SYTYCD, Season 9, Episode 7

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Kenny Ortega/Courtesy of

Tonight it was time for the Top 20 to take the stage and compete for the viewers’ votes!

The opening number was a phenomenal piece – office workers and bosses using mug and desk props, among other things. An intense number for the beginning of the show, keeping the dancers in a small space – but their movements, even in that small space, expressed the high stress of the piece perfectly.

Then it was time to welcome the Top 20 as individuals – so great to see Detriot’s Will Thomas strut his stuff!

Mary Murphy, Nigel Lythgoe and Kenny Ortega were all on deck to judge this evening – Happy Birthday Mr. Lythgoe!

We’re voting for individuals this week, not couples.

What’s coming for next week? Two boys and two girls will be cut. The judges are making these decisions at the beginning stages.

First up were Witney and Chehon. Each couple had nine seconds to talk about themselves. What we learned: Witney is afraid of crickets. Chehon is bilingual and a dual citizen. They took on the Samba to “Jump.” Witney look like a Latin pop princess in her sparkly pink outfit. The couple’s movements were sharp.

“You are a star,” said Lythgoe to Witney, though he thought Chehon was a bit out of his style, and apparently, his feet.

During the commercial break we saw a preview for “Step Up: Revolution.” Join the Mob here and you could be in a music video!

Then we had Tiffany who has baby hands, and George and he hates the outside, together for a Sonya routine. The lines and the movements were beautiful, expressing great emotions for people so young.

“You both surrendered to this choreography,” said Murphy. “You were living it.”

We then met Janaya, who wants to meet Shamoo and is afraid of Chucky, and Brandon, who is from Kansas City and very allergic to animals. They would work together to build an emotional hip hop routine by Tabitha and Napoleon. AND OMG TABITHA IS PREGGERS!

Janaya and Brandon’s routine required a lot of partner work and you could sense the level of trust that existed between the two contestants.

Alexa was up next. She loves red lipstick. Daniel, her partner, is Australian. VERY Australian. They had a jazz routine. And speaking of partnering and props…and tight red suits…looked like Alexa’s diet of sprinkles can’t be that unhealthy. Looked tricky but the couple pulled it off. Lythoe wanted more passion.

Next: Amber. She loves bunnies and used to run track. Nick. He just took 23 credits and said it was crazy “don’t do it.” They were set up with the Viennese Waltz. Did they get it together in time?

Murphy thought it was dreamy – and Amber pulled it off in heels.

“So lovely,” said Ortega.

However, the Viennese Waltz, like the Disco, rarely does well with fans of the show.

Courtesy of

Remember Amelia from the auditions? Her dad is a tattoo artist. Partner Will (YAY) loves orange…but apparently not short interviews. Character Pop was the style assigned to these colorful dancers and the audience loved it.

Janelle can cook anything. Dareian can imitate Donald Duck. They had to tackle African Jazz. Very fast, totally in sync, and, as Tyra Banks would say, “Fierce!”

“It was like a jungle dance-off!” Murphy said. She was proud of Janelle for tackling the new styles (Janelle is a belly dancer).

A special reminder: National Dance Day is July 28. Please visit for more info!

                Meet Eliana: she hates raisins. And Cyrus: he has gauges. Together: Broadway. “Run and tell that!”

“She just gets down!” said Murphy of Eliana. Ortega felt as though he were at a Broadway show.

“You gave it your heart and soul, and you kicked it to the back wall,” he said. Lythgoe believes she has set the bar for the other girls.

We met Audrey – she loves Taylor Lautner – and Matthew – he loves hiking. And then what we love – a Titanic routine by Travis Wall to “Enchanted Melody.”

Last of the night were Lindsay, who hates tomatoes (me too), and “karate kid” Cole who is a cliché, with a fiery Paso Double to “Unstoppable.” Very passionate and highly dramatic – would be a perfect ten on “Dancing with the Stars.” It was Lythgoe’s favorite Paso Double, from Cole out of the guys on the show – ever.

Time to vote!

SYTYCD, Season 9, Episode 6

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

America…Meet your Top 20!

Courtesy of

The Ladies:

Alexa Anderson

Amber Jackson

Amelia Lowe

Audrey Case

Eliana Girard

Janaya French

Janelle Issis

Lindsay Arnold

Tiffany Maher

Witney Carson

The Gentlemen:

Brandon Mitchell

Chehon Wespi-Tschopp

Cole Horibe

Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

Daniel Baker

Dareian Kujawa

George Lawrence II

Matthew Kazmierczak

Nick Bloxsom-Carter

Will Thomas

Let the competition begin.

Who are you rooting for this season and why? Let us know in the comments below!

“Breaking Pointe,” Season 1, Episode 3

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Tonight on the CW’s “Breaking Pointe” it was drama as usual: the ugly side of ballet, “the side nobody ever sees” the tension, the stress and drive for perfection, and, of course, the romantic problems. And this all unfolded during rehearsals for Ballet West’s upcoming performances.

This week dancers were for parts in “Paquita” and everyone wanted the leads. Adam brought in Elena Kunikova, a “Paquita” veteran, to get them to push for perfection. Rex was extremely stressed about getting a lead.

“His (Rex’s) biggest drawback is that he’s incredibly insecure,” said Adam. He put Katherine and Christiana up for the female lead. Then it was Beckanne against Allison for a role. Everyone wants to be first cast.

“For a dancer, a leading role is what they live for…they’re all trying to be the best…they can be,” Adam said.

But Ronnie wasn’t worried – he was going to hang out with his sister and get his tattoo touched up. He opened up a little bit about his family and childhood. He was really into racing as a kid; his father is very supportive of his dance career.

Adam went back to make his decisions.

Katherine and Ronnie were chosen for the principal lead, first cast. Christiana and Rex, second. Beckanne, first cast, lead role. Allison seemed overwhelmed: she is in all three ballets for the season. Adam isn’t concerned – he wants her on stage opening night and knows she can do it. Elena’s advice? “Just dance.”


Beckanne/Courtesy of


Beckanne worried about her youth. She is only 19, way younger than the principal dancers in the company, and her friends are in the corps. The older girls don’t seem to really accept her into their group.

While the girls were out, they touched on body image issues. They believe that no one in the company could possibly anorexic. With all the calories they burn they eat multiple meals per day; they burn thousands of calories during a show. Good to hear. Body images were also brought up in the season premiere of ABC Family’s “Bunheads.” Then sexuality: Thomas, 24, is the only gay dancer at Ballet West. The Allison and the other Katie decide to take him out to find a guy, and they succeeded.

Then back to business. Rehearsals for “Paquita”  started. Allison got more and more frustrated with Adam. She said she feels as though he’s rushing her to perform all of these ballets. Beckanne thinks it’s easy.

“Beckanne is incredibly gifted…she is learning very well,” Elena said.

Leave it to Rex to bring Allison’s spirits up – and cook her dinner. Then (big surprise) we’re back to her not wanting a committed relationship.

So where’s Katie of Katie and Ronald? Hanging out with Beckanne. And of course they’re eating too.

“Dance Magazine” wants to do an article on Beckanne as a rising star in the dance world. Christiana did not seem pleased.

Christiana/Courtesy of

The dancers relaxed in the hot springs and had a mud war after a long week of rehearsal. They know that next week will be just as tough.  Dancing in the studio is one thing. Dancing on stage with props is another.

Watch full episodes for free online and make sure to tune in next Thursday at 8/9c.

“Bunheads” Season 1, Episode 1

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Courtesy of

ABC Family’s new series “Bunheads” premiered on Monday, June 6.

The show, from executive producer Amy Sherman (“Gilmore Girls”), follows Vegas showgirl Michelle (Sutton Foster) from Sin City to a small town (called Paradise), where there is apparently no movie theatre, for her new husband. But there is a dance studio.

The studio is owned by her mother-in-law Fanny (Kelly Bishop) and home to bunheads. What exactly IS a bunhead?

“Anyone who devotes their life to dance,” said Emma Dumont, who plays Melanie Segal on the show.

“Just someone who … ballet consumes them,” added Bailey Buntain, who plays Ginny Thompson.

“Just kind of an obsessed ballerina,” agreed Kaitlyn Jenkins, “Bettina ‘Boo’ Jordon.”

(Watch the interview HERE)

And then there’s the obvious: a ballerina. Ballerinas wear buns.

But Vegas showgirls wear glitz outfits with big feathers.

The costumes in the opening scene, when Michelle was still in Vegas, were brilliant.

Courtesy of

As the show opens, she loves her job, but hates that topless girls who follow her act, saying that it’s a terrible message to the girls of America, “Hey girls, forget about actually learning to dance, just take your top off and stand there.”

After the show Michelle tells her BFF that it sounds like she’d be leaving her Vegas job soon for a role in “Chicago.” Then love steps in. Or, rather, a present-toting, flower-wielding admirer who appears once a month to court Michelle. We are led to assume that this has been happening for an entire year.  “Stalker” was probably an adept title for Mr. Hubbell. Michelle quickly ditches him. Quick time lapse to the a.m. and then, as Michelle put it, “show time.”

The “Chicago” dream came to a quick end (a.k.a. a “no” the first time the director laid eyes on her). Back to a run-down apartment Michelle went. Back to the Vegas show. And back was Hubbell, this time with jewelry and another dinner invitation. This time, Michelle went.

During dinner, Hubbell proposed, prompting a humorous no from Michelle… followed by a very drunk yes. Then, hello Paradise, and hello mother-in-law who was trained by Balanchine and runs a ballet studio that looks to have been converted from a barn in her back yard.

At the studio, Michelle meets several of the bunheads. Only the first episode and we’re facing body image and dieting issues for ballerinas. Though bunhead Sasha is thin, the others girls are a tad more shapely, with one constantly complaining that her breasts are simply too big.

“But none of that means you shouldn’t try,” Mother tells a sad, “big-boned” Boo.

Mother is also on the hunt for a missing tutu. If not found, “The Nutcracker” won’t have a Clara. She is preparing her students for a visit from the head of the Joffrey Ballet School as well. And she has to handle Michelle joining her and Hubbell in their home.

Mother provides a less than warm welcome (though she does offer to through Michelle a wedding party) and neither does anyone else in town, especially a sales associate from Sparkle who claims that Hubbell was the only man she ever loved. Michelle and Mother eventually warm up to one another in a sort of “Gilmore Girls” mother/daughter relationship spin.

Courtesy of

However, Michelle doesn’t love Hubbell. And she tells him at their party. He seems to think she will grow to love him. I think he loves her because she reminds him of his mother.

But will we get to see their relationship blossom? Find out next Monday at 9/8c.

Watch “Bunheads” anytime on

Breaking Pointe, Season 1, Episode 2

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

After the dramatic premiere of “Breaking Pointe” last week, where dancers were on edge about contracts, what could possibly happen this week?


Adam wants his company, Ballet West, to be at the top, and that could depend on who stays or goes.

In this episode, the time arrived for dancers to accept or reject their new contracts.

Ronnie had still had not signed his contract. He went to dancers in the company for advice: they urged him to accept. Ronnie said he feels as though he has paid his dues and deserves the principal position. The girls didn’t seem to want him to go – they like his abs.

Ronnie and Beckanne/Courtesy of

We did get to see the guys let loose at some sports management treatment and Rex and Ronald relax in San Francisco with their family. Ronald’s family loves Katie, whose contract was not renewed, but thinks it would be smart for Ronald to keep his contract.

Romance, flirtation, drama, all were heavy in the air. And so was the stress of rehearsing for the ominous spring program, mentioned but not really paid attention to in the first episode. The company will perform three ballets for the program.

“Petite Mort” is one of these ballets. It’s modern, it’s sexy, and it involves swords, which Ronnie said he thinks represent penises.

The love stories in the ballet must be believable.

Christiana’s husband is also a dancer at Ballet West. She thinks it’s “sweet” when he gets jealous. She believes that all dance partners must have some level of intimacy.

Allison, again, distracted one of Rex’s rehearsals; he remains hopelessly confused about their relationship.

Rex and Allison/Courtesy of

Allison spoke to fellow female dancers after rehearsal. Some seemed to think that dating someone outside the ballet world gives a “fresh perspective.” But Allison hasn’t seen that. Her partner of seven years believed Allison loved ballet more than him. Perhaps that’s why Allison keeps Rex around.

Katie, back from Idaho where she auditioned for the Idaho Ballet and was offered an apprenticeship, felt horribly uncomfortable at rehearsal. Even though she was let go, she still has several months left with the company. She said she still secretly wishes Adam would ask her back.

“The thought of leaving just kills me,” she said, crying.

Sometimes long, drawn-out decisions are the most difficult.

In the end, Ronald renewed his contract.

“Not matter what, I’m going to be with you,” Ronald assured a scared Katie. She seemed understanding: dance careers are hard to start and hard to keep.

Next week : who will get the leads?

SYTYCD, Season 9, Episode 2

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

“So You Think You Can Dance” took viewers to the paradise of Los Angeles in last night’s audition episode.

Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murhpy were joined by “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Murphy laid down the law, which included “no booty shaking.”

First to audition was Alexa Anderson, 19, who made it to Vegas last year but was cut in the top 20. This year she was back again, and hoping her time to explore dance and learn to relax would earn her a place in this season. She channeled a unique energy in to her powerful moves. That got her a ticket to Vegas, with no comments at all from the judges. But will it earn her a place in the top 20?

Jontel Johnny “Waacks” Gibson, 20, a waacker was up next, with an outfit as bubbly as his personality. Gibson had been waacking for almost one year, inspired to take up this odd dance form by watching videos on YouTube, and also told the judges he had experience with contemporary and hip hop. He managed to do it without looking crazy, one of his goals, to a disco song – maybe he’ll be one of the first to do well with disco should he make it onto the show – and impressed Lythgoe with his musicality. He was sent to the choreography round.

Next up was Eliana Girard, a contemporary dancer who attending the Joffrey Ballet School, and also danced and did aerial pole with Cirque du Soleil. She blew Lythgoe away immediately with her long legs. She certainly used them effectively, stretching through in her leaps. She received thunderous applause from the audience.

“I felt as though you felt your music, and it was just beautiful to watch…one of the best girls this year,” Lythgoe pronounced, with Murphy adding that Girard is definitely top 20 material.

“We’re like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie… [except] we’re broke” – The Ninja Twins “with attitude” were about to take the stage. Nick and James Aragon dedicated their contemporary performance to their first dance teacher who passed away this week. The two were like synchronized swimmers on the stage, taking on Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” with coordination and flair. There were chants of “Vegas,” but since the twins were over 30, they were sent home, chilling the crowd.

“We aren’t dead, dang!” said one, ever optimistic.

“Everything is going to end up good in the end” was the story of the next dancer’s audition. Six months ago when Sam Lenarz, 18, came home from dance, she found her mother had kicked her out. It dealt her a blow, but best friend’s mom, Mary, brought her in.

“You can always believe in yourself,” Lenarz said, with Mary cheering her on in the audience.

The judges agreed she was a beautiful dancer, but needed to find freedom in her movement, and placed her in choreography.

“This is your destiny, to be a beautiful brilliant dancer…I am so sorry…your family wasn’t here,” said Ferguson to a teary Lenarz.

Surfer/tap dancer Caley Carr, 25, was up next. Tap was the perfect medium for his ADHD as a child, he said, especially when he realized no one was telling him to stop making noise. The judges certainly weren’t about to tell him to stop, with a brilliantly witty audition to “Somebody That I Used to Know,” immediately sending him to the choreography round.

“You have a mustache, you surf, and you tap…I’m bored,” yawned Ferguson jokingly.

Next was Megan Branch’s audition. Murphy said she cared about Branch from the get-go and Ferguson commented on her likeability.

“You’re a fire cracker aren’t you?” Lythgoe said. “I felt your joy.” Branch was sent to Vegas.

Martial artist and dancer Cole Horibe was ready to bring his shaman to the stage, with powerful moves and music, eliciting a “wow” from the judges.

“That was absolutely stunning to watch,” said Lythgoe.

“You have major presence,” added Ferguson.

“You know what, you know how to dance,” said Murphy, noting that she was skeptical when Horibe began. Horibe was on his way to Vegas.

Hoops and fire? Just another day in the life of David Matz, 27. Matz provided the most unique audition of the season, dancing in his hoop, demonstrating his strength and balance.

“I have never seen that before,” Murphy commented to Ferguson during the audition.

“It’s amazing what you can do with one of Cat Deely’s old earrings,” Ferguson said when Matz was done.

“I don’t know what else you can do dance-wise,” Lythgoe said, and sent Matz off to wait for the choreography round.

Stephen Jacobsen was up to show the judges what not classical ballet looked like. They did not like what they saw. Lythgoe was especially upset: Jacobsen had danced for 17 years and worked with the Cincinnati Ballet. Lythgoe offered him a redo, and, after, a ticket to Vegas.

“I used to be, I guess, like, cocky,” said Jonathan Anzalone, 25, who first auditioned for SYTYCD four years ago.

“You just have to keep going,” he said. “Life is beautiful.” He was ready to show the judges the real him.

Murphy said Vegas. Lythgoe said choreography. It was up to Ferguson to break the tie. He agreed with Lythgoe.

Jasmine Mason and Marshea Kidd were ready to dance again, after recovering from a car accident that happened six weeks ago. Kidd was pronounced dead on arrival and in a coma for two days. Both would give beautiful auditions. But would both get tickets to Vegas? Yes.

Robert Roldan and Courtney Galiano, former SYTYCD contestants, were ready to take the remaining dancers through the choreography round. Many of the dancers sent there, including Matz and Anzalone, decided it was just too much. But Lenarz got her ticket.

Roldan and Galiano/Courtesy of

Next week SYTYCD hits the South.

“Can Nigel handle the heat?” Deely mused.

Vote for Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Do you love “Dancing with the Stars”?

How about Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward?

Hines Ward/Courtesy of

Then don’t miss your chance to vote for Ward to be on “Dancing with the Stars” – the all-star season!

Ward first made his dancing debut on season 12 of the widely popular competition show, and brought the Mirror Ball Trophy home to Pittsburgh with partner Kym Johnson.

Representing Steeler Nation with black and gold on "Dancing with the Stars"/Courtesy of

“The fans are the reason I won the Mirror Ball trophy, so, for me, if time permits and it works out with my schedule, it would be something I’d strongly consider if the fans want me to be on the show again,” Ward was quoting as saying on

Vote here!

Ward and Johnson dance the samba on “Dancing with the Stars.” Please note that voting for this particular season is closed. Please vote for Ward to join the all-star season cast by following the link above.

Spotlight On: Katherine Alexander

By: Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

From prima ballerina to founder of Exhalations Dance Theatre, Katherine Alexander has come a long way.

Katherine Alexander during Exhalations' "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

When the 21-year-old pharmacy student began ballet she stuck to it. “I was a very strict ballerina in high school,” Alexander said. She would practice between 24 to 26 hours per week.

When she began to look at colleges, Point Park University was definitely in mind; but Alexander chose Duquesne University for pharmacy. There was a dance team at Duquesne, but no dance theatre, so Alexander began Exhalations Dance Theatre.

Exhalations broke the ballerina from her mold. “I never thought as a strict ballerina I would be performing some of the things I’m performing,” Alexander said. She has now added contemporary, modern, Fosse jazz, tap, ballroom and hip-hop to her repertoire. She described the experience as, “Oh my gosh, I’m wearing foot thongs.” She has also studied Martha Graham contemporary, as well as Greek, Ukrainian and Bulgarian folk dancing.

Alexander, front, with Brandi Salter, during an Exhalations' modern number/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Alexander also dances with the Junior Tamburitzans, focusing on Croatian dance and music, and plays an instrument called the brač, which belongs to the tambura family. The instrument is, “like a little guitar that sounds like a mandolin,” Alexander described. She enjoys performing with the Tamburitzans for, “celebration, carrying on traditions,” she said.

Alexander performing "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

“Anytime I am on stage…that is happiness for me,” she said of her dancing, choreography and teaching.

Alexander taught and choreographed Exhalations' beginngers class for "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Alexander has been fortunate, with no serious injuries holding her back from what she loves. However, she does have to be careful to avoid dislocations, as her extreme flexibility can sometimes cause them.

When asked if she had any regrets about not attending Point Park, her answer was no. Alexander is, “excited about being a pharmacist, and would not have been able to start Exhalations,” had things gone differently. She is grateful to her family, who has given her great support with her Exhalations venture. Her mother supplies costumes and food for the shows, and her aunt and brother help out as well.

Alexander also performs with Spotlight Musical Theatre Company and Encore Show Choir, and belongs to KE and ASP.