Q&A with Shane Sparks

As this hot L.A. choreographer gears up for the second season of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” Shane Sparks took some time to share his personal prescription for making the professional cut.

DS: With so many talented dancers to choose from, what qualities make a dancer stand out to you above the others?
Most dancers can pick up choreography, so the first thing I notice is a dancer’s style and drive. It’s also nice to find people who have a beautiful look and take care of their bodies. Sometimes females try too hard with crazy shorts that look like their five-year-old sister used to wear them. It’s locked in their heads that they need to come in half-naked to do hip hop. People need to go back to the mindset of “I’m so tight at what I do that I deserve this job,” not, “I’m so sexy.”

DS: Do you have any top-secret advice for landing gigs?
Word of mouth is the best advertisement; it’s landed me 90 percent of my jobs. There is so much buzz about my classes that when people look for directors and choreographers, they’ll call me and say, “I’ve been hearing your name.”

DS: What makes you different from other choreographers on the scene?
I’m known as a hip-hop choreographer, because I do dance that way, but I switch my style up so much that people never know what to expect. Someone recently called me the modern-day Bob Fosse. You can’t be sick at one style and wack at another.

DS: Do you ever work with assistant choreographers?
I only use one assistant, Rachel Kay, and we’ve been together three and a half years. She came to me with fire; she lived, ate, drank, slept dance. I needed that energy, because sometimes you do something so much you get comfortable. She remembers every move I’ve ever done and is a beautiful dancer, and that’s all I need.

DS: After working in the biz for 10 years, what professional lessons have you learned?
I’ve learned to stand up for what I believe in. Do not take jobs just to take jobs; don’t sell out. I know dancers need to make money, but what you do right now follows you. Auditions used to drive me crazy, because I’d get so down on myself, but it’s important to stay patient and diligent. If you’re true to everybody you meet, you will always work. The key to my success is that I give people my heart and my talent.

DS: How do you foresee hip hop evolving over the next few years?
Shows like “So You Think” will make hip-hop dancers venture out and learn more styles. Awards shows will be off the hook, and Broadway shows will be better. Once we recognize different styles of dance as the backbone of everything we do, I think we’ll see better stuff coming out of hip-hop dancers and choreographers. You can call it hip hop if you want, but it’s going to have more versatility and dimensions of creativity.

DS: What have been the most fulfilling moments of your career so far?
When we did the audition for You Got Served, I felt like I was flying. It was such an ego boost to have all the dancers I’ve admired come and dance for me. Also, when I was younger, watching a guy named Poppin’ Taco from the movie Breakin’ (1984) inspired me to start doing this. I ended up doing a commercial with him shortly after I came to L.A. Two years later, he came to my dance class to say hello and watch me. That was so incredible. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I know this is my destiny; I’m not supposed to be doing anything else.

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