"So You Think You Can Dance" Winner Melanie Moore Tackles Broadway

Melanie Moore. Photo by Susan Stripling, courtesy of Moore

The first thing you notice about Melanie Moore is that she's an incredible dancer, with superhuman lines and an engaging performance quality. The next thing you notice is her modesty, as she expresses her gratitude for those who have taken a chance on her. But clearly, she's earned all the success she's garnered. Since her Season 8 win of "So You Think You Can Dance," she's danced with Travis Wall's Shaping Sound and made a name for herself on Broadway, originating the role of Peter Pan in Finding Neverland and currently playing Ermengarde in the revival of Hello, Dolly! Moore hopes to one day act in a play and have a solo song in a Broadway show. To that end, she's immersed herself in voice lessons, believing the greatest way to improve is to constantly challenge herself to try new things.

1. On landing her first Broadway show:

"When I auditioned for Finding Neverland, my attitude was, 'What have I got to lose?' Mia Michaels was the choreographer, which was exciting because I'd worked with her before, but other than that I didn't know what to expect. They asked me to come prepared to sing a British pop song, so I sang 'Stop' by the Spice Girls and I performed with hand gestures. Everyone was so surprised by that random burst of choreography. They didn't know what to do with me. Luckily, they gave me the job."

Photo by Susan Stripling (courtesy of Moore)

2. On striking the right chord:

"When I left Finding Neverland, I got to help Mia recast my part. Being on the other side of the table, I realized how much a choreographer can pick up on a performer's energy. It's important that dancers learn to toe the line between wanting a job and being desperate. If we're fighting to be seen or panicking that we might not be good enough, choreographers can see that. That's not the energy anyone wants to bring into a show."

Moore and Ricky Ubeda at the "Fiddler on the Roof" premier Photo by Bruce Glikas (courtesy of Moore)

3. On making lemonade from lemons:

"I'd always dreamed of being in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. I auditioned for the company twice before it dissolved [in 2015] and was cut at the end of the audition both times. It was really hard for me at the time, but I redirected my plans and took a chance on auditioning for some Broadway shows instead. If that company had been my only end goal, I would be devastated about my current life's trajectory. I've learned not to set expectations for myself that are totally inflexible. Don't limit yourself."

Moore at Rehearsal with Travis Wall for the 2016 Country Music Awards(courtesy of Moore)

Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.

His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.

"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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