Twitch’s influence on dance: Derek Hough, Alex Wong call him the hero

JoJo Gomez Okimura was 16 when she first met Stephen “Twitch” Boss at a convention for the hit Fox competition series So You Think You Can Dance. She enrolled in Boss’s class and was overjoyed when he called her on stage to help him.

“I was so nervous, but he made me feel so safe on stage,” she says of her first interaction with her idol. “He made me feel seen.”

Whether auditioning or dancing in class, Gomez Okimura says she felt valued and safe in the presence of the SYTYCD graduate.

Boss had a similar effect on everyone he interacted with in his life, she says. When news of his death by suicide broke on December 13, members of the dance community flooded social media with condolences and tributes. “When we all heard about it, we were paralyzed,” says Gomez Okimura.

dancers and choreographers mourned together online and offline and shared their fondest memories of the So You Think You Can Dance contestant, All-Star and judge. His legacy of joy and inspiration lives on through their stories, says Gomez Okimura.

“When you’re in a room with someone like Twitch, you grow as a person and evolve in your craft,” she says.

Jojo Gomez Okimura and Stephen “Twitch” Boss.

(Courtesy of Jojo Gomez Okimura)

One of the greatest lessons she learned from him was that kindness trumps everything.

“The way you treat people will be remembered forever,” she says. “It’s not your dancing skills. That could be part of it, but first of all you are a human being and the way you interact with people is the most important thing.”

Dancer Dezi Saenz recalls the time she was making dance videos with Boss and his wife Allison Holker. After dancing together, they had a deep conversation about life. Saenz was mesmerized by the light, joy and energy he radiated.

“I think who he was, aside from all the accolades and achievements, should be something that’s celebrated not just in the dance community, but by everyone,” says Saenz.

When Boss returned as an All-Star on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Season 7, he was paired with Alex Wong for a hip-hop routine on Lil Jon’s “Outta Your Mind” β€” choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon of Nappytab’s Dumo . The routine, adored by judges and fans alike, became one of the show’s most memorable moments and was shared again far and wide after his death.

Wong, who practiced ballet, grew as a dancer due to Boss’s tutelage during the routine.

β€œThe message behind this routine is this [Twitch] believed in everyone,” says Gomez Okimura. “He helped them reach their full potential by being right by their side.”

Wong recalls how “positive and caring” Twitch was throughout the rehearsal process and beyond.

“He was always laughing,” he says. “I would always joke with him.”

Wong had to abandon the competition due to injury and was unable to perform the exercise in the final. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres took his place for a hilarious and unexpected re-creation, he says. It was also the catalyst for Boss’s career on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Boss began DJing the popular talk show in 2014 and was promoted to co-executive producer in 2020.

Wong then went back to work with Boss on projects such as Disney+’s The Hip-Hop Nutcracker and various dance events. Wong says Boss’s legacy in dance is “unprecedented”.

“He was such a positive force and so outspoken in a great way, and an idol and mentor to so many people,” says Wong. “He’s just irreplaceable.”

Two men and two women pose and smile at an event.

Stephen “Twitch” Boss, from left, Allison Holker, Derek Hough and Hayley Erbert at the reception for Television Academy’s “Whose Dance Is It Whatever?” Event celebrating the art of choreography in 2017.

(Vince Bucci / Invision / AP)

Boss has had a strong influence and presence in the dance industry, says Derek Hough.

Hough met Boss through Holker, with whom he was working on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Their bond grew when Boss joined Hough as a guest judge on NBC’s competition series World of Dance. He recalls the “meaningful and philosophical and emotional” conversations they had. Hough says that no matter how dire the situation, Boss looked for the silver lining.

“He was a curious person,” he says. “Whenever we talked, it was always like, ‘Let’s go deeper than what’s on the surface of this situation,’ or about that person, or about the dance community, or whatever was going on in the world. “

There are a few people who are synonymous with the dance community, and Hough says Boss is at the top of that list. Boss has also “gone beyond being a dancer,” he adds.

“The second you think about Twitch, you think about his infectious, beautiful smile and the way he could soften an entire room or person just by being there,” says Hough.

Hough says Twitch didn’t just wear Superman clothes. To his family, friends and community, he was superman.

“I think the dance community and everyone who met him really looked at him like a superhero,” says Hough.

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