by Gigi Berardi
The week before the SYTYCD 2013 Seattle performance, I had the opportunity to interview the competition’s winners: Fik-Shun Stegall and Amy Yakima. Equally exciting was an interview, too, with Tucker Knox.
I must admit that my questions were a little more personal perhaps than most – I had seen all the shows throughout the summer, from the regional auditions through to the televised finale. This helped mightily in my appreciation for virtually every aspect of the show (with the exception of the “judging,” and the whipping-off the stage of runners-up Aaron Turner and Jasmine Harper (were those really bouncers on Stage?)).
At any rate, the interviews were quite stimulating and the performance itself (November 19), fascinating. However, I must admit, there’s something about the up-front-and-personal camera angle (for the televised shows) that allows you to see every drop of sweat, every expression, which is oddly interesting.
Tucker Knox was virtually a professional dancer before auditioning for SYTYCD. He worked with River North Chicago Dance Company, leaving Nashville when he was 16 (before that he had trained as both gymnast and dancer). During his tenure in Chicago, he had pieces set on him as the artistic director (Mauro Astolfi) of Spellbound (from Rome, Italy), and many other choreographers were in residence in Chicago.
The 23-year old has had more than his fair share of catastrophes and personal triumphs, but nothing harder than a life-threatening automobile accident (he was not driving), which fractured his spine and broke his sternum and ribs. Says Knox, “I was 20 at the time and I had to remain in a body cast with full bed rest for months and months.”
That experience though, resulted in Travis Wall choreographing a duet, Medicine, for Knox and for former SYTYCD all-star Robert Roldan, who himself had suffered a near-catastrophic accident earlier). The fact that they were both still dancing was remarkable, and Wall profiled that will and skill in Medicine. Says Knox, “This was the hardest dance to dance, by far. It required total honesty. It just was very hard emotionally to let everyone see me that vulnerable – I wasn’t portraying a character, it was all about me and I felt very exposed.”
Mr. Knox aspires to work in a contemporary ballet company, such as the Nederlands Dans Theater — which, for my money, would be a perfect home for this exceptionally lithe, flexible, and emotive dancer. However acting, commercials, movies, television, also are part of his dreams, all that, as well as working as a back-up dancer for any recording artist.
Mr. Knox excels in the contemporary pieces, more than any other single dancer on the show “I just create and feel the story with my partner, and then we live it on stage”), yet finds dance forms a little foreign to him the most fun. Says Knox, “Hip hop is maybe not my best style, but it is the most fun — I just crank it out and it’s fun up there whatever we do. Also, ballroom for me feels surprisingly natural. Even though I may not perform it that well, it comes more easily than I thought it would.”
The modest Knox needs only look at a video or two to see how impressive his command of any style is.
Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall
Interviewing Fik-Shun Stegall, male winner of the SYTYCD 2013 competition, is an exercise in facing idealism head-on. Today, Fik-Shun looks forward to work in commercials and movies, and plenty of auditions in the coming year.
Every step of the way, from regional try-outs to the television grand finale, Fik-Shun has had an exceptionally positive attitude and outlook. Says Fik-Shun: “You just have to give it your all. You need to be aware of your body and what it can and can’t do, and be happy with that.”
Fik-Shun was injured only once on the show –- a twisted ankle, but he soldiered on. The pay-offs were too inviting to the 18-year old dancer –- a duet with tWitch (“an awesome person, everything comes so natural to him”), a bell-hop routine (Let’s Get It On, choreographed by Christopher Scott) with his season partner, Amy Yakima, that took top accolades.
For Fik-Shun, the show has been an amazing success, “more people know who I am now, and I think they appreciate that I just gave it my all.” The choreography, especially ballroom, was especially demanding each week (“I don’t do choreography”). Nevertheless, Fik-Shun mastered the effortlessness of ballroom and the emotional grittiness of contemporary, easily becoming America’s favorite dancer.
To see Amy Yakima dance is to see both a highly technical dancer, as well as a strikingly emotional one. Besides being America’s favorite female dancer, she might also be the most humble. Next year, she plans to audition, but also is very committed to starting a dance school and teaching children.
Really, this from the competition’s winner? A dance school at the age of 19? Says Yakima: “I guess I just want to do everything because my body wont keep up forever, a dance school makes sense.”
Being on the show was a life-changing event for the young dancer. Says Yakima: “Being on the show changed the way I dance, it opened me up to what I wanted to become.”
Whatever that is, it looks like she’s almost there – a powerful gymnast, a courageous hip hop artist, a melt-your-heart contemporary wonder, as in the duet, “Wicked Game,” choreographed and danced by the matchless Travis Wall, she is both workhorse and powerhouse. A stunningly beautiful dancer, with amazing capacity, her work remains one of the strongest memories of SYTYCD Season 10.
Her parents are physicians, as well as her staunchest supporters (her dad even danced on stage when she was first auditioning on SYTYCD), it’s no wonder Yakima remains injury-free, “I know how to take care of myself.”
Moral support also is strong, although Yakima admits that the voting was very stressful, “Really, we are all so driven. But the favoritism, the voting is so difficult – it comes down to our different personalities, to a certain look, what people like, and don’t. How different we look. Then we realize we are all on TV, and this is the way reality TV works.”
Right, but the dancer is still interminably cheerful.
“I know I’m cheery,” says Yakima. “But it’s the way I was brought up. In dance, you just have to get used to rejection, and not take it personally. It’s the only way you can dance.”
Gigi Berardi holds a MA in dance from UCLA. Her academic background and performing experience allow her to combine her interests in the natural and social sciences with her passion for dance, as both critic and writer. Over 150 articles and reviews by Ms. Berardi have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, the Los Angeles Times, the Anchorage Daily News, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and scientific journals such as BioScience, Human Organization, and Ethics, Place, and Environment. Her total work numbers over 400 print and media pieces.
Her public radio features (for KSKA, Anchorage) have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dance Critics Association, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as Book Review editor for The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. A professor at Western Washington University, she received the university’s Diversity Achievement Award in 2004. Her fifth book, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, is in its second printing. Her current book project is titled A Cultivated Life.