News Column

'So You Think You Can Dance': Northville's Amy Yakima shoves family into spotlight

August 27, 2013


Aug. 27--Tonight, Michigan finds out whether 19-year-old Amy Yakima of Northville becomes one of the top two female contestants on Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance."

If she makes the cut, she will dance for viewers' votes tonight at 8 p.m. and again next Tuesday, vying for the title "America's Favorite Dancer." The show finale is Sept. 10.

When a child of Michigan is one of the top finalists on a reality-show competition series, this is what her parents face.

Dad, Dan Yakima, now answers to the moniker "Dancing Dad," and leaves early for work because so many people stop him to talk dance before his Pontiac St. Joseph Mercy Hospital emergency room shift starts. Mom, Mary Beth Yakima, is hearing from long-lost grade school classmates and gets hugs at the beauty salon from strangers who share her hairdresser.

For most weeks since June, Yakima's parents have flown to L.A. on Mondays and come back Wednesdays to watch her perform live. After Yakima performs, her parents are the first people she looks for in the audience, and the camera usually catches "Dancing Dad" crying.

"Sometimes I think I cry because of the dance bills I pay," joked Dan Yakima, 56. The couple's two younger daughters also are competitive dancers, which means lessons six days a week, expensive costumes and weekend and summer trips across the country.

"What you don't know is that he cries after all the other performers, because he knows what it takes to get there," quipped Mary Beth Yakima.

"We're like blubbering idiots out there. I just start getting choked up even before the show starts. It's so surreal. For your child, this is her dream."

After each Tuesday's performance, Yakima family members take to their cellphones to text in votes for her. Sisters, Emma, 17, and Lauren, 11, sometimes use two phones each to cast hundreds of texts for two hours. Emma has set up a showcase at Northville High School -- Amy's a 2011 graduate and Dance Squad alum -- to pump up votes.

Mary Beth Yakima said she and her husband spend their time after the show texting in votes for their daughter, while waiting for her to join them at a Cheesecake Factory near the Fox studio. And they don't get up from their seats to hug Yakima, if she shows up to the restaurant while they can still text in votes.

"When my phone comes on after she's performed, I'll have 84 Facebook messages. People will say they voted 2,000 times and send me a screenshot of all their texts," said Mary Beth Yakima, a retired medical technologist. "I'm overwhelmed by all the connections.

"They're letting me know they support Amy," she said. "I love that people want to be part of it ... It's a local girl. It's a Michigander. And people are proud of that."

Actually, metro Detroit talent is having a reality TV moment.

If Yakima wins the SYTYCD title, she would become the first Michigan person to win a major network talent competition in recent years. Detroiter Tasha Page Lockhart is vying for similiar attention on cable network BET; Page is one of two finalists competing on the gospel singing show "Sunday Best."

Yakima has consistently been lauded by the judges for her technique, strength and showmanship.

"I just want to thank everyone," she said, during a telephone interview last week. "I don't think of myself as the most amazing dancer in the world. I just want to achieve as much as possible. I know I can be better every single day."

In the flood of comments on websites and Twitter feeds, Yakima draws many admirers, but some have carped that she's too perky and theatrical.

"Someone said they didn't like me because I smile too much," Yakima said. "I don't know what to do about that. Sorry."

Yakima has advanced through multiple performances to be selected for the show's 10th season competition. Another Detroit-area dancer, Jade Zuberi, 21, of Dearborn Heights, also was selected as a Top 20 finalist, but dropped out because of injury.

SYTYCD contestants, including many runners-up, have returned to the show as choreographers, landed parts on Broadway and other television dance shows. Four years ago, Evan Kasprzak, who graduated from Birmingham Groves High School, finished third on SYTYCD. He is now part of the Tony Award-winning musical "Newsies."

By finishing in the show's Top 10, Yakima is part of the "So You Think You Can Dance" show tour, which begins a 42-city run in her home state. The SYTYCD tour opens Oct. 1 at East Lansing's Wharton Center.

"She's a Detroit girl. She could be the first winner from here," on SYTYCD, said Loni Lane, dance teacher at Dearborn's Noretta Dunworth School of Dance, where Yakima trained and competed from age 3 to 17.

"So we need to vote, vote, vote," said Lane.

For more information about "So You Think You Can Dance" and voting, visit


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