SALT LAKE CITY — For the past few months, when dancers Alexis Warr and Charity Anderson have taken their places onstage during “Derek Hough Live!: The Tour,” the two friends from Utah County have paused and looked at each other.
“'Whoa! We’re here. It’s crazy. This is actually happening,'” Warr recalled thinking of those dream moments onstage.
“I never would have thought I would be going on tour with you,” Anderson said to her friend during a recent interview with the Deseret News. “I just don’t believe it.”
Anderson and Warr, both 18, are two of the eight dancers — including Hough — performing in “Derek Hough Live!: The Tour.”
This is the first solo tour for Utah native Derek Hough, a six-time champion on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” and current judge — along with Jennifer Lopez and Ne-Yo — on NBC’s “World of Dance.” The tour features a fusion of dance and music with styles ranging from ballroom and salsa and hip-hop, according to derekhough.com. The dancers, accompanied by a live band, will stop at Salt Lake's Eccles Theater on Thursday, May 23.
'You are enough'
The tour is like one big party for Warr and Anderson, but it was a journey of dedication and hard work to get to this point.
Warr, of Highland, trained in ballet, contemporary, hip hop, jazz, tap, gymnastics and ballroom starting age 6 at the Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem — the same studio where Hough studied. She competed on “America’s Got Talent” and "World of Dance,” the later with the Orem-based dance troope the Pulse. When people from “Dancing With the Stars” presented her name to Hough as a possible member, Hough reached out to the artistic director at Orem’s Center Stage who sent him information. After a couple of weeks, on Feb. 20, Hough announced Warr would join the tour on Facebook.
“When I was asked to join the tour, I didn’t believe it at first. It took a moment to sink in,” Warr said. “I couldn’t wait. Afterwards I started crying and was on cloud nine.”
Anderson, of Springville, began dancing at the age of 2 and has trained in ballroom, jazz, hip hop, tumbling, ballet and contemporary dance. Anderson and her dance partner Andres Penate earned the first perfect score on “World of Dance” last year and went on to place third — where she competed on a broken toe during the semifinal round. On Feb. 24, Anderson was introduced on Facebook as the last dancer to join the team.
“When Derek Hough asked me if I would be interested in coming on tour with him, without hesitation or questions I said, ‘Absolutely!’” Anderson said. “I was ready to drop everything and leave right then. I couldn’t believe my ears.”
After Warr and Anderson accepted the offer to join the tour, they were given a rough schedule, then flew to California on March 16. The tour members spent the next two and a half weeks in rehearsals and opened in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 5.
Although the last few months have gone by fast, Warr and Anderson have relished the special moments with the team members who have become like family.
One particular moment was when the group was learning numbers to “Shallow” and a medley of songs from “The Greatest Showman.”
“The message Derek was getting across is that, ‘You are enough. You always have been and you always will be,’” Warr said. “When he was saying that to us during rehearsals, we all bawled our eyes out."
“We are in a dance world that is very demanding,” Warr continued. “It’s very hard and competitive and we easily compare ourselves to everyone. We get down on ourselves a lot. And then we always question ourselves like, ‘Are we enough? Am I doing good enough?’ That is what has impacted me the most on this tour and what I feel like changed me more and changed the way I approach things. It’s just very heartwarming.”
Along with the inspiring words from Hough, the two young women — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — have also relied on their friendship and faith to sustain them during difficult times.
“It’s also hard because some of our surroundings are controversial,” Warr said. “It’s nice to have Charity with me and we can help each other stay grounded.”
”It’s easy to forget what we’re doing, why we’re here, and get caught up in the competitiveness and get down on ourselves,” Anderson added. “God is always there to lift us up. He loves us no matter what.”
'It’s going to be such a party'
When being away from family gets extremely difficult, Warr remembers the advice she received from her mother.
“My mom once told me, ‘Take it day by day,’” Warr said. “‘If you can’t do day by day, take it hour by hour. If you can’t do hour by hour, take it minute by minute.’ So I’ve been living off of that.”
Other challenges have included dirty laundry piling up, ending the day at 3 a.m., homesickness for Warr and a sprained ankle for Anderson. But FaceTime, ice baths, massage guns, ice foot pads and a traveling physical therapist have provided relief.
Even during those trials, being on tour is still the fulfillment of a dream for the young women from Utah County. Being able to learn from two-time Emmy-winner Hough and watching his creative process is impressive and magical for the young dancers.
The creative numbers featured in the tour are pieces crafted by Hough and two-time Emmy winners, Napoleon and Tabitha D'umo, or NappyTabs, who also direct and supervise choreography for the tour, according to derekhough.com.
Although the Emmy-winning choreography team created dances for the tour, Hough also asks the other dancers for their input.
“(Hough) respects our ideas and values our opinion,” Anderson said of the invitation to create.
“It helps us get confidence in ourselves and ideas, but it also gave us moments to trust each other and I feel like it created a stronger bond between all of us,” Warr said of the team. In addition to Hough, Anderson and Warr, the five other dancers on that team are Chase Haley Bowden, Peyton Albrecht, Daniella Karagach, Audrey Case and Jay Jay Dixonbey.
“The cast is so amazing,” Warr said. “Not only are they amazing dancers, but they’re incredible human beings. We all have different styles but we come together, and the way we make the pieces look as a unit is unreal.”1 comment on this story
It’s during the inside jokes, the connection with the audience, the roar of the crowd and the energy in the room that Warr and Anderson see their hard work play out onstage — and the two look forward to bringing that same energy to their home crowd on May 23.
“It’s going to be such a party,” Anderson said. “I cannot wait.”
“Just to perform and really open my heart and be vulnerable onstage, that’s the most magical feeling."
If you go …
What: “Derek Hough Live: The Tour”
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
When: May 23, 8 p.m.
Cost: contact box office for availability