Eagle-eyed “So You Think You Can Dance” fans no doubt noticed a familiar face during the season 15 auditions earlier this year.
Jazz dancer Jay Jay Dixonbey, a Detroit native, had also auditioned for season 14 of the Fox reality show, and was invited to the Academy where the dancers are tested on how well they can pick up a variety of styles, perform solos and, in small groups, choreograph group numbers.
But even still, Dixonbey didn’t have confidence in his own abilities, which he believes led to his elimination at the end of the Academy.
After being cut, Dixonbey worked as an assistant at a dance convention called NUVO, which features faculty such as director/jazz choreographer Ray Leeper and contemporary choreographers Stacey Tookey and Travis Wall, the latter of whom placed second on the second season of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“It’s basically free training,” said Dixonbey, who has been dancing since he was a child.
He also booked a spot on tour with Wall’s dance company Shaping Sound, which he said gave him much more confidence and helped him grow stronger physically and in his technique.
From a viewer’s perspective watching his season 15 audition, Dixonbey appeared to be just as dynamic a jazz dancer as before, but he knew something was different the second time around.
“Even from when I walked into the building for season 15 for auditions, I felt more comfortable,” he said. “I felt not as intimidated as I did season 14, and I knew all the hard work that I put in before this year. I trusted myself and I was like ‘You have nothing to worry about. You’ve been doing this for so long. Go out there and kill out.’ ”
Dancing to Al Green’s “I Can’t Get Next To You,” Dixonbey performed a routine that showed off both his power and personality.
“Your swipe. I mean, you jumped up. It was like a young salmon jumping out of a Scottish stream,” judge Nigel Lythgoe said. “Wow. Congratulations.”
Dixonbey once again made it the Academy, then to the top 20, then to the top 10 dancers and the “So You Think You Can Dance” live shows.
During the show, Dixonbey and partner Jensen Arnold, a Latin ballroom dancer, danced a variety of styles, everything from the samba and African jazz to contemporary and hip-hop.
“I trained in everything,” he said. “I did hip-hop. I did tap. I did everything. It was really fun to venture off into different styles even though I was a jazz dancer because I knew I was stronger at other styles so I was excited to show those other sides.”
In between live shows, dancers only had three or four days to learn a routine and make it look effortless.
Dixonbey said it was a challenging timeline, but it helped him to be more efficient and to work faster.
This time around, Dixonbey made it to the top 6. Arnold placed second and contemporary dancer Hannahlei Cabanilla was named the winner.
“With the show, it teaches you a lot about yourself,” Dixonbey said. “It shows you a lot of things. It definitely really is a crash course about how the industry is and how it can be. It basically taught me that I need to not stress out. I need to calm down and I just need to breathe sometimes because when you stress yourself more and you already have so much more to worry about, it makes it not well at all.”
Fans can see Dixonbey, Arnold, Cabanilla and the rest of the season 15 top 10 during the “So You Think You Can Dance Live!” tour, which comes to the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Sunday.
During the tour, dancers will perform fan favorite pieces from the show, some of which have been turned into group numbers, and solos.
“It’s easier to perform the dances on tour because we’re not in a competition obviously,” Dixonbey said. “We’re not as stressed and we’re able to have fun and dance … (The audience isn’t) watching a TV screen, they’re actually watching us live so it’s fun to throw out that energy to them. You’re dancing their favorite dance and they’re going crazy. It feels so good and you want to do even better.”
Once the tour wraps up in Spokane, Dixonbey is looking forward to life as a dancer and instructor. He’d love to teach at dance conventions in the future, but he also wouldn’t mind getting invited back to “So You Think You Can Dance” as an all-star.
“I’m just continuing to keep going, keep pushing for more,” he said. “After the show, you can’t go anywhere but up from here.”
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