren’t trying to impress anyone.”

FAST FACTS

Birthday: July 21, 1986

Describe your dance style in one word: Quirky

Non-dance talent: “I’m a really good snowboarder.”

Favorite Food: Pad Thai

Favorite dance movie: The Mask. “The dance scenes are amazing. I love the Broadway feel of it.”

Dream performer to choreograph for: Adele. “There’s no one else with more soul, and she’s not afraid to deviate from the norm.”

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Auditions rarely fail to deliver on suspense. But this? This was the nail-biter to end all nail-biters. Hayoung Roh and Chelsea McCloskey, both professional dancers based in NYC, had made it through what felt like endless rounds of cuts, both on Zoom and in person. Out of the nearly 500 dancers (from 30 states and nine countries) who'd answered the Knicks City Dancers' open call for video submissions, just 20 remained—McCloskey and Roh among them. "We were separated into six holding rooms, where we kept trying to figure out the math," Roh recalls. "How many girls are there in total? Who was called back?"

Finally, the women returned to the audition room to dance one last time—or so they were told. Instead, KCD head coach Alyssa Quezada dropped her bombshell: All 20 women had made the final cut. They would be 2021–22 Knicks City Dancers: the latest and greatest edition of one of the most prestigious NBA dance teams. "It was the biggest celebration and the coolest moment of my dance career so far," says McCloskey now. And that was just the oh-so-perfectly-dramatic beginning.

Chelsea McCloskey stands on her left leg while kicking her right leg up with her arms crossed, a smile on her face. She is auditioning for KCD. Chelsea McCloskey Photo by Tess Mayer


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