'America's Best Dance Crew' auditions: Chatting with Chonique
"Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" just finished the auditions for Season 5 this weekend, having made stops in Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Besides the normal casting needs, guest judges from past championships and the show's regular judges, choreographer Chonique Sneed was called in to add some fresh perspective on the initial choosing of the crews. We got a chance to talk to the dancer, who has choreographed and helped choreograph routines for Pink, J. Lo, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, Christina Milian, Jay Z and Paulina Rubio. That's definitely enough varied expertise to be a big help.
Here's a quick video interview that was done before she traveled to the New York auditions. The interview that follows on the jump was done after auditions.
Michelle McNulty, the casting director, called me up. They needed someone else to have a choreographer's mind as a consultant to help them weed out some of the crews and help others take it to the next level for the call backs for the other judges to make the final decision. Michelle and I were judges together on the Hip Hop International panel.
How different are the performances on "ABDC" as opposed to the ones on Hip Hop International?
I've seen some crews who've performed and competed on both. Since it's televised, "America's Best Dance Crew" brings a different range of talent. From very beginner to some of the most extraordinary dancers that you're going to see, and that's because the show is more known than Hip Hop International. You've got people that are big fans of the show and follow the show religiously, so you're bringing in a bigger range of talent and crews.
Percentage-wise, about how many of these crews or dancers had you seen before?
The dance community is pretty small, but it's not that big of a percentage actually. Maybe 10 to 15% of dancers that I may have seen around. That's one of the reasons why I enjoy doing it so much. Being a choreographer, and just being a voice for the dance community, one of my biggest passions is to see new talent and to see new dancers coming up on the scene.
With We Are Heroes winning last season, a spotlight was placed on females in the dance world. Are there more male choreographers, and is it a problem that's being addressed?
You know what, I don't know if they really address it, but it's definitely, as they say, a man's world -- even in choreography and even in the dance world. It's definitely a lot more challenging for women to get out there, but there are a few named female choreographers that have had success and made a name for themselves to put them on the map. But it's definitely a male-dominated industry.
Now that you've gone through the "ABDC" auditions, what would you have liked to have seen?
I would have liked to have seen more innovation. There's definitely a format, a method to the madness, so people who have watched the show, they see what wins, they see what's competitive. A lot of crews, I felt, stuck to the format so much that they lost who they were as locals. Bringing some of their own innovative movement and choreography and innovation in transitions to their own piece. They wanted to stick to the format 'cause they've seen who wins. They see b-boying, tutting, popping, locking and a couple of tricks -- it almost started to become a little monotonous. For the most part. Now there were some crews that blew me away, but I would've liked to have seen something different to see what's new. I would've liked to have seen more crews step outside of the box and introduce something new to the world, and I don't know if I got enough of that. There was definitely some, but I would've liked to have seen more.
Late Los Angeles audition notes
So that was Chonique, telling you what you may already know if you went through the audition process. Yeah, it might've been helpful to know this insightful stuff beforehand, but while at the L.A. auditions, you could tell that crews showed up with routines in hand. There was last-minute tweaking (one of my faves that will go unnamed changed up A LOT of their routine after receiving comments), but if you didn't have an identity or innovative moves or something to set you apart on the day of tryouts, you probably weren't going to develop them on the spot. And, not that I'm biased, but even of the final four from Season 4 -- Rhythm City, We Are Heroes, Massive Monkeys and Afroborike -- three came out of the L.A. area auditions. So, when the crews looked around, history says that another champ was staring back.
I fully expect Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Boston and the NYC to come strong this season. The final decisions have still not been made (as far as I know), though people have been on top of auditions and news throughout (shouts to Blogging ABDC, Pacific Rim Video and Talk of Fame). Can't say much about those other cities, but here are my Top 10 (in no particular order and with no particular professional knowledge!), specifically from the L.A. auditions. There are some very good crews here, and to think that only two or three of them will make it is really a shame.
- Heavy Hitters
- Knucklehead Zoo
- The Hype
- Molodi 5
- Destined 2 Be
- One Nation Crew
Honorable mention goes to Beast Mode, In the Box, No Label, Sheroes, The Blended Project, Flex Flav and many more. Again, who knows what's going to happen? But these are some strong crews. I don't envy the judges. By Jan. 28, some difficult decisions will have to be made.
-- Jevon Phillips
Photo: We Are Heroes, the winners of Season 4 of "America's Best Dance Crew." Credit: MTV