UCF student on her way to becoming America’s favorite dancer
Published: Monday, July 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 23, 2012 13:07
Walking onto the So You Think You Can Dance audition stage in Atlanta, Tiffany Maher had no idea that her dreams of being a contestant and a professional dancer were about to come true. Maher, a junior at UCF, was a fan of the show prior to auditioning and was determined to become a part of it. When Maher became eligible for the hit Fox TV show, she seized her opportunity and became a contestant.
“I came on the show to learn something new and grow as a dancer,” Maher said. “My biggest goal when I leave is to feel like I learned and grew as a dancer.”
On Wednesday, she received positive remarks from the judges and when the top 20 contestants were cut down to 16, she became one step closer to earning the top spot.
Maher started her dance career at the age of 3, at Dance FX in Sunrise, where she now teaches classes. From there, Maher has worked on the big screen in movies like Rock of Ages and Step Up Revolution.
“Being part of Rock of Ages and Step Up Revolution has helped me because it was hard work and hard on the body,” Maher said. “You have to learn choreography and other peoples’ styles.”
Maher not only has a strong dance background; she has an exceptional educational background as well. She graduated as salutatorian from her high school with one year of college credit already under her belt. Maher is an interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis on public affairs. Her extra credits and major have allowed her to create a schedule that provides flexibility for her dancing career.
“I literally danced every day after school. I would go to school, then dance class, do my homework then go to bed,” Maher said. “Dance is such a passion that I wanted it more than anything else, which made me keep my mind on track.”
After completing her audition in Atlanta, Maher faced the judges for the first time.
“When the judges critiqued me for the first time, it was incredible because they only had good things to say. You don’t know what they think of you because they don’t say a word to you,” Maher said. “I look up to them, so for them to say positive things was unbelievable. I have now been critiqued by the best of the best.”
After being one of 200 dancers selected to go to Las Vegas where the real competition began, Maher faced new challenges. Her first performance, which was a group performance, left the judges unimpressed and in the weeks that followed, she lost her voice and accidently punched another contestant who ended up with a bloody nose.
“I took it one round at a time. I wasn’t going in trying to make the show, just doing my best. I didn’t think about the end and just took it round by round,” Maher said.
After making the top 20, she had to learn new styles and had to work with a new partner, George Lawrence II.
“Having a partner is completely different from solo dancing, but I lucked out. [Lawrence and I] clicked well. We became great friends. We are both 19 and just bonded the first week.”
In an attempt to build upon that bond, Lawrence and Maher were given a homework assignment by their choreographer, Sonya Tayeh.
“We talked about good and bad past relationships," Maher said. “We talked heart to heart and that created an offstage bond that just comes out on stage.”
On Wednesday’s show, Maher and Lawrence had to perform the foxtrot, a routine that Maher dreaded because of its complexity and emphasis on technique.
“The foxtrot is like a different language,” Maher said. “At the beginning of the week we didn’t even understand what the [choreographers] were telling us. We worked hard, and it felt really good to hear the judges’ positive remarks about it.”
Maher received one of the highest accolades on the show — hearing Mary Murphy scream. The judge is known for letting her infamous shriek out only after stellar performances
“My dream was to make Mary scream once, and I was so excited when she did [Wednesday]. Because she has a ballroom background, it makes her reaction even better,” Maher said.
Marla Maher, a 51-year-old resident of Plantation, watched in the stands as the judges complimented her daughter.
“At the time, I was hearing half of what they were saying. We were so nervous. You really just don’t know what they are going to say,” Marla said. “There is no better feeling. It is beyond feelings. She was so out of her element that it shows how much she loves dance.”
Marla has made multiple trips to see her daughter perform live in Los Angeles, and watch parties are held in her hometown at Lefty’s Tavern & Grille. Cecelia Wade, 28, a teacher at Dance FX, organizes the weekly event. The group typically has about 80 to 100 spectators, Wade said.
“We take up the whole restaurant — every TV is on,” Wade said. “You can hear a pin drop when she is on TV. Everyone in the restaurant is up in arms after she and George perform. You would think you were in the audience of So You Think You Can Dance.”
Maher knows that no matter what is thrown her way on the show, she will continue striving toward her goal.
“It is really hard, but I stay positive," Maher said. “I think of the quote ‘don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.’”
Catch Maher’s performances every Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox. Voting, which is how contestants remain safe from elimination, is open for two hours after each show and can be done three ways: texting, calling or by going online at Fox.com.