In February 2016, "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" released a casting call for dancers ages 8 to 12. Determined to make it onto the show, then–10-year-old Emma Hellenkamp prepared a jazz solo for the L.A. audition. The next part of her story may come as a surprise to fans of the series: She didn't make the cut. But Emma's competition background meant she was well-versed in several dance styles, so she opted to audition again in Chicago—this time with a tap solo. And the rest is history: Emma not only made it onto the show, but also progressed all the way to the final four.
"SYTYCD: The Next Generation" is part of a larger trend of dance-competition TV embracing younger dancers, with shows including "World of Dance" and the upcoming "Dancing with the Stars Junior" following suit. And like Emma, many of the dance kids trying out their skills on these shows come from the competition-and-convention circuit. What is it about these two worlds that smooths the transition from one to the other?
With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)
That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "
Jim Nowakowski's Sesaon 12 audition gives us chills TO THIS DAY. (Adam Rose/FOX)
In need of a little audition-spiration? Whether you're preparing to try out for the show or are just looking to get into the "SYTYCD" mood, here are 8 phenomenal past auditions we're still obsessing over.
Skyler Semien on set of the hit film Pitch Perfect 3 (courtesy Lance Semien)
Take a good look at Skyler Semien, because she's an up-and-coming commercial dancer who's primed to take Hollywood by storm. A freshman at Georgia State University, the former competition kid has already appeared in her first feature film, Pitch Perfect 3, and has two more movies in the works.
How did this dancer end up in one of the biggest films of the year? Semien says it started with her dance training. Studying everything from ballet to contemporary, Semien started competing when she was only 6 years old. But in high school, she realized hip hop was her ticket to the commercial world, and decided to shift her focus. Soon, she'd signed with Bloc talent agency, and as a senior in high school, she was cast as one of the "new Bellas" in Pitch Perfect 3.
Though Semien's found success in show biz, don't expect her to drop everything and move to Hollywood. The multi-talented dancer is keeping her options open as she concentrates on getting her education. "Dancers are no longer just dancers; they're entrepreneurs, creative directors, musicians and actors," she says. And she believes education will breed the skills she needs to pursue those kind of opportunities.
We chatted with Semien about why she thinks so many dancers are pursuing additional careers beyond the dance world.
Future Star winner Kaitlyn Chapa (photo by Rainbow Dance Media Center, courtesy Jennifer Chapa)
Dance Spiritis beyond excited to announce the first round of 2017 Future Star winners! Every year, DS partners with competitions to recognize dancers with exceptional presence and ability. The second round of winners will be featured in our January issue, so stay tuned!
Frankie Muniz and Witney Carson perform a salsa routine on "Dancing with the Stars" (via @dancingABC on Twitter)
We're coming down to the wire on "Dancing with the Stars," and it's getting harder and harder to decide which of the remaining couples should hang up their dancing shoes. This week, the contestants were put to the test with two routines: one required the pros to choreograph a dance to a song that they felt best represented their partner; the other required them to redo an old "DWTS" routine that'd received a perfect score (talk about setting the bar high). The five celeb semifinalists didn't disappoint–but some had a better night than others.
Here at Dance Spirit, we're constantly in awe of Emma Portner. The powerhouse choreographer, dancer, and November 2016 cover star is never not busy, constantly diving into new projects, while posting a stream of choreo videos that are breathtaking, innovative, and genre bending. (Is it just us, or does everyone else get lost in her Instagram feed for hours on end? 🙋🏻 )
Lindsay Arnold and Jordan Fisher on the "DWTS" Halloween episode (photo via Twitter)
"Dancing with the Stars" was basically designed for Halloween episodes, what with its emphasis on stage fog and amazing-bordering-on-insane costumes. But while we were expecting lots of delectable treats from last night's Halloween spooktacular—including the first round of team dances, always a good time—we weren't expecting the ep's final trick: a double elimination that actually managed to shock the heck out of us. [Cue evil laugh from the "DWTS" producers.]
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!