SYTYCD: Behind the Scenes with Jourdan Epstein

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa

Thousands of dancers around the country audition for one of America’s hottest television shows, So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), but only a small portion of those pass the first milestone and receive their ticket to Las Vegas (or the “LA Callbacks” – the new venue this season). From there, the selected dancers continue to learn new choreography, oftentimes branching way out of their personal dance style, and compete for the next coveted round, the Top 20.

It is a tremendous feat to be among the Top 20 – a true testament to those dancers’ hard work, talent, passion and versatility. Any of those 20 dancers are the next to watch, sure to embark (or continue) on a successful professional career.

Here, Dance Informa speaks with one of this season’s talented Top 20 dancers, Jourdan Epstein. Epstein, who danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet for three years, auditioned for SYTYCD out of the desire to expand her artistic growth.

On the show, Epstein became a fan favorite as the contemporary ballerina with astounding technique, control, flexibility, strength and artistry. She made notable appearances in a duet with Marcquet Hill, choreographed by Sean Cheesman, as well as in a group piece choreographed by Sonya Tayeh.

On July 16, Epstein did not move up to the next round of SYTYCD, but her experience on the show has fueled her passion, and her positivity remains a strong value. She is sure to remain in the spotlight.

What made you want to audition for SYTYCD?

I wanted to audition for SYTYCD this year to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone trying new styles of dance and to inspire others to believe they can do it, too. SYTYCD is such a wonderful medium to get dance out to America, and I really wanted to share this wonderful art form. I danced with Complexions for the previous three years, but with the demanding schedule of SYTYCD, I had to take a hiatus from Complexions, but I am still in love with the company and Dwight and Desmond.

How did you feel for your first SYTYCD audition?

The first day of auditions for SYTYCD I wasn’t really nervous because I wanted to go out and share my story and make it like a performance rather than an audition. I always love to perform, so I was happy to get another chance to do it!

How did the audition run? Give us a sneak peek!

I auditioned in LA this year. The process is very exciting and very long. There are a couple rounds before the solo on stage because there are hundreds of auditionees lined up hours before registration, and to see everyone the judges would have to sit in the theater for a week straight! You don’t get time to practice on stage before you go, and you need to be aware of what’s going on, listen to the PA’s guiding you and hit in when they call your name! I auditioned with a piece dedicated to my brother this year. During his earlier years, he struggled with addiction, and it greatly affected me. I am able to express myself better with my body than with my words, and it meant a lot to me to be able to share my story with America through dance. I have received many messages from girls around the country saying my audition helped them to express their feelings with a loved one going through a hard time, and I am so thankful I could contribute to bettering someone else’s relationship.

Jourdan Epstein

Jourdan Epstein

What did you think of the judges and what they had to say after you danced?

I was so excited to meet and dance for the judges. Christina Applegate was the guest judge, and I just love her so much. She said I was captivating and gave her chills, which is so cool to hear from someone who you have looked to for inspiration. Mary said I “woke her up”, and Nigel predicted the Hot Tamale Train! I was very excited about that! Also, I have dreamed for years of hearing Mary’s scream in person, it was amazing!

How did you feel when they told you that you were moving on to the next round?
When I got my ticket, I was so excited! I jumped around and did a little dance and almost could not contain myself! It’s awesome to know your hard work is recognized!

Then you made the Top 20! What was that like, and what do you think you offered the show that made you get that far?

The Top 20 group piece was choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. I absolutely loved it and absolutely love her! Great way to start off the season. For my duet piece, Marat Daukeyev choreographed a classical piece to music from Swan Lake. To be honest, I was a little nervous because I have mostly done contemporary ballet since high school and hadn’t performed a classical variation in almost eight years! I was excited, though, and ready to work for it! I think I offered diversity to the show this year, I brought a style of ballet that no one really has before, and I hope to expand the idea of what ballet can be! I think the reason I made it as far as I did is because I stayed true to myself the whole time, was positive and ready to mold into a chameleon when anything was asked of me.

 As a Top 20 dancer, what was your schedule like?

Our schedule was pretty intense. We rehearsed six days a week, and they were jam-packed. You aren’t given classes in the styles you are asked to do, but you work closely with the choreographers and have to quickly adapt to their techniques. Although we did get one day off, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who found time to rehearse with my partner on our own. There really was not time to take a full day.

What was your relationship with the other finalists? Did you become friends, or was there a sense of competitiveness?

The group of 20 was really close. We were all so excited just to have made it that far, and it’s nice to know other people are in the same position as you. At least for me, I didn’t feel a competitiveness between the other dancers. I am very competitive with myself and expect the best from me that I can give, but it can only hurt you to compare yourself to others.

What choreographers did you like working with on the show? Is there anyone you were hoping to work with?

I have always loved Sonya. Her spirit is the most wonderful thing. She truly cares as much or more about the dancers than about the dance, and it shows in every ounce of her. There are so many choreographers I wanted to work with! I absolutely love Travis Wall’s ability to turn movement into a narrative. You feel like you’re watching an entire lifetime in a two-minute dance. I would have loved to do a piece of his.

What was the best part of the experience, and what was the hardest part?

The best part of this experience was really working with the different choreographers. They all bring a new light and perspective to their dances and rehearsals. It is so wonderful to learn from them. The hardest part was being pulled in so many directions at one time and trying to stay put together. You can have wardrobe call you, so you run up to the third floor, and as soon as you get to the top you are paged for hair on floor two, and then you hear the PA say you’re needed on stage. It’s hard, but you have to be willing to go with the flow!

Jourdan Epstein performs in a SYTYCD piece.

Jourdan Epstein performs in a ‘SYTYCD’ piece.

What did you want to take away from this opportunity?

I really wanted to keep growing with each week and get as many styles as I possibly could. From this experience, I have learned so much, and the best thing is hearing from younger dancers around that world who say they have been inspired. I truly want to keep inspiring and keep being inspired.

Do you think your SYTYCD experience and fame will help you in the next stages of your dance career? What do you hope to do now?

SYTYCD provides a great opportunity for the dancers on the show. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do after. I come from a company background, and I love concert work, but I also would love to do some commercial touring and Broadway. I like bringing the different genres of the dance world together, and I want to be able to do all of them!

What advice do you have for dancers who want to be on the show?

I would definitely say don’t be afraid! You have to be confident and be yourself. Believe that you can do it, and the judges will see in you what you see in yourself. Also, train in multiple styles! You really do have to pick up choreography in every style with unfamiliar partners, sometimes in only an hour before you perform them at callback week. Come prepared!

Is there anything else you want to share about your SYTYCD experience? 

I am so thankful to have been there. I am grateful for this experience and hope that I have touched viewers the same way I have been touched by so many participants on the show. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing it had to offer!

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