School of Dance student shines on 'So You Think You Can Dance'

a student dancer stretches on the floor while a man in a black shirt films her

Sophomore dance major Avery Gay stretches before a University of Arizona dance class while a "So You Think You Can Dance" production team member films. Gay's ballet performance impressed the show's judges in her initial audition.

Chris Richards/University Communications

A University of Arizona student has taken a choreographed step forward in her quest for a $100,000 prize and the title of "So You Think You Can Dance" champion.

Avery Gay, a sophomore in the School of Dance, has advanced through the initial audition phase of the Fox dance competition show with a ballet performance that left the panel of judges wowed.

"It's very nerve-wracking," Gay said about the audition experience. "All eyes are on you. I tend to overthink and stress too much, but adrenaline helps me perform better. On TV shows and competitions I tend to do my best because the adrenaline amps me up."

"The reason I like ballet so much is because it is so difficult," Gay explained. "I love the challenge. I love to grow and improve from it every single day."

Chris Richards/University Communications

Fellow dance majors and sophomores Madison Kotch and Olivia Zeiml also auditioned. Kotch said auditioning was the realization of a goal she has had since she was a little girl watching the show with her father and sisters.

"I learned so many important lessons," Kotch said about the experience. "I received some great feedback on my dancing from the judges that I will implement into my daily dance training. Getting to be a part of something that I always dreamed of felt fulfilling after my years of work and education in dance."

Zeiml said her three days in Atlanta for auditions were stressful, but rewarding.

"There were cameras and mics on us the entire day of auditions, which I will say made it hard to relax and enjoy at times," Zeiml recalled. "Having two of my best friends there with me definitely released a lot of the stress and reminded me that we were lucky to have each other as a support system."

Up next for Gay and the other competitors who advanced is a choreography round, where they will perform routines to measure their ability to learn and execute choreography in multiple styles. Ultimately 10 finalists will be chosen to live and train together while taking part in challenges including performing in a music video, taking part in a halftime show at a football game and dancing onstage with a Broadway performer.

Making her pointe

Gay began her ballet training at age 6 and has been taking part in performances and competitions ever since.

"The reason I like ballet so much is because it is so difficult," Gay explained. "I love the challenge. I love to grow and improve from it every single day. When you have a strong ballet base, you can do anything in dance."

"So You Think You Can Dance" isn't her first foray into television competitions. In 2016, she took part in the spinoff youth competition "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" and "Steve Harvey's Little Big Shots." In 2018, she was featured on "World of Dance," a television competition executive-produced by superstar singer and dancer Jennifer Lopez.

When it came time to decide on her college path, the choice was clear. Gay is a sixth-generation Arizonan and fourth-generation University of Arizona student.

"On top of the great experiences my family had here, we have one of the top dance programs in the country," Gay said. "And it meets my needs exactly with dance and what I want to do in the future."

Among the loudest voices in Gay's cheering section is Liz George, associate professor in the School of Dance, who has taught her in classes including ballet, choreography and pointe – a technique in which ballet dancers support their weight on the tips of their feet.

"Avery is super fierce in a physical sense," said George. "She has a really strong, solid training base. And I love seeing students enter the space when they realize that they are not just dancers, they are creators. She's now in that space."

(George is part of an all-artist crew currently on a six-day simulated moon mission at the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars at Biosphere 2. Read more about the mission on the Arizona Arts website.)

"So You Think You Can Dance" airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox. Gay will be seen next on the March 25 edition, when dancers will take part in final auditions.

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