Shaw High School graduate and former TSYS fraud analyst Dustin Payne, who trained at Performance Dance Centre in Columbus, has made it through auditions and is now among the top 40 appearing on the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
The next episode is Monday.
Payne’s audition is shown in the June 11 episode, filmed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. His appearance starts in the 31st minute of the episode.
He went to California as a street performer on Hollywood Boulevard, he explained in the introduction to his segment, “But since then, I had to get a real job with more hours to keep a roof over my head.”
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Payne lamented that his 9-to-5 job as an animator cuts into his dance time, but he keeps portable speakers in his car trunk to practice during his lunch break.
In the last season of SYTYCD, he made it to the Academy but got cut in Ballroom. This season, he wants to “tone it down just a little bit and show the growth in my style and technique,” he said. “If I make the show, it definitely will be a blessing. I’ll finally be able to dedicate all my time and energy toward what I love to do every single day.”
After dancing to “Sleep Talking” by Ravyn Lenae, he heard these comments — all positive — from the SYTYCD judges:
▪ Stephen Boss praised Payne for a “great job” and for showing how a hip-hop dancer can “evolve” from his previous appearance.
“You’re showing us stuff we haven’t seen before. … You had enough patience to follow through, and also you were so confident in what you were doing, and that read for us too,” Boss told him. “So I just appreciate that, man. That was awesome.”
▪ “There was something magical about your tutting,” Mary Murphy told Payne. “It was mesmerizing, and your glides were really wonderful.”
▪ Nigel Lythgoe told him, “Dustin, I loved you last year, I love you again this year, and I pray that you have been really working on your ballroom and everything else, because it would be really good. You’re a very smart dancer, and it would be really good to see you do well in this competition.”
▪ Vanessa Hudgens told Payne, “That was just fire. It was so clean. You did it with such commitment, and you commanded it. It was phenomenal.”
After he advanced to the next level, Payne came through the backstage door and let out an extended, “Woooooo! Yes!”
He looked up, put his hands together in prayer, and said, “Thank you. No more 9-to-5. I’m about to change my life.”
Here’s what dancespirit.com blogger Alison Feller wrote about Payne’s performance:
“Remember Dustin, the awesome animator from last season? He made it to The Academy, but was cut during the ballroom round. We loved him last season, and we still love him. He’s a year older, a year wiser, and, with that slick fedora, a touch fancier! His talent has matured; his big, toothy smile is just as irresistible. His moves were fresh and of the do-not-try-this-at-home variety.”
Payne told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Friday that he is committed to doing better in the competition this year by showing he is more than a hip-hop dancer. He has a chance to demonstrate that improvement in Monday’s episode, which will feature the contemporary and jazz rounds that will whittle the field to the top 20.
“I want to prove to everyone I have what it takes,” he said.
Payne, who turned 27 Friday, graduated from Shaw in 2009. After studying criminal justice for one year at Columbus Technical College and working for a few years as a fraud analyst at TSYS, he left Columbus four years ago and drove 32 hours to California to pursue his dream of becoming a professional dancer.
He now lives in Pico Rivera, Calif., in southeastern Los Angeles County, while performing in various dance showcases, including the Teen Choice Awards, and local videos. He also has been taking more dance classes.
“I’m investing in my craft to get back to teaching more and to pour into my students,” he said.
Last year’s SYTYCD appearance has helped him calm his nerves this year.
“I’m taking that experience and coming back stronger,” he said.
Motivated by his mother, Arnie Anderson, Payne started dancing at age 11 with The Way, Truth and Light Outreach Ministries in Columbus. She now is the praise team leader for Gateway Ministries.
“My mom has been the inspiration through my whole life, even playing videos and teaching me to do the moonwalk,” he said.
Payne said his stepfather, Terry Anderson, an Army National Guardsman and substitute teacher for the Muscogee County School District, encouraged him to “follow your dream” to avoid ever muttering “coulda-woulda-shoulda” to himself. His father and stepmother, Shedrick Payne and Wendy Pepper, also have been supportive, he said.
An extra incentive to perform in this competition, Payne said, is “to inspire my younger brothers.” They are: Tiyri Anderson, 16; Tiyrai Anderson, 15; and Xzavier Payne, 8.
Payne is grateful to Performance Dance Centre owner Carrie Paris for being his first formal instructor and allowing him to teach at her studio.
In high school, a friend tried to convince Payne to join him at the studio. Payne declined, saying, “Nah, they probably wear tights.” But when he saw how much his friend improved his hip-hop dancing, Payne finally followed him to the studio — and Paris sure is glad he did.
“He’s a sweet, sweet person and part of our dance family now,” Paris told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Friday. “We’re so proud of him and so proud of his success.”
Paris recalled Payne being uncertain about the dancing in a studio. But after the first class, she said, “He was absolutely hooked.”
Then, in his second year with Performance Dance Centre, he won scholarships while competing around the Southeast, Paris said.
“That kind of sparked his interest in becoming a professional dancer,” she said.
In 25 years of teaching dance, Paris said, Payne is among the five best she has taught.
“You can’t teach him enough,” she said. “He’s very considerate, very appreciative. He never let us lock up at night without making sure he walked us to the car. … He’s a very hard worker, very genuine and humble. Columbus should be really proud of him as well. We have a lot of talent that comes out of our studio, and Dustin is a prime example of that.”
And many of the Performance Dance Centre students and teachers are cheering for Payne while they watch him on SYTYCD.
“He has a huge fan club at our studio,” Paris said. “As soon as something happens (on the show), they’re talking about it on their phones, on Facebook or group texts. It’s fun, but it makes me nervous. I get so emotional watching him, and it’s inspirational for the kids because it lets them see they can do this, especially some of our guys.”
Even if he doesn’t win the SYTYCD grand prize of$250,000, Payne wants to continue finding ways to dance.
“My passion is dance,” he said. “Whether it’s video, live performance, teaching — wherever this art form takes me — I just want to inspire and never give up.”
For him, Payne said, dance is “a way to speak without speaking. … Just the energy and pure joy out of that gets me excited every single time.”