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Caitlin Kinney

Q&A with the So You Think You Can Dance finalist

Caitlin Kinney gets down with Jason Glover.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 6/24/2009

The Fox network's realitygame show So You Think You Can Dance wasn't really expected to be a hit; since its summer 2005 debut it has focused on a skill and art that is often taken for granted. Now in its fifth season, with a sixth slated for the fall, the show--in which viewers call in to vote for their favorite dancers--not only puts a spotlight on dancers, who often punish their bodies just as much as professional athletes, it has also introduced viewers to a wide variety of dance styles and choreographers. And every year, as the show gains notoriety and prestige in the dance world, a higher and higher caliber of dancer auditions.

This year's finals were intense. If you couldn't pirouette 10 times without twitching or gracefully leap over your partner's head, you may as well have stayed home. This level of competition makes it all the more impressive that Annapolis-bred Caitlin Kinney made her way to the show's top 20. The acrobatic dancer wowed with her solo and survived a grueling audition process, including a week in Las Vegas where dancers worked all day and often all night to master a variety of styles, to hit the So You Think You Can Dance main stage on June 10. City Paper talked to Kinney on the phone the morning before the first live show to find out what really goes into being part of the demanding and fascinating show.


City Paper: What kind of dance training did you have prior to the show?

Caitlin Kinney: I started dancing with C&C Dance Company, which is over in Bowie, doing an acrobatics program because I had been a gymnast. I did that for a year, and then I took some jazz and lyrical classes with them. Then my sophomore year of high school my mom told me that there's a performing arts high school in Baltimore. She told me that [the Baltimore School for the Arts] did acrobatics, tumbling, and jazz just to get me to go to the audition. She lied. I got there and it was the first ballet class I'd ever taken. It was highly embarrassing. But I kind of just fell in love with ballet.

CP: Did you study dance in college?

CK: No, I did not. I was asked to apprentice with the North Carolina Dance Theatre right out of high school, so I opted to do that instead of go to college. I danced with North Carolina for three years. And then I got contracted to help start a brand new contemporary ballet company in Houston called Uptown Dance Company, and it was when I was working with them that I auditioned for the show.


CP: It sounds like your dance career was going pretty well. What made you decide to try out for So You Think You Can Dance?

CK: My little sister [Megan] auditioned and really wanted me to. I've always felt kind of torn between two worlds, because I'm not really a classical ballet dancer. I don't have the body type for it. I'm not a dancer you would see doing Swan Lake. But then I'm not in that new funky contemporary quirky world. So I've just been trying to find my place in the whole dance world, where I belong, where my style fits. And I thought God what better way to sort out what I'm best at, to grow, to learn every other style?


CP: Were you a fan of the show?

CK: Of course I'm a fan of the show. There's not a dancer who isn't.


CP: What was it like working with so many different choreographers during the Las Vegas week of auditions?

CK: Never would you get the opportunity to work with all those people in one week. It was amazing but over-the-top stressful and exhausting and crazy. They call it hell week for a reason. Sleep is not really something that's on the schedule. It's all day, every day. And if you're not dancing, you're working on something you just learned or sitting there stewing about Oh my god am I going to get cut? or watching your friends get cut. It was a really hard week.


CP: Your younger sister Megan also made it to Vegas Week. What was it like going through the audition process with her?

CK: I felt so lucky to have her there. There were so many people who didn't have anyone they were close to there. Going through all this and as stressful as it is, Megs and I could go and sit by ourselves or go back to our room and snuggle when everyone else was stressed and upset. But then again it also added a little more stress, too, because we were constantly worried about each other.


CP: Were you surprised when she got cut?

CK: I was really surprised. The whole week I was pretty confident that if either of us was going to make the show it was going be her.


CP: What was the most challenging part Vegas week as far as the dancing goes?

CK: I think dancing for my life, probably. I had just done Mia Michaels' choreography twice and the first time I thought I did it OK. It probably wasn't great, but I made it through, and this is after group night when we were running on two hours of sleep and we'd already been dancing all morning. The second time I did it, I screwed up big time and then I had to dance for my life on the spot. I had just been told all this crazy stuff from the judges and I'm just standing there. They put on music. I had absolutely nothing choreographed to it. I think all that was going through my head was, Seriously, this is not happening. When I watched the episode of Vegas Week, I don't remember doing any of that. It was crazy.


CP: Were you surprised you made the top 20?

CK: Yeah, I was totally surprised. We were all sitting in this room, the 52 of us, and they bring you in one by one and they tell you whether or not they made it, so you know the numbers when you're going in there, how many spots are left. I think there were five girls left [in the waiting room] when I went in and two spots [left open] and there were three girls in there who I was sure would be on the show. So I was saying goodbye to everyone, just trying to mentally prepare myself to hear no. Obviously, I would have been devastated but I would have understood. And then they told me yes. I don't know if I was more excited or nervous that I was actually going to be on the show. And it still hasn't sunk in yet.

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