Wake Forest grad makes top 20 on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’

They definitely think she can dance and, apparently, the third time is the charm.

Emily James, who graduated from Wake Forest University in May, is one of the top 20 contestants on “So You Think You Can Dance,” a competition reality show to become America’s Favorite Dancer that airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on WGHP/FOX8.

When James auditioned in Chicago during the spring semester — her third run at the show — her mom went with her, and her aunt and three younger cousins from Chicago were there for support, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. She received a callback to go to Los Angeles for the next round.

She also auditioned her freshman and junior years, making in to the callbacks in Los Angeles both times but not to the top 20.

As a sort of bonus this time, Nigel Lithgow, the producer of the show and a judge, invited one of her cousins onstage to audition as well. She did well, but was too young to compete.

Dancers — chosen from auditions in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta — converged in Los Angeles to be put through their paces to find out if they could learn choreography and dance with partners. Many of the dancers were solo performers.

James, 21, was chosen as one of 10 female dancers who will perform in the final episodes when TV audience members determine who moves to the next round of competition.

There are also 10 male dancers. The 20 dancers were introduced last Wednesday night and did their first official dances of the competition. James’ piece was in her specialty, contemporary.

Jason Derulo, one of the judges, said, “I did not want that to end … Sometimes, it’s not really about the technique. Sometimes, it’s about the story and about touching people, and that’s exactly what you did: You touched everybody in this room.”

Lithgow countered, “When you bring the technique, which you brought to it, together with the emotion, it’s absolutely superb.”

In an online interview, James said that she started dancing when she was 2½ and got kicked out of her first ballet class.

“I was kind of a troublemaker in the class,” she said.

She went on to take tap, jazz and hip-hop. When she discovered contemporary, that became her focus.

“I think my greatest strength would be my quality of dance. I’m not a big trickster,” she said. “I won’t whip out … the crazy jumps or flips, but I’ve been told that your quality can be considered a trick. So, hopefully my quality of dance and musicality will show through my movement.”

It showed last week, when James and her partner, Casey Askew, did a sensual and romantic contemporary dance to “All of Me,” by John Legend. Her performance was strong, fluid and emotionally expressive. She had a different partner Wednesday night.

James majored in marketing and minored in dance at WFU. She performed with the WFU Dance Company for four years and studied with Nina Lucas, Brantley Shapiro and other dance teachers at Wake Forest.

Lucas had high praise for James.

“She is stunning. I’m real happy for her,” Lucas said. “She’s just brilliant. She’s a great kid. Who knows what might happen with this kind of exposure?”

Lucas, who teaches modern dance and jazz, explained what distinguishes contemporary dance.

“Contemporary has more of the release technique,” Lucas said. “It requires the dancer to be able to dance well both technically and expressively; it’s the new modern dance.

“Modern dance was a rebellion against classical ballet that emerged and developed throughout the 20th century.

“Contemporary is the 21st-century version of modern dance,” Lucas said.

If James stays on the show, she will be required to perform dance styles outside her specialty, including jazz, Broadway, hip-hop and ballroom.

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