Sep 25, 2018
Q&A With Darius Hickman
Since graduating from Dreyfoos in just 2017, dance alumnus Darius Hickman has accomplished things he never thought possible. As a contestant on the most recent season of the popular competitive dance show ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ Hickman made it to the Top 6 before being eliminated. With offers from multiple agencies and tour dates looming in the horizon, it’s clear Hickman has a bright future ahead of him in the dance world.
Q: Describe your journey getting to So You Think You Can Dance.
A: "I auditioned in 2017 and did a video submission. Then, I auditioned in person at an open call audition. I didn’t make it on the show, but they were like, “come back!” I went to school at Butler University, and then the show called me and told me to come audition in New York, so I flew to New York in the middle of school, auditioned, and made it on the show. Once I made it past that, I flew to L.A. to do the Academy Week which was two weeks long; it’s a boot camp and there are eliminations every day. I made it two weeks through that, which was amazing. I made it to the top 20 and then there was a twist, and they told us there was a top 10. Then, I had to do another round of auditioning to get to the top 10, [and] made it to the top 10, which was mind-blowing, and then flew back to Florida. I had a few weeks off before the live shows started. Then I went back to L.A. at the end of July and from there I started working on the live shows. Two people got cut every other week for the live shows, and then I made it to week 4, and I was one of the last people to go home. It was amazing."
Q: What was the difference between the journey during 2017 versus 2018?
A: "In 2017, I didn’t really know what I wanted to present to the judges. I didn’t know if I needed to be a certain dancer to fit the show, so I was very uncomfortable when I first auditioned and I just kind of did it for fun. Then, when I did it this year, it was like I knew who I was; I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted them to see— I was like, “I’m just going to be myself, and then I’m going to make them fall in love with me.” Last year I got eliminated very early in the bootcamp—I was only there for like three days, versus this year which was like two weeks."
Q: How did Dreyfoos help you to get where you are?
A: "Definitely in the dance department I know more specifically, we did a lot of different styles. We were exposed to jazz, tap, modern, ballet, and pointe work, so there are a lot of different styles that we ended up doing that helped me so much on the show because I was familiar with [what] they were giving me. So, that was a huge, huge, help on Dreyfoos’ part. Also, the staff from Dreyfoos just being supportive of me being myself helped when I was on the show; I was very comfortable with myself because of everyone at Dreyfoos making me feel like it was okay to be myself. People liked the way I was; they liked my personality on a daily basis, so I was able to exude that, which helped me in the competitions."
Q: Which dance style do you think you focused on most at Dreyfoos?
A: "At Dreyfoos I didn’t really focus on one specific thing, but I definitely had more of a goal to become a ballet dancer when I was here. Then the show happened, and all of that changed. On the show, I was a contemporary dancer."
Q: Why did you label yourself as a contemporary dancer rather than a ballet dancer when you got on the show?
A: "Because, to be honest, nobody likes ballet. People who watch the show get bored with that—that’s not what the show is. I definitely could have made it as a ballet dancer, but contemporary is my first love; that’s what I’m good at and that’s what I do. A lot of my ballet training is in my contemporary training as well, so I kind of was a ballet dancer too. I was the only one with the most technique as far as with ballet."
Q: What experiences at Dreyfoos do you think have impacted you the most after graduating?
A: "This is going to go more back to personality—the fact that Dreyfoos allows you to be yourself to the fullest is the best thing possible because I was so comfortable with who I was as a person that it made the choreographer and the producers of the show more comfortable with me doing a piece like a gender swap, which was my last piece that I did on the show. It was such a great piece to end with. I inspired so many people and it’s just because I was myself, and it was incredible."
Q: Is there a moment or instance specifically from your time at Dreyoos that you can look back at and appreciate?
A: "When I was here [at Dreyfoos], I would walk around campus, from the dance department to Meyer Hall, in tights, with nothing over them, and everybody was like, “Okay.” It was a very casual thing, and I couldn’t do that at a regular school. People would judge me and be like “What is he doing,” but here it was like, “He’s a dancer.” Or, you see people drawing all the time, or singing in the halls and that’s what we do here; that’s how we express ourselves. That’s a perfect example of how people here are accepting of what you do and who you are."
Q: Did you think you honed more of who you were at Dreyfoos auditioning for this season than you did in 2017?
A: "Yes, and it was weird because after I graduated from Dreyfoos I was set, and then as soon as I moved and went to Butler, I kind of changed, personality-wise. I kind of was very shy, and I’ve never been shy as a person. I didn’t really have many friends—I had a lot of associates in the ballet department, but I didn’t talk to a lot of people. I knew that wasn’t who I was, but that’s what the program was doing to me, so before the auditions for the show, I was like ‘I have to be myself again, or I’m not going to be able to make it.’"
Q: Was there anyone in particular at Dreyfoos that helped you get to where you are?
A: "There were so many people. I’m going to name a few, but for teachers, definitely Heather Lescaille. Mr. Lewis is amazing, and he helped me so much. Definitely the Dreyfoos dance department, and even all of the staff—I was so close with all of the staff, and I still am—I’m talking about the administration. I don’t even know the words to describe it, but they can see that I’m a genuine person and they genuinely want me to succeed. Even being on the show, they told me that they had my fliers hanging around the school, and I am so grateful for that because it shows how much of a support system I really have here at home. To have that support system is something amazing because I don’t have it everywhere else, and because I’m constantly competing for a spot."
Q: What skills do you think you got from Dreyfoos that you wouldn’t have gotten from your home school?
A: "Definitely one thing that I haven’t talked about it is my people skills—being able to talk to people and work with any type of person. Because I went to this school, and it’s an arts program, there’s a lot of different people here, and that skillset—being able to talk to different people—has helped me tremendously on the show. Just like here in the arts, on the show there’s a lot of different people that you have to work with. There’s mean producers, there’s nice producers, there’s people whose life this is, so being able to work with these people has helped me working in the professional world."
Q: What are your future plans for dance?
A: "As of right now, I plan on settling in L.A. with an agency and then doing more commercial work, whether that be background dancing for artists, or doing commercials. I will also be touring, but I’m definitely looking to be in the commercial world. Right now, I’m kind of all over the place. I am home, but I go back to L.A. on the 22nd. After [touring], I’ll be moving there permanently. It’s confusing because I can’t get a place there right now because I’ll be living on the tour bus, so I’m going to wait until after the tour when everything is completely done before I settle somewhere, but it’s probably going to be L.A."
Q: How do you think your experience on So You Think You Can Dance really impacted you?
A: "I think for me, it really helped me figure out what I can do, what my body is capable of, and what my mind is capable of. It really pushed me and tested everything in my body. It was insane, the stress and pressure I was under, but it showed me that I can do anything—I did things that I never thought I could do. You can do it if you really put your mind to it. It’s cliche, but it’s true."
Q: Tell us more about the kind of stress you were under.
A: "There were a lot of different things—for example, we would have two days to learn either one dance or two dances, and you had to learn a group dance on Friday, and then learn another group dance on Saturday, and then you would have to do the whole thing on Sunday—all your duets, all your group dances, everything. Then on Monday, which was the show day, you would come in at 5 a.m., get into hair and makeup, run the whole show, which was two hours long, eat a little bit, get back into hair and makeup, and do the show again. It was very physically demanding, and you have to be in the best shape of your life to be able to do it because there were times when I literally wanted to vomit on the side of the stage."
Q: Did you practice the dances after you learned them?
A: "Yeah, I was spending nights up until 1:00 a.m., or 2:00 a.m. rehearsing to make sure I had the choreography. I was under so much stress and I was like, “I don’t know how this is possible!” It was insane, but it was great—like I said, it helped me—I now know what I can do. I would have never thought I was going to be doing a Bollywood routine on national television; I had never trained in Bollywood in my life! Styles like that are kind of insane because I had to learn a whole new style and then learn the history behind the style to make sure I performed it correctly. I was used to learning dances and being in 6 or 7 numbers a night, but this was a whole different thing. I was actually exhausted and I had to go to physical therapy every week."
Q: What was the biggest challenge and best moment on the show?
A: "I know the best moment on the show was definitely my last Travis Wall routine where I was in the skirt and the full makeup. I inspired a lot of people and I got a lot of messages about it, so that was a really, really big moment for me. I think with everything it was definitely hard not comparing yourself to other dancers that are on the show. Obviously there wasn’t anyone like me or like any of us, we were all definitely unique, but it was still hard not to compare yourself. I think that was a challenging moment on the show, just remembering not to compare myself to other people and realizing why I was there and what gifts I had to share with people."
Q: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
A: "No, I perfected my best self every time I went on the stage, and I have never felt that confident to say that, even when I was here at Dreyfoos. Being on the show every week, I presented everything I could have on the stage. I think everything I did was the best I could do it, and that’s the best feeling to say, because I have no regrets. I think if I didn’t give it my all in those performances, then I would have been very upset when I got eliminated, but I wasn’t because I knew I had done everything I could have."
Q: What advice would you give to current Dreyfoos students?
A: "As hard as it is, don’t doubt yourself because I doubted myself pretty much my whole time here [at Dreyfoos]. I knew I was good, and I knew how much I had grown, but I was still so doubtful. I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to be in a ballet company; I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do all this,” but it can happen—whatever you want to happen, it can happen if you put in the work. I say all the time that I would have never pictured myself being on the show when I was here at Dreyfoos. Dreams do come true if you put in the work—they’re not just going to be handed to you. Whether that’s being in the studio every day for hours, or singing wherever you are, or drawing constantly—whatever that is that you do, you have to continue to do it and part all your effort into doing it if you want to succeed at it."
Q: Is there anything else that you want to add?
A: "For me last year, I was scared of the world judging me for what my past was, so that also hindered me from being on the show because I wasn’t ready to open up about that. When I did, you could see that I wasn’t really as comfortable with it. This year, I embraced the fact that I had a really rough childhood because it helped me with my strength and how I carry myself in this world. People need to remember that your past can help you grow as a person and help you shape your future in the best way possible, instead of being afraid of the past and letting it take over your life. I’m using that to inspire people and using the platform of the show to inspire others to keep going and keep pushing and not letting others get you down."
Written By: Maddy Rubin