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‘SYTYCD’ finalist Melissa Sandvig is ready to break out of the ballet box

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Melissa Sandvig, 29, may be the oldest contestant on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ this season, but those closest to this trained ballerina have faith. ‘This is your year,’ her students and husband told her before she auditioned for the show, for the first time, this season. Her ballet background may also make Sandvig stand out from her fellow contestants, but the Los Angeles native says she is ready to branch out big-time.

Q: You’re originally from L.A., and, as I understand it, you’ve been teaching since you were about 5 years old? Do you think being in a big city such as Los Angeles helped you at all as an up-and-coming dancer? MS: Definitely. I did all of my training at Long Beach ballet, but since I’ve become more of a freelance dancer I’ve found four or five studios up in L.A. that I take class at with other professionals. That kind of helps me be inspired and grow as a dancer. I just pretty much take ballet. During this process I tried to expand my vocabulary a little bit, but ballet is definitely the one thing that I work at every day.

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Q: Is there any new genre you’re a little nervous to learn, maybe one you’re not as familiar with? MS: Yeah, I’m nervous. There’s no ballet on this program, so every genre is going to be a challenge for me. I think hip-hop is the furthest from what I’m used to, so that intimidates me a little bit. I’m a nice, little white ballerina girl, so trying to be ghetto and doing hip-hop will be a struggle, but I’m just going to have fun and do my best.

Q: Do you have any favorite spots to go dancing or to train in Los Angeles? MS: Besides Long Beach, I take class at Dance Arts Academy right here on La Brea and also the Colburn is a really great school, and they have professional-level classes there as well. Westside Academy in Santa Monica, I take there as well. Those are my hot spots I like to train at.

Q: You’re the oldest contestant on the show, which might be hard, but you also obviously have the upper hand when it comes to experience. Is your age a double-edged sword? MS: I think it gives me both [an advantage and a disadvantage]. I’m feeling comfortable performing. Of course, I’m used to performing for huge houses where you dance to the balcony, but this is very different in that you’re dancing to a little camera lens and trying to bring everything into that camera. I think also, just trying to keep up my energy and maintain my body is harder being the older contestant, but so far, so good.

Q: Had you watched the show in previous years and/or tried out for the show before? MS: This is my first time auditioning. A lot of these contestants have tried many times, so I feel kind of flattered and honored that I made it through the first time all the way. I watch the show religiously, all seasons, and it just finally got to the point where, ‘All right, we need a ballerina on here. I’m ready to do it.’ My students and my husband were like, ‘I think it’s your year. I think you need to do it.’ They kind of nudged me into it.

Q: What do you think the show will do for your career? MS: I’m just hoping to open some doors. I’ve been stuck in the ballet world, and I would love to branch out. Just getting this exposure is great to continue my career in a different direction, whether it be more commercial dance or working in television. Just that exposure and new opportunity.

Q: Are you nervous about the televised aspect of the show and the judges’ feedback? MS: There are so many ways to be distracted here. I can’t separate myself like I can in a big theater, where you can’t see the audience and hear everything around you. You can see the judges watching you. You can see the fans right there screaming for you. There are lots of distractions. I just have to try and stay centered and focused. As far as the criticism, I can handle criticism because I’ve been doing it in the ballet world my whole life, but to have the world hear it also … I want it all to be good. I don’t want to have people hear anything negative about me because that does affect how they vote and how they think about you. That’s a little nerve wracking.

— Kate Stanhope


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