Aspiring dancers vie for a chance to work with L.A. cheer and dance royalty Christy Buss
By Brian Marks
It’s a pleasantly breezy and cool June afternoon in El Segundo, but inside Christy Curtis Buss’ dance space — The Studio Art of Dance — the climate is closer to sweltering. Amid this heat of expectation, a dozen or so dancers, all women, are stretching in preparation for their audition to be part of Buss’ upcoming Las Vegas production, “Floored: The Show,” a survey of dance from its earliest origins up through contemporary styles.
Buss, who was formerly married to Lakers dynasty member Johnny Buss, has had a wide and varied career. She was the dance captain for the Los Angeles Rams, a choreographer on “Days of Our Lives” for 19 years, danced with the Los Angeles Clippers Spirit Dance Team, directed choreography for the L.A. Sparks and has toured the world giving USO performances. She plans to direct “Floored,” which will be produced by Lee Ann Groff-Daudet. For her new show, Buss is looking for fresh talent.
“What we’re doing at this stage of the game is trying to find the diamond in the rough, versus very talented dancers who are already working, and they’re worried about a paycheck,” she says of the June 10 tryouts. “What we’re working these particular auditions for is that hungry dancer that just hasn’t had the chance yet to show
Skyla Johnson, one of the young dancers auditioning, comes from a long line of dancers, but hopes to gain more professional experience by showing off her dancefloor skills today.
“I’ve had dancing within my family for four generations,” she says. “My mom opened a show called ‘Jubilee,’ and my grandmother came over from England with the Lido de Paris,” a renowned Parisian dance show.
After introductions from instructor Jason Holley, the audition kicks off with a salsa-inspired number set to Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello’s “Havana.” The dancers are here to show off their personal expertise and style, but for this song they perform in pairs, though not in any traditional gender roles. There are no male or female parts, and the dancers neither lead nor follow.
After the salsa, the group shifts back to the vaudeville era for a tap dance number. The floor, looking like a Jackson Pollock painting of streaks and scuff marks, is too soft for tap shoes, so most of the dancers switch over to regular sneakers. They dance to a simple, minimalist ballad that’s mostly just vocals and guitar.
Though tap dancing has roots going back to 19th-century minstrel shoes, the audition song uses the style in startlingly modern ways. The tap rhythm approximates the feel of hip-hop beats, superimposed onto a simple pop song, which completely changes its context.
For the final number, a more modern hip-hop piece, instructor Dylan Sapanza leads the dancers in a particularly athletic dance to a Cardi B rap. It’s physically demanding, mostly performed while crouching, and utilizing every appendage. Some of the conventions of other styles are forgotten with the hip-hop dance — the performers are free to let their exertion show on their faces, rather than plastering on traditional bright smiles.
The audition ends with some disappointed looks from the dancers, not because they didn’t make it, but because Buss and her advisors won’t be announcing the final cut today. Natalia Garcia, flushed and with a patina of sweat across her brow, sounds positive about the audition.
“The past couple of auditions I’ve been to have had so many people and it’s hard for you to stand out,” she says. “Today, because it was so small, you get the advantage of treating it like you’re taking class. It gave me more opportunity to let go, so if I can bring that into other auditions, I’m hoping that will really help me.”
Epilogue: Skyla Johnson made the cut.
The Studio Art of Dance is at 13 Main St. in El Segundo. Call (310) 433-1228 or visit thestudioartofdance.com for studio information. To find out more about “Floored,” visit flooredlv.com.