Aug 262007
Authors: Jessi Stafford

Local dance studio, Westin Arts Academy, is proving they know how to dance.

And Nick Lazzarini, season one winner of the Fox reality show “So You Think You Can Dance,” is keeping them on their toes.

Lazzarini is teaching choreography for three dances, including a group piece made up of 10-to 13-year-olds, in three days.

For the dancers, this is an incredibly short amount of time to learn such difficult numbers. But the dancers, all of whom are younger than 18, and Lazzarini, are up for the challenge.

“It’s difficult, but he goes over things, so he makes it a little easier,” said dancer Courtney McKenzie.

Lazzarini is part of the dance convention company called JUMP that hosts classes and competitions in major cities across the nation. The convention makes its way to Denver every year and is how Lazzarini met Mimi Westin, the owner of Westin Arts Academy.

“At JUMP, our kids really caught his eye, so I asked him if he would come to Westin,” Westin said. “He said ‘definitely.'”

As far as Lazzarini is concerned, the decision to come back to Colorado was not a difficult choice to make. Denver, alongside Los Angeles, was his favorite city to visit during last year’s tour with JUMP.

“The kids were really good and positive,” he said. “They were very supportive of each other.”

The convention was last spring, and Lazzarini has finally made his way from his home in New York City to spend his limited amount of time with the kids skilled enough to last through the informal auditions.

Westin Arts Academy is beginning to open its doors to professional dancers outside of the surrounding areas, which is not necessarily something most dance studios practice.

“It’s not commonplace,” Westin said. “You have to have kids at a certain level, we want them to want to come back.”

Certainly, the dancers at Westin’s studio have the potential, but they might have a while to go before they can move like Lazzarini.

“I’ve learned to use my body in different ways than I could before,” McKenzie said. “Some things aren’t as easy as they look.”

Sometimes, it’s about going back to the fundamentals.

“I like teaching technique classes, a lot of times we don’t remember our basics,” Lazzarini said.

He prefers jazz and lyrical dancing to any other, and he finds that the traditional jazz dance is difficult to find in a dance world made up of “contemporary” performers.

“People are so caught up in contemporary dance, nobody knows how to do jazz anymore,” he said.

Yet, this is something he plans on changing.

“I am doing full 80’s jazz for JUMP this year,” he said. “Clean, traditional jazz.”

For the time being, Lazzarini is staying away from music from decades past and, once the dancers learn the steps, they will begin perfecting the pieces to prepare them for competitions.

“We want to equip them with the tools they need,” Westin said.

And guest choreographers can give the dancers, as well as the studio, an advantage over other studios.

“There really isn’t anyone in Fort Collins doing what we’re doing,” Westin said.

They must be doing something right because the studio has been invited to perform during halftime at the Orange Bowl in January.

“It’s great for them because it’s fun to do a big event,” Westin said.

Westin Arts Academy will showcase all of its dances, including the three choreographed by Lazzarini, on Dec. 8, at the Hensel Phelps Theatre at the Greeley Union Colony Civic Center.

Associate News Managing Editor Jessi Stafford can be reached at

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