What's better than a competition that gives promising choreographers a whole bunch of funding? How about a competition that also puts on a must-see show as part of the process? That's the genius model of the Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Every year since 2009, the contest has brought upwards of a dozen finalists, selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, to present their choreography in a fabulous showcase at the Dance Teacher Summit. On Saturday night, we got to see the work of no fewer than 21(!) talented finalists in this year's performance.


The judging panel—whose task we did not envy—featured boldface names Mia Michaels, Tyce Diorio, Tessandra Chavez, and Dance Magazine Editor in Chief Jennifer Stahl. Who'd they select for the top prizes? The winners are...

Second Runners-Up (It's a Tie!): Rudy Abreu and Erik Saradpon

All hail the power of a strong all-male ensemble. Abreu's powerful work, "Pray," set to Sam Smith's song of the same name, featured a tribe of men in white grappling with the ideas of death and spirituality. Saradpon's "Play" also highlighted a talented cast of guys in an infectiously fun Michael Jackson mashup, which turned a collection of briefcases into a crazy sort of jukebox.

Rudy Abreu's "Pray" (Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher)

First Runner-Up: Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson

This choreographic duo (also known as JA Collective) from the USC Kaufman School of Dance mixed contemporary and hip hop in mind-meltingly ingenious ways in their piece, "Off the Hill." A special shout-out to their excellent group of dancers, which included our faves Simrin Player and Jake Tribus.

Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson's "Off the Hill" (Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher)

Winner: Mary Grace McNally

Mixing earnest emotion with tongue-in-cheek wit can be a tricky thing, but McNally's remarkable piece, "Not for Picking," found just the right balance between the two. Her sophisticated choreographic voice found beautiful expression in a strong cast of women.

Mary Grace McNally's "Not for Picking" (Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher)

Congrats to all the winners! Each will receive funds to produce a full-length show—and we can't wait to see what their brilliant minds come up with.

This story originally appeared on dancespirit.com.

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