Dance to inspire

Sasha Mallory, the runner-up of season 8’s “So You Think You Can Dance” visited Ivy Tech Community College Northeast early in the new year with the INSPIRE Academy and taught a series of hip-hop dance workshops for those aged 8 and older.

In the INSPIRE Academy’s seventh event in two years, it inspired a slightly new community in northeast Indiana: the dance community.

And that big inspiration came in a small package, lithe, and funny.

It came in the form of Sasha Mallory, the runner-up of season 8’s “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2011. Mallory visited Ivy Tech Community College Northeast early in the new year with the INSPIRE Academy and taught a series of hip-hop dance workshops for those aged 8 and older. The 127 northeast Indiana dancers, who performed Mallory’s choreography at halftime during the Jan. 3 Mad Ants game, got to do something they would never have been able to do without Mallory and the INSPIRE Academy—and that’s the whole point.

Her three dance workshops, arranged by separate age levels, were rehearsed in the Student Life Center on North Campus. Mallory’s pupils ranged the span of dancers, from adults who’d been dancing since they were in diapers to children who’d never danced a step in their lives. By the end of the day, the choreography was, as one happy parent put it, fitting to be seen on “So You Think You Can Dance” while retaining the exuberance of youthful expression.

“We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from parents and dancers,” says Aja Michael, the assistant director of Ivy Tech Northeast’s Marketing and Communications who helped bring Mallory to campus. “Over and over again they told us how special the experience was for them.”

And that’s what Mallory wants to hear. While she’s taught a variety of competitions and classes in the past, the INSPIRE Academy event was her first workshop on such a large scale.

“I just want to come out here and inspire you guys,” Mallory said, “especially the little kids because I hear some of them want to grow up and be dancers.”

Like Michael Smith.

Trying out

Smith, an 18-year-old dancer from Ossian, Ind., has danced freestyle for as long as he can remember and has received studio training for the past three years at Sheekristyle Academy of Dance in Fort Wayne. As Mallory taught Smith’s section, for dancers 18 and older, she singled him out.

“I see you!” she called out, and, through the focus on his face, a small smile cracked.

Smith had been toying with trying out for season 11 of “So You Think You Can Dance” in Chicago on Feb. 27 and, after discussing the option with Mallory, decided he will.

“She said she has no doubt I could make it in L.A. That was basically the moral of the story: just don’t give up if this is what I want to do,” Smith said, big words coming from a dancer he admires. “When I see her perform, she’s caught my eye so many times. I see the passion.”

Mallory gave Smith some pointers too, stressing to share his backstory especially, as the reality dance competition show uses such stories to help viewers connect personally with their favorite dancers. Smith’s history includes living in six homeless shelters in Indiana and having his mother present him with an ultimatum when he was 13: Stay with a friend or go into foster care. Smith opted to stay with friends and is currently living with a family he met through Sheekristyle Academy.

Meeting Mallory

When Mallory landed in Fort Wayne Jan. 2, she was met with something she’d never seen before: lots and lots of snow. Oh, she’d seen a dusting once before, but nothing like what was dumped in northeast Indiana.

The large field behind the Holiday Inn Fort Wayne, where Mallory stayed, proved to be a sort of playground for the dancer as she romped and made angels in the snow. She even posted a short video clip of it on her Instagram account.

When it came time to teach, Mallory spoke to the students on their level. Her workshops didn’t appear teacher-pupil as much as peer-to-peer. While she had a basic idea for the full choreography upon beginning the workshop, she says, she didn’t have anything exact in mind so she could gauge the dancers’ abilities and tailor the routine to them.

Throughout the day, the rapport Mallory formed with the students was obvious. During a large group photo Mallory took with all the participants, Cameron Gregory, 10, jumped up on her back. After the half-time performance, Cameron’s father, Ben Gregory, said how much he enjoyed the performance.

“I thought it was fantastic,” said Gregory, of Fort Wayne. “They did a great job. It was really cool to see them (learn all those great moves).”

In addition to the moves, Mallory taught students dance world success secrets: a top-notch work ethic, an open mind to the choreographers’ routine, and perseverance: Mallory tried out for season 6 of “So You Think You Can Dance” and was cut during a Broadway number during auditions.

“It was heartbreaking,” she says. “What you see is not even half of what the dancers have to go through.”

After, Mallory went on tour with Adam Lambert, 2009’s “American Idol” runner-up. She tried out again for season 8. She not only made the show but was heralded for her passion and ability to connect with the audience, coming in second place.

After teaching the students’ their choreography at Ivy Tech Northeast, she reflected on the experience.

“The energy is outrageous. I love the energy in the room,” she says. “I hope I inspire someone to get up each morning and work harder.”

Ivy Tech's Northeast Speakers, Performers, Intellectual exhibits and Recreational Experiences

INSPIRE Academy aims to provide inspirational and creative opportunities targeting various members of the community including Ivy Tech faculty, staff and students, members of K-12 educational institutes and community members.

Sasha Mallory, center, runner-up on season 8 of "So You Think You Can Dance," performs with attendees of Ivy Tech Northeast's INSPIRE Academy workshop at halftime during the Jan. 3 Mad Ants game.

Unforgettable experience

"I am sure I speak for all of the parents and dancers when I tell you how special this event was for my daughter.... A mother of another dancer leaned down as she (Sasha) walked past her and said, "You were awesome." That adjective fits her daughter as well, along with every single dancer, every parent, the Mad Ants for (partnering), and the dance itself - so sizzling with energy and enthusiasm and talent.... I thank you and Ivy Tech for making all of this possible in the first place. You provided an unforgettable experience for hundreds of kids, parents, family members, and friends."