He can dance


POSTED: Tuesday, June 09, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

For the second consecutive year, a dancer from Hawaii has cracked the top 20 of the Fox hit competition series “;So You Think You Can Dance.”;

Local audiences will have their first chance to vote on Kupono Aweau's performance when the Top 20 contestants deliver their first performances subject to audience vote tomorrow night, but for the Kailua-born dancer, no performance thus far has been more difficult than his audition in Seattle.

“;It was just humbling for me. The process alone is difficult and I went up alone. I just wasn't ready.”;

He was thrown by the criticism that his moves are feminine, and has worked hard the past few weeks toward changing that.

“;Seattle was the worst, but also the best because of the criticism. I've learned so much already, and I don't ever want to hear those comments again,”; he said by phone from Los Angeles yesterday, where the competition is being held. “;Luckily, Mia (Michaels, judge and choreographer) saw something in me that she thought she could work on.”;

After passing a choreography round for dancers whose abilities were in question, Aweau made it to the Vegas Week trials, which saw a group of about 150 dancers pared away to the 20 finalists, 10 men and 10 women.

Aweau, a Kamehameha Schools graduate, started dancing at age 16. During the competition, he quickly found himself being compared to last year's Hawaii finalist, Mark Kanemura, who made it to the top six. Both dancers, as well as Broadway dancer Jason Tam (who appears in the “;A Chorus Line”; revival documentary “;Every Little Step,”; opening July 31 at the Consolidated Kahala Theatres) trained at Mario Pacleb's 24-7 Danceforce studios, and Kanemura was Aweau's instructor.

“;The judges saw it right away. Nigel (Lythgoe, judge and executive producer) flat out said he recognized a bit of quirkiness that reminded him of Mark, recalling that he was from Hawaii as well.

“;I think some of our movements are going to be similar. He was my teacher, but I don't want to be seen as copying Mark. I have my own style.”;

Even so, he remains in close contact with Kanemura, who is now living in Los Angeles.

“;He's helped me a lot through the whole process. We're communicating every day; it really helps to have someone in your corner.”;

If not for Kanemura's success last year, Aweau said he probably would not have entered the competition.

“;It's so crazy! You watch the show and those dancers look like gods. You think, 'No way! They're too good.'”;

The dancers—whether they specialize in jazz, ballet, hip-hop, Latin, ballroom or Broadway styles—are all removed from their comfort zone and are required to excel at every form.

To prepare, Aweau said he studied ballet and jazz, “;as much as Hawaii has to offer. The industry is so small here.”;

Watching the dancers compete in the show's past four seasons, he said, “;It looks impossible. You just don't think you're good enough. But to see Mark do as well as he did, I said to myself, 'I think I can.'”;

After starting to teach at 24-7 Danceforce, which he said has seen increased enrollment because of Kanemura's success, Aweau made it his New Year's resolution to be on the show this year.

What makes the competition even more difficult is that the dancers, most of whom are accustomed to dancing solo, usually as part of an ensemble, are required to partner, adding another difficulty, but Aweau has taken this in stride.

“;I absolutely love it! When you're dancing with a partner, you're feeding off the other person's energy and vibe. I just feel like with two people you can be twice as strong.

“;You're gonna work intensely with the choreographers, bringing their vision to life, but they're never going to leave you stranded. If there's something you're just not getting, they'll work with you. And even though this is a competition, we're really like a family. We don't want to see anyone go home, so we help each other.

“;It's tough, but you really see what you're made of.”;

He admits to still feeling intimidated when watching the other dancers.

“;It's terrifying. You see all the warm-ups and you see some grabbing their legs and stretching it to there. I can't do half that stuff, but I try to have focus and not have any doubt. Negativity never does you any good.

“;I didn't think I'd get to Vegas, but going home was not an option for me. Now that I've gotten through, I plan on taking this.”;

The Top 20


» Randi Evans: Jazz dancer from Orem, Utah; age 23

» Karla Garcia: Jazz/contemporary dancer from Oxon Hill, Md.; 23

» Caitlin Kinney: Contemporary dancer from Annapolis, Md.; 21

» Asuka Kondoh: Latin ballroom dancer from San Francisco; 25

» Janette Manrara: Salsa dancer from Miami; 25

» Jeanine Mason: Contemporary dancer from Miami; 18

» Kayla Radomski: Jazz/contemporary dancer from Aurora, Colo.; 18

» Melissa Sandvig: Ballet dancer from Los Alamitos, Calif.; 29

» Paris Torres: Contemporary dancer from Issaquah, Wash.; 19

» Ashley Valerio: Contemporary dancer from Mesa, Ariz.; 22


» Kupono Aweau: Lyrical/contemporary dancer from Kailua; 23

» Tony Bellissimo: Hip-hop dancer from Buffalo, N.Y.; 20

» Brandon Bryant: Contemporary dancer from Miami; 19

» Phillip Chbeeb: Popper from Houston; 20

» Jason Glover: Lyrical/contemporary dancer from Fresno, Calif.; 21

» Vitolio Jeune: Contemporary dancer from Petionville, Haiti, living in Miami; 26

» Max Kapitannikov: Latin ballroom dancer from Moscow, living in Brooklyn, N.Y.; 26

» Evan Kasprzak: Broadway dancer from West Bloomfield, Mich.; 21

» Ade Obayomi: Contemporary dancer from Chandler, Ariz.; 20

» Jonathan Platero: Salsa dancer from Sanford, Fla.; 21







Wednesday, June 10, 2009

        “;Every Little Step”; will open at Consolidated Kahala Theatres on July 31. Originally, this article listed an incorrect date.