• Maddie Kurtz

Spotlight Feature: JT Church

Check out our podcast episode with JT Church! Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts!

This week on Making the Impact, co-hosts Courtney Ortiz and Lesley Mealor sat down with young dance superstar JT Church and his mom, Leslie, for the first ever Spotlight Feature episode.

Based in Arizona, 14-year-old JT currently dances at Club Dance Studio in Mesa. At the time that this episode was recorded, JT and Leslie were in Vancouver, in quarantine, to prepare for JT’s movie debut! He’s currently working on a new film, The Christmas Waltz, that will premiere on the Hallmark Channel this holiday season.

You might recognize 14-year-old JT from So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation, where he was runner-up, or Dancing with the Stars Junior, which he won. Given that SYTYCD is a dream for so many dancers around the country, Courtney and Lesley decided to take a deep dive into JT’s time on SYTYCD.

At the time of the show, JT was 10 years old and hugely popular in his local dance scene. Leslie recalls her phone exploding with texts and calls the moment the network released the news that the show would be hosting a kids’ version. Thinking realistically about the talent level of young dancers across the country, Leslie was hesitant about JT’s chances, but allowed him to submit a video audition. Upon getting the call that he’d made it to the producer round, Leslie had a choice to make. Due to timing and limited locations of these auditions, she was on the fence about attending.

It wasn’t until JT got scouted at a competition by the Executive Producer of the show that she decided to fly them to Chicago--they were living in Virginia at the time--for the big audition. Had the producer not encouraged Leslie to invest in the flights, things might have turned out differently.

JT described his time on the show as being more fun than stressful because it was so special to be a part of the whole experience. He recalls being somewhat starstruck, having spent much of his time prior to the show watching the other dancers on Youtube. JT described the intensity of “Academy Week,” the triumph of making it onto ‘Team Robert,’ and Robert Roldan eventually selecting JT. He also described his major setback when he froze during the Broadway round, having never forgotten a routine on stage until that moment.

But despite JT’s on-stage mishap, Robert ultimately went with his gut and chose him. Perhaps it was JT’s infectious energy, or special spark. As Leslie always tells JT, “You’re the one person that can dance like you. Don’t try to dance like somebody else. Don’t try to be like somebody else.” JT’s individuality and special quality sealed the deal.

Leslie also credits JT’s three prior years on the convention circuit as being instrumental in shaping his success on the SYTYCD Stage. At a convention,

“You have just a short period of time to learn these things and to make an impression and have somebody recognize you. You have to still stand out at these events.”


JT’s ability to learn choreography quickly and win the hearts of judges and viewers garnered him the title of runner up.


And beyond his ability to pick up choreography quickly, conventions have also supplemented JT’s training, giving him access to a wider range of teachers and styles. Leslie stressed the importance of consistent training and the value of working with multiple choreographers,

”He’s 14 now but the basis of dancing for him has not changed. He still needs to train. He still needs to challenge himself. And that’s why, even now, I still have him at a studio. He needs to be in group dances. You don’t get jobs as a soloist.”


But she doesn’t allow herself to get lost in JT’s success. At the end of the day, it’s about his training and his passion,

”Supporting your kid in dance is obviously important, but making sure that that's what your kid wants to do, and that they're not doing it for the parent."

"JT dances because he loves to dance. He could tell me tomorrow ‘I don’t want to dance anymore’ and I’d be okay with that because I want my child to be happy.”

But JT doesn’t plan on leaving the dance world anytime soon--he’s just getting started! He, too, stressed the value of frequenting convention classes and continuing to train in multiple styles. He leaves young dancers with inspiring advice:

”My advice for any kid that wants to do dance as a career--or do anything as a career--is just to be yourself because that’s really important and no one can be you...work hard and just believe that you can achieve anything.”



Thanks to JT and Leslie for joining on this week's episode! Be sure to follow JT on Instagram @JT_Church to keep up with his dance journey!

Maddie Kurtz is an IDA staff writer/admin, choreographer, judge, and dance educator. Check out her other articles on the IDA Blog, visit her website, and follow her @maddiekurtz92.


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