News Column

Metro Detroit dancers ready to compete on 'So You Think You Can Dance'

June 25, 2013

YellowBrix

June 25--Reality TV is about to get very real for metro Detroit dancers Amy Yakima, 19, of Northville and Jade Zuberi, 21, of Dearborn Heights.

Michigan's two contestants on Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance" will perform live for viewers' votes when the show airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"SYTYCD" revealed last week that Yakima, a 2011 Northville High grad, and Zuberi, a 2010 Crestwood High alum, made the show's Top 20. When they compete Tuesday, it will be before a nationwide live television audience. After the show, viewers can vote via online, text-messaging and toll-free phone for their favorites. (See www.fox.com/dance for the details.) The first elimination of a dancer will take place on the July 2 show, according to Fox publicists.

Yakima and Zuberi practiced their routines Monday in Los Angeles, but earlier this month they took time to speak with the Free Press by phone

"Everybody's calling me a superstar," Zuberi said. "It's outrageous."

Yakima said she knows the feeling. "It's literally the time of my life," she said. "This is what I dream about."

Yakima and Zuberi were among hundreds who auditioned in Detroit in February. They share a determination and passion for the art. But they've ended up on the "SYTYCD" stage through different routes.

Yakima has been studio-trained in all types of dance since she was 3. Zuberi's talent was honed in his Dearborn Heights bedroom, as he learned hip-hop and his animator style of dance from videos he watched on the Internet.

"My bedroom is my studio," said Zuberi. "It's not like I have clean wood floors and a barre. I have two mirrors somewhere, a carpet and space. I just make it work. That's where I trained."

Zuberi wowed crowds at talent shows, starting when he was fourth-grader at Highview Elementary in Dearborn Heights. At Crestwood High's annual talent revue, Zuberi was the showstopper and performed last because, "I was always the act to look forward to ... the grand finale." He has gone on to compete in shows in Toronto and teach animator style in studios around metro Detroit.

His mother, Joa Zuberi, performed, taught and toured with the Detroit City Dance troop in the late 1970s and 1980s. Michael Jackson influenced her son's affection for dance, she said.

She has coached her son on maintaining eye contact and how to play the crowd. She helped edit his performances, the moves and the music.

"I'm from theater. I always wanted him to perform at his best," she said. "He can truly charm a snake, for sure."

Does she give him any advice?

"He kind of hopes that I don't critique him," she joked.

Yakima took lessons at a Dearborn studio, Noretta Dunworth School of Dance, for about 15 years. She studied ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop and danced in competitions until she was a high school graduate. When Yakima was 9, she beat out hundreds of applicants for the coveted role of Clara in "The Nutcracker," part of the Rockettes' "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" at Detroit's Fox Theatre. She danced there for three seasons before being cast in the Rockettes' New York production.

"I've always been a super hard worker and want to be better the next day," Yakima said. "I always know there's going to be a better dancer out there."

Yakima said she auditioned for "SYTYCD" last year. Judges told her she was powerful, a little too much so -- meaning she needed to become a little more fluid and limber.

"It put a fire under me," she said.

In 2009, the Free Press wrote about Yakima and her two younger sisters and their family's devotion to dance.

Now students at her former dance studio are watching her every step. Her younger sisters, Emma, 17, and Lauren, 11, train there still.

"They're so ecstatic and they're loving it," said Yakima. "I love being a role model and I want to inspire them -- even if it's not for dance, but to have the same passion that I do."

For years of dance competition, Yakima had to do her own makeup and hair. That has changed now since she's on TV.

"I've never gotten my makeup and hair done," she said. "You see all those superstars having it done. And now I'm doing what they're doing, and it's so surreal."

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