Each of These "WOD" Contestants Have Amazing Teachers Helping Them Achieve Their Dreams

Andrés Peñate and Charity Anderson, photo courtesy NBC

NBC's second season of "World of Dance" is in full swing, and we are obsessed. The dancing is incredible, and the stories are crazy inspiring—what more could we want? Tonight marks Episode 3 in the race toward a million dollars. To get you pumped and refresh your memories of the past two weeks, we caught up with three standout acts: Andrés Peñate and Charity Anderson; Jaxon Willard; and Sean Lew and Kaycee Rice. We've loved hearing their experiences so far and are happy to say that each act had the support of teachers and mentors behind them. Check it out!

Andrés and Charity

Dance Teacher: Where did you train?

Andrés Peñate: Legacy Dance Studio and Center Stage Performing Arts Studio.

Charity Anderson: Charisma Dance Studio and Center Stage Performing Arts Studio.

DT: Who choreographed this number?

AP: We did. We went to different teachers who gave us perspective on what they thought looked good, but ultimately we were the ones who choreographed and cleaned it.

DT: How did you feel when you were told you made it through qualifiers?

CA: Amazing! When I was on that stage for the first time, I had chills running through my whole body. Then when I saw the judges on their feet, I was like, "What just happened?!"

AP: Before we went onstage, we told each other we had no expectations and that we were going to do it for the experience. When we found out we got through, it was one of the best moments of our lives.

DT: What do you hope this experience does for your career?

AP: I hope this gives us the exposure we need to plant ourselves in the industry. It was important for me to leave my mark and be remembered.

CA: I am basically a nobody, so coming into this completion was so intimidating and was such a dream for me. Nobody knows who I am, and I hope I get my name out there and get some jobs, because I love to perform.

DT: What pre-show rituals did you do before going onstage?

AP: We always say a prayer, because we recognize the reason we are there is because of God. We couldn't make it that far without him. With all of the miracles we have witnessed and all of the strength we had, we wanted to show that we appreciate all we have given and hope we can give it our best.

Sean and Kaycee

Sean Lew and Kaycee Rice, courtesy of NBC

Dance Teacher: Where do you two train?

Sean Lew: Our training is all over the place. We train with a lot of amazing choreographers who have molded us into the dancers we are today. They all carry different types of knowledge, styles and backgrounds that we get to learn from. There is never a point when we will stop learning from them and growing.

DT: Sean, you mentioned you choreographed the blindfold piece you two performed on Week 1; can you tell me a bit about your process and the inspiration for it?

SL: In modern society, it's very difficult to surround yourself with people you can truly trust and love, so the blindfold represented our limitations and the fear that stops us from saying how we feel about each other. We tend to hide from truth and honesty. We don't always realize how crucial honesty is to having the people you love stick around forever. At the end of the piece, we demonstrated that the truth will bring you closer together.

DT: Could you see through those blindfolds at all?

Kaycee Rice: We could barely see anything. It was thin material, but we couldn't see through it. That added extra risk and really helped the piece.

DT: You both have been social-media stars for quite some time, and now that you're on "World of Dance" your influence will only grow. How do you manage the fame at such a young age?

KR: I think people let fame get to their head these days. For us, we just try to stay kids. We love sharing our passion with the world, and it's amazing to get the kind of response we have. It's humbling, and we are staying thankful and true to ourselves.

DT: What has it meant to you to be on "WOD" together?

SL: We didn't expect to be on such a big show together, and to have gotten the response we got in the first round is amazing. We are so grateful for all of the support we have gotten so far and are so excited to share what we have in the next round.

Jaxon Willard

Jaxon Willard, courtesy of NBC

Dance Teacher: What kind of response have you gotten since the show aired?

Jaxon Willard: So far people have been really supportive. I've been sent messages about photo-shoot collaborations, Bloch has messaged me about joining their agency and I've done lots of interviews with local TV stations.

DT: What was your mind-set when you stepped onto the "WOD" stage?

JW: I was terrified, and trying not to have a panic attack. It was scary for me to put something so personal to me out there. I was worried people would judge it, but as soon as the music started, I forgot everything and was living in the moment.

DT: You choreographed this piece. Can you take me through your process?

JW: I have to get in the zone when I choreograph. I find that showering in the dark and listening to music really helps. You naturally start moving and find what might work for you. Its a cool way to start choreographing. I got this song first and then started working out my story and how it all connected. Then I added the movement.

DT: Where did you train, and what kind of response did you get from your dance teachers?

JW: Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. They all just messaged me and said they were so proud of me. They thanked me for being one of their students and let me know they were really happy for me.

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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