On Monday, September 16, 2019, at precisely 6:59 pm Pacific Standard Time, 19-year-old Bailey Muñoz was named America's Favorite Dancer. The confetti fell from above the "So You Think You Can Dance" stage, and Bailey was immediately smothered in congratulatory hugs from his nine fellow finalists. As he was hoisted high in celebration, the audience was being ushered from the soundstage, and the show's technical crew was starting to pack up. But for Bailey—the first b-boy to win the competition—the journey was just beginning.
The post-win hustle is a true grind. By late Wednesday morning, Bailey had flown across the country to NYC, performed on "LIVE with Kelly and Ryan," and made his way to his Dance Spirit cover shoot downtown. But the grueling schedule only seemed to fuel Bailey's cheerful spirit. He arrived at his DS shoot full of energy, hugging each member of the staff and crew, and jumping right on set to display that signature mix of goofiness and swagger that made America fall in love with him.
"I felt so honored to get to do my style out there," he says, while taking a bite of pizza—the only thing he wanted during his short NYC stay. "I worked so hard every single day, every single second, not just to be better for myself, but to be better for my partner, and to represent my family, and to inspire the b-boys out there. The show felt so much bigger than myself."
When "SYTYCD" debuted in July 2005, Bailey was just 5 years old. But it wasn't long before he was dreaming of being on the show. At 9, Bailey took his first dance class. The prodigy joined the Rock Steady Crew before signing with Bloc Agency at age 10. The same year, he made his television debut, performing on "America's Got Talent." By 13, Bailey was winning b-boy battles against dancers twice his age. He toured with Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber, and did a four-year residency at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Though he was home-schooled during middle school, he went on to attend and graduate from the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. (Fun fact: "SYT" Season 10 winner Du-Shaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall is also an alum.)
Through it all, Bailey spent hours watching routines from past seasons of "SYT" on YouTube. He was inspired by fellow b-boys and hip-hoppers, including Stephen "tWitch" Boss, Comfort Fedoke, Hokuto "Hok" Konishi, Fik-Shun, and Dominic "D-Trix" Sandoval. He studied their careers—D-Trix's journey from "SYT" to "America's Best Dance Crew," and tWitch's foray into acting—and set his sights on following in their footsteps. "They looked like superheroes to me," Bailey says. They also helped him realize that b-boys could have hugely successful careers beyond the dance floor. "They've built these establishments," he says of tWitch and D-Trix in particular. "That's my big plan—to inspire others through dancing or acting, making the world a better place."After high school, Bailey enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but he didn't feel connected to his coursework. "Education is dear to my family and me, but I was sitting in class just thinking about how I need to do something while I'm still young," Bailey says. "I wanted to see where dance could take me." With his parents' blessing, Bailey left school after two weeks, auditioned for Season 16 of "SYT," and the rest—well, the rest is perhaps just getting started.
The first time the judges and viewers saw Bailey, it was at his audition in L.A. He opened up about his size: Just 5 feet tall, Bailey was often teased about his height, and he felt insecure. Dance, he explains, became the way he could express himself. Bailey became an immediate fan favorite, and his own idol, D-Trix, called him "the newest generation of b-boy." Bailey was sent straight to Academy week, and sailed through each round of choreography, landing a spot in the Top 10. During the break before the live shows began, Bailey woke up every day at 5 am for ballroom lessons. He took privates, he worked on his solo routines with his mentor, and he took hip-hop and ballet classes. To prepare, he says, "I did anything and everything I could."
When the live shows began, Bailey was paired with 19-year-old contemporary dancer Mariah Russell. "I remember seeing Bailey at the Academy," Mariah recalls. "During the contemporary round, I teared up and got chills watching him." Judge Laurieann Gibson also had her eye on Bailey from the start. "Every performance was a breakthrough moment for Bailey," she says. "He consistently stepped up, continuing to build himself and allowing his greatness to come through."
During week two, Bailey and Mariah were considered the ones to beat. Still, week after week, the judges seemed equally delighted and surprised by Bailey's progress, repeatedly bringing up his height. "Height does matter," Bailey admits, "but I feel like there's an inner strength that matters more. It's about having the confidence that you can do it. I want to represent for the shorties out there! No matter your shape or size, you can do anything you want." For Mariah, Bailey's size was never a concern. "I felt like we were in the same boat, and I felt where he was coming from," she says. "I know what it's like to be a short person and have everyone constantly tell you that. But Bailey worked so hard in every style, and was always there for me."
Bailey flourished throughout the season, exhibiting major technical growth and an irresistibly fun personality. When it came down to the finale, Bailey may have been the only one surprised by the outcome. By that point, he had been "America's Favorite Dancer" for the entire summer.
"Back when Bailey auditioned," D-Trix recalls, "the only question I thought was, 'Can this b-boy do other styles? Now I only ask myself, 'What can't this b-boy do?" Though he was surprised by Bailey's split leaps and double pirouettes, he wasn't surprised by his success. "This kid was a winner even before he won," D-Trix says.
For a dancer who was just starting kindergarten when Nick Lazzarini became America's first winner of "So You Think You Can Dance," what makes the show irresistible, 16 seasons later? "If you're a dancer, you know this show," Bailey says. "Even people who don't know dance know 'So You Think You Can Dance.' To be a part of it is to be a part of this history. The show has inspired so many, and started so many dance careers."
Bailey knew he wanted to be a part of that growing legacy. What role might his "SYT" win play in his professional path? "I'd love to collaborate with D-Trix," he says, an idea suggested by Nigel after a taping one night. Otherwise, he wants to keep dancing and performing wherever he can, and he'd love to come back as an All-Star.
For the b-boy community, Bailey's "SYT" triumph is especially meaningful. "I believe Bailey's win will help evolve the way people define b-boy," D-Trix says. "Often on this show, we hear the compliment 'That was great for a b-boy,' which can sound like 'That was great for someone I didn't think could do it.' But Bailey, b-boy or not, was simply great. We couldn't have asked for a better representative to help shape the definition of what a b-boy can do."
Most-used emoji: Heart
Go-to improv song: "Beggin," by Madcon
Favorite place to shop: "My dad's closet!"
Favorite food: Filipino food
Greatest fear: Scary movies
What the "SYTYCD" audience at home didn't know about him: "I get super-nervous, so I ate a lot during every performance—pizza, pasta, all the good stuff."
Dream "SYTYCD" team: "My dream is to make a contemporary b-boy company! So let's go with an all-boy, all-Asian group—Hok, Tadd Gadduang, Marko Germar, Alex Wong, and Lex Ishimoto. And our choreographers are D-Trix and Talia Favia."
Favorite judge: "Oh, come on! I can't pick! But as a fellow b-boy, D-Trix knew the obstacles I faced every week. I remember him telling me that if you put your truth out there, it makes the audience feel something. He told me that the best thing in the world is to give, and I apply that to everything I do now. And it's cool, because he was the first b-boy judge, and I got to represent him and the past b-boys who have inspired me."
Backstage BFF: Gino
Which choreographer left the most lasting impact? Luther Brown. "I want to be him when I grow up! He's a visionary."