Reality TV star becomes hometown hero
It was a homecoming appropriate for a hometown hero.
Eleven days after being eliminated from Fox’s reality TV show "So You Think You Can Dance," Gev Manoukian was back at Park City Dance Academy teaching an evening masters class to more than 20 of his biggest fans Tuesday, July 29.
The 21-year-old hip hop/break dancer from Kazakhstan who currently lives in Centerville, Utah, with his grandparents and aunt was eliminated from "So You Think You Can Dance’s" fourth season based on home viewer votes cast July 17.
He received news of the tally during a broadcast the following night.
But before his nationally televised rise to dance royalty, Manoukian was one of the most popular instructors at Park City Dance. He leaves for Los Angeles in a few days to join the "So You Think You Can Dance" tour. He’ll spend from September to December performing in front of thousands of fans in Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and other places.
Last week, however, Manoukian belonged to Park City.
Sandy Flurry, co-owner of Park City Dance, said that just a few hours after his plane touched down in Salt Lake City, Manoukian was back at her studio near Kimball Junction sharing stories with his students at an impromptu gathering.
Days later, the brightly colored "Welcome Home Gev" banner still hangs in the studio’s lobby.
Taking lessons from Manoukian was the kind of offer Treasure Mountain International School eighth grader Alexandria Reed, 13, couldn’t refuse. She said she had a crush on the instructor before he was ever on television, and she wasn’t alone.
At the workshop, Manoukian wore a New York Yankees baseball cap, flowing blue sweatpants and neon-green sneakers that blurred with his superhuman quickness. A mix of martial arts and mind-bending break dancing, the routine Manoukian taught his students Tuesday inspired devotion to the point of collapse.
The aerobics workout he provided that night no doubt induce giddy fantasies in his students. During one sequence, Manoukian slid his hands between his legs and bounced on the floor like a sideways frog.
"Should I go slower?" he asked the class.
"No," cried one girl. "Go faster!"
Two of Manoukian’s students, 14-year-olds Lucy Lewis and Avery Alexander phoned in 675 votes after one episode of "So You Think You Dance." The ninth graders from Treasure Mountain International School said they supported their hip hop instructor because of skills and his kind demeanor.
"When he corrects us, he’s not mean," Lucy said.
Manoukian has been teaching at Park City Dance Academy for about a year. He moved to Utah when he was just slightly older than most of her students, about 16, and left behind his native country, Kazakhstan, which borders Russia to the north and China to the south.
His dance career began on the streets. "I started back there," he explained. "I saw a friend doing break dancing. I was big into martial arts and basketball. I never really expected to be a dancer."
Within a few months, Manoukian, who had been one of the region’s best point guards on the basketball court and an advanced student in karate and jujitsu, was worming around, instructing others in the art of grooving. Only years later would he take dance lessons.
Manoukian got his big break, coming to America, shortly thereafter when his dad, former professional show skater Akop Manoukian, moved to Wyoming. "It was something I always wanted as a kid," Gev Manoukian said of immigrating to the United States. "I was so excited I was running back and forth."
Manoukian first auditioned for "So You Think You Can Dance’s" second season in 2006. He failed to make it into the top group.
That’s when he decided to go back to the studio and receive more formal training in styles he had never before put much though into, such as contemporary and jazz dancing.
Manoukian’s renewed drive propelled him to audition for the Las Vegas main-stage show "Cirque du Soleil" in 2007. He said he had no plans of making another go at "So You Think You Can Dance."
It was with the encouragement of the people at Park City Dance Academy and another Utah studio, Dance Impressions, that he decided to try once again for a spot on one of the summer’s most popular network programs.
"I auditioned [for season four] just for the audition experience," he said. "I wasn’t expecting to be on the show."
Manoukian described earning a ticket into the top 20 contestants as a "wow" moment, but the hard work was just beginning.
"It was like a boot camp," he said of his experience. "I just remember telling myself, ‘I don’t want to go home the first day.’"
Manoukian and the 19 other competitors from across the country were paired at random with partners of the opposite sex. Manoukian’s partner was contemporary dancer Courtney Galiano.
They spent most of the week together learning pair routines, group performances and solos.
"You kind of reach a whole new level of tired," Manoukian said. "To me, it felt like I was pushing myself the hardest."
An avowed perfectionist, Manoukian said he tried to immerse himself in the different styles of dance contestants are asked to perform on the show. Manoukian didn’t have much experience with disco or ballroom dancing, but he nonetheless performed them in front of a live studio audience and for millions of viewers watching at home. "When I was doing ballroom dance, I wanted to look like a ballroom dancer," he said.
Manoukian was twice voted in the bottom three before he was eliminated from the program. He said exiting the competition before today’s finale was "bittersweet."
"I’m a big dreamer," he said. "I also work really hard. I’ve worked so hard to try to get myself out there. I always said when I get to America I’ll do this and this and this. So far, everything has come true."
Manoukian credits tough condition and discipline in Kazakhstan for giving him the work ethic he needs to succeed in what can be a cutthroat industry. "It was kind of rough [in Kazakhstan] because we weren’t always wealthy," he said. "It was a struggle."
Manoukian’s mom still lives in the eastern European country and hasn’t gotten to see any of her son’s performances on TV, he said, and added that one of his goals is to bring the rest of his family to America.
As for dancing, he’s trying for Broadway.
To see an audio slideshow of Gev Manoukian’s dance workshop, go to http://www.parkrecord.com. The season finale of "So You Think You Can Dance" is Wednesday night. Manoukian returns to Utah with the "Dance" tour Sept. 23.
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