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.
If you’ve always wanted to be on So You Think You Can Dance, you might want to check this out…
Auditions for this popular show are going to take place for season 9, starting in Atlanta, GA, January 5th at the historic FOX Theatre. They will continue on Friday, Jan. 13 at the McFarlin Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, TX; Monday, Jan. 23 at the Manhattan Center in New York, NY; Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, UT; and Friday, March 2 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.
Those who shine during auditions are given a ticket to Las Vegas for callbacks, where they will work with top choreographers to learn and then be judged on multiple styles of dance. For more details on auditions for Season Nine, as well as eligibility requirements, go to www.fox.com/dance.
Here are the details:
by Jessica Wilson
Having seen a huge influx of dance-related TV shows throughout 2011, a recent survey conducted by YouGov has revealed that just over 1 in 5 British adults (21%) have become interested in dancing as a result of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance. The survey was completed in the prelude to the Dance Proms, a new festival which took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Sunday 13th November of this year. The Dance Proms featured twenty-four acts selected from a competition held to find the UK’s most talented dance students and representing all genres of dance. Dance Proms, a celebration of dance in all its forms, is organised by UK’s leading dance organisations: the International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA), Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD); and the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD).
The YouGov survey also revealed that roughly the same number of adults (1 in 5) currently participate in some form of dance, stretching across a vast range of styles, with just over 1 in 8 adults (13%) having taken part in a dance class in the last five years. This is sure to grow in the future, with the introduction of extremely popular “dance-fit” activities such as Zumba, the latest dance craze to sweep the US and Europe, and favoured among many celebrities including Wayne Rooney, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez.0
From time to time I like to do a little preview of things that will be coming up on 4dancers, and this week I have a lot to share! In addition to the new column we have “The Business of Dance” by Lizzie Leopold, we are also adding two new features in the upcoming weeks….
Join us for “Finis” – a new monthly column that will feature a dance photo at the end of the month, and “Music & Dance” – a column that will highlight a composer/producer’s take on the relationship between sound and movement. You’ll be meeting both of the new contributors soon in our “10 Questions With…” series. And good news for those of you who have enjoyed our SYTYCD contributor, Kimberly Peterson’s writing…she’ll be staying on to write more for 4dancers on other topics…
Also–look for more interviews (on Mondays) and dance music reviews (on Wednesdays) as we finish up the summer and settle into fall. I am going to be taking more time to work on this blog, so expect to see more content overall as we take 4dancers to the next level.
Let us know if there is something you’d like to hear more about, and in the meantime, we’d just like to thank you for taking the time to visit. If you haven’t yet taken the time to link up with us on Facebook and Twitter why not join us now? There’s going to be a lot going on!0
by Kimberly Peterson
Something has been irking me lately despite the vast improvement in critique – thanks largely in part to the guest judges – which is the role of a dancer as a tool vs. the dancer making active intelligent choices. I want to discuss the role of choice, how it relates to power and how the use of choice takes a dancer from a mere “tool of the trade” to an active participant utilizing their choice to make intelligent artistic decisions. To do this I want to walk through three very important distinctions: tools v. choice; choice inside creative process; and process with artistic intelligence.0
Art forms are always political in what they choose to explore and what they don’t. Even the lack of making an active choice – is still a choice. Bodies especially, carry this weight of political choice because it is difficult, I would argue impossible, to separate the actions and emotions of a performance from the physical body in performance. In this way, the bodies you use are indeed political statements, the movement itself is a political statement, and the genders of the bodies you use are also political.
One of my biggest disappointments with the format of SYTYCD is the idea of Male/Female partnerships. While I understand that many styles are often best served with Male/Female partnerships in smaller groups and that the format of duet story-lines tends to revolve around relationships, there are several disconcerting connotations with this kind of coupling.
First, it’s very heterosexually oriented – excluding other kinds of relationships and sexualities. Secondly, it’s very gender normative – in that the roles of traditional “men” and “women” are reinforced through story, movement and the comments of judges. Finally, it’s limiting – not only in scope, but it limits the voters’ choices, it limits the choreographers, and it limits the audiences’ comprehension of dance as an art form.7
Today we’ve got Kimberly Peterson back with her thoughts on So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)…..
A teacher I had in college once told me that no one creates or performs a dance thinking it will be awful. No matter the outcome, they always begin with the idea of creating a great dance. There is always something, even a small thing, in that work that is valuable. When critiquing a piece, it is important to try to find the value they see in it and harness your critique to that end. Through my education and into my professional life, I’ve held that notion close.
In the book Dancers Talking Dance, Larry Lavender approaches dance critique through his use of ORDER:
Observation – one carefully and consciously sees or attends to the work of art.
Reflection –viewers describe and analyze the aesthetic object or experience.
Discussion – share reflective notes, formulate and discuss interpretations of the meaning and significance of the dance.
Evaluation – judgments are articulated and debated.
Recommendations/Revision – recommend how the work could be reshaped, assess revised dance.
While lately, I’ve been overjoyed with the caliber of performance and the quality of the works presented, I’ve been left more than a little disappointed by the lack of quality feedback and critique offered to the dancers competing, as well as to the audience both in studio and at home.
The show, while built on drama and entertainment, is also a beacon for the dance world – inviting millions of weekly viewers into the performance and choreographic process, as well as providing them an outlet to speak of dance, to learn about dance and to educate themselves aesthetically.
It’s clear the show is aware of its broad influence with the Dizzy Feet Foundation, the boards who regularly discuss the finer points of the dances/dancers, their work with the White House for National Dance Day as well as the public’s shift in popularity of genres. Which is why I find it so odd that the dialogue from the judges is often very poor, focusing on a dancer’s story or appearance. Worse still, the criticism can completely dissolve into loud noises or fall back on preconceived assumptions. I’ll give you a few recent examples:
Dance performance and focusing on the Story
Marko Germar’s fantastic performance of Travis Wall’s contemporary statue piece was stunted by the response from Nigel that he worries about him because of the bullet lodged in his shoulder. Really Nigel? You worry about an injury he sustained a while ago, has been working through, is cleared by doctors? You worry about that in the middle of the performance?
This focus on his injury takes the focus off the dance itself – instead of turning the focus onto his performance in the work, not with his injury – but despite it. Regardless of their body’s condition, which is likely to get pretty rough towards the end of this competition, the idea is that they continue to excel. How can the judges expect this kind of rigor and then sabotage it with their dialogue? Comments like this give the dancers nothing to work with, they don’t further the comprehension of the dance work, and they don’t direct the dialogue towards the performance at hand – but rather tangential stories with no relationship to the work.
Dance performance and focusing on the Body
Auditions revealed, as they always do, how the judges deal with difference. Santa krumper was a prime example of a dancer they found to be unattractive – not desirable. However, he had technique, he had a character, he had a great personality and he did perform the movement well. Now was he right for the show, no. He was limited in scope, not likely to do well with choreography and they were right to send him home. But the dialogue during their critique – specifically the screams of disgust by Mary during his audition is more than simply not constructive, it’s unprofessional.
There was no discussion about his technique or his character or personality – it was a patronizing glossing over of a situation that they were either unwilling or unable to deal with. This lack of dialogue does a great disservice to the changing role of the body in dance, the politics of a body in motion, and the cultural shifts happening towards dancers and ability.
Dance performance and focusing on Assumptions
In a similar vein, the critique and even the support of dancers of difference can be just as patronizing, and just as destructive to discourse, as outright dismissal. This was made very clear during the audition and resulting Vegas week for Natalia, Top 20 Sasha’s sister.
While the judges were overall accepting of her dancing and performance, it was always done with the notion that they were astonished that she could move that well – you know, being big and all. The comments from Nigel, while seeming to be accepting, were often double edged. Comments such as “you’ve got a lot more to move out there than the other girls” or “you obviously don’t have the ideal physique” but then always quick to add, that he was impressed with her ability.
There was no real discussion with her that didn’t focus on the judges assumptions being smashed. There was no treating her like any other dancer, it was always the assumption first followed by their continued astonishment that she could do the same choreography at a similar caliber.
To be fair, I think they made the right decision to not put her on the show. She was very good and I think she should try again next year after working a bit more on her performance and some technical skills. But she wasn’t quite at the caliber of the other dancers chosen for the Top 20 this year. The competition was extremely tough, specifically with the ladies.
But while they encourage her to continue to knock down barriers, knock down walls, they themselves keep those same walls up. And instead of treating her as you would any professional dancer, they once again focus on their own assumptions instead of critiquing the dance/dancer at hand.
Dance performance and focusing on Experience
Mary’s screaming is a cop out – plain and simple. While it expresses her joy in the experience, it communicates nothing else. Her screams and over-exuberance are little more than a giant red flag for “I have nothing valuable to contribute”.
Even with Iveta, she doesn’t use her technical expertise to contribute to the dialogue about the styles, but instead dissolves the discussion into screaming matches. This happened three times in the course of the first 20 performers: Miranda & Robert, Missy & Wadi, Iveta & Nick. About one in every three performances.
And what is with all the name dropping? Nearly every other word from Nigel or Mary was a choreographer, a project, a personal memory about the style’s evolution…half the limited critique space was devoted to nothing more than commercial filler. Very disappointing.
Truthfully, the commentary from Megan Mullany during the first week of the show was stellar in my opinion. Not only was she very on point, she often drove the discussion forward and elevated the dialogue. I often feel like the judges play to only Observation, Reflection and some Discussion while completely ignoring the Evaluation or Recommendation aspects.
Further, this lack of a critical eye and proper evaluation was made clear in the decision by the judges to not eliminate two dancers after the first week of voting. It highlighted the lack of critique, the focus on the dancers’ stories, their own experiences, and their own expectations in place of honest evaluation.
I certainly hope that we see more of a critical eye, more honest evaluation, as the show continues because the dialogue is so important to the dancers, their audience’s aesthetic education and pushing the field of dance as a whole.
Critique is very important for a number of reasons. It helps shape dialogue by which people speak about the art-form. It trains people to look beyond their initial reactions to discover why it is they enjoy what they do and what specifically it is that they enjoy. It not only takes the pulse of the culture and its relationship to the art-form, but it helps shape it. To give the audience great dance performances is only half the battle at best, if the dialogue isn’t set in the right direction.
Contributor Kimberly Peterson is a transplant to Minneapolis from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. She has received her Bachelors and Masters of Arts degrees from Texas Woman’s University’s prestigious dance program.
Her graduate research entitled: B-Sides: Independent Record Labels and the Representation of Dancers explored the parallels between the independent music industry and current methods of dancer representation. This research has produced a vision of a for-profit system of representation for the arts based largely on the institutional structures of independent record labels, for profit businesses, and the unique atmosphere of her time at Texas Woman’s University. This research is still developing and Kimberly continues to develop her research for future presentation and publication.
She has taught as a substitute teacher for Denton Dance Conservatory, a pilot after-school program with the Greater Denton Arts Council, a master class series with Dance Fusion and a number of personally choreographed works. She has also served from 2000-2004 as the assistant to the coordinator of KidsDance: Rhythms for Life – a lecture demonstration on the principles of dance to area second graders that is now in its 11th season.
Drawing on her experience with producing dance works, Kimberly has served as a lighting designer, stage manager, event coordinator, volunteer and as an advisor in various roles: most recently RedEye Theatre, The Soap Factory, Minnesota Fringe Festival and MNPR’s Rock the Garden in collaboration with the Walker Arts Center.
She was also a featured choreographer, representing her university at the American College Dance Festival Association’s South Central Region’s informal concert series in 2002. Her work has been commissioned by Tarrant County College in 2006 and has been set upon Zenon Dance Studio’s scholarship dancers as a featured choreographer in 2010.3