How a Richmond Dancer Wins a Shot at TV Fame 


click to enlarge Diontey McDonald's audition last week earned him an exclusive casting call to appear on Fox's “So You Think You Can Dance.”
  • Diontey McDonald's audition last week earned him an exclusive casting call to appear on Fox's “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The night before his “So You Think You Can Dance” audition, Diontey McDonald was doing choreography in his sleep.

He'd wake up and think, “ball change!” Toss, turn and fall back to his pillow, only to wake up again: “jetAc!”

McDonald spent three days rehearsing his 30-second performance for the Nov. 9 auditions. Practice paid off: McDonald, a 20-year-old trainee with the Richmond Ballet, wowed the judges with his athletic leaps and pirouettes.

Of about 100 competitors, he was selected as the lone Richmonder for a guaranteed spot at the Nov. 15 casting call in New York for the Fox network dance-competition television show. His trip will be paid for by local Fox affiliate WRLH and sponsors.

“I'm so happy, I can't form words,” McDonald says.

McDonald, who grew up in Church Hill, always wanted to dance but never got the opportunity to learn. He was 15 when Annette Holt, co-director of Richmond's City Dance Program, offered him a scholarship. [Read our recent cover profile on Holt at] McDonald credits his instructors with giving him a shot; many dancers he trains with started before kindergarten. He'll perform next month in Richmond Ballet's production of “The Nutcracker.”

Tuesday's “So You Think You Can Dance” auditions at the Byrd Theatre were open to amateur dancers between 18 and 30 years old. Each was allotted 30 seconds to show a panel of local judges their technical proficiency and stage-stealing personality — until the ding of a hotel-desk bell cut them off.

Dance teacher Sheena Jeffers, 24, executed high kicks and spins with a smile. Ding.

Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Warren Holly, a former mascot for Atlee High School, showed off his lightning-fast arms in a hip-hop routine. Ding.
Courtney Manns, 19, performed an energetic, krump-flavored dance to Lil Jon's “Outta Your Mind.”

“Work it, girl, work it,” another dancer calls out. Ding.

McDonald's not sure when the ding will come during Monday's real-deal New York audition. “I think you dance until they ask you to stop,” he says.


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