From the moment JT Church could walk, he was a little whirlwind of song and dance around the house. Every Friday night, JT and his older brother Bradley would put on a big show for their parents, Leslie and John. JT provided the entertainment and Bradley was the tech support and lighting guy. Using a little microphone stand made out of Tinker Toys by Bradley, JT would sing and dance to his favorite Taylor Swift songs while an amazing light show transpired. Lovingly called the “Lord of the Dance” by his Grammy, Josephine, who would sing the church song to JT as he pranced around the house.
Understanding that JT needed an outlet for all of his energy, his mom, Leslie, first enrolled him in classes at the Little Gym. JT loved his weekly tumbling and dancing classes. Seeing his interest in gymnastics, his mom then enrolled him in gymnastics lessons at a local gymnasium. He was 3 years old and had amazing balance and was extremely coordinated. He enjoyed flipping on the bars and prancing on the balance beam. Even at his young age, he knew to finish with his feet straight and his arms up in the official gymnast pose. At 4 years old, JT took his turn at playing soccer. His father, John, helped coach the team where JT was a star player.
JT was very agile and very fast on the field. Although he was the top scorer on the team and he enjoyed the competitive nature of the sport, soccer just wasn’t his “thing”.
In the fall of 2011, when JT was just 5 years old, he attended a local town festival called Haymarket Day with his family. Celebrated in the town of Haymarket, about an hour outside of Washington DC, the festival celebrates the small town’s birthday. The main street of the town is shut down to allow room for vendors, food, games and a big parade. Everyone lines the streets to watch the local fire department, Boy Scouts, schools, antique cars and even the local dance teams march down the street. At the end of the parade, a big stage was set up for more entertainment. It was here where JT would watch the Gainesville Dance Center Competition team perform a variety of dances.
JT sat and watched the dancers in complete awe. They performed ballet, hip hop, tap, jazz and contemporary pieces. His favorite performance was to the song “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. The dancers were dressed in black and white with black fedoras and canes. JT was mesmerized by the dancer’s synchronization and the banging of the canes. About 45 minutes later, when the show was over, he looked at his parents and said he wanted to take a dance class.
The next day, Leslie called the studio to see what type of classes would be available for her son. The studio suggested that JT come in for a free trial class with other kids his age. They suggested a jazz class called “Boogie Fever.” JT’s parents took him to the one-hour class and waited in the studio lobby. When it was over, JT ran to his parents screaming how much he loved the class and how he needed “real” jazz shoes before next week’s class! The next day, JT went to Heather’s Dance Boutique to get fitted for his first of many dance shoes!
JT attended his weekly Boogie Fever classes and the class prepared for their performance for the end of year recital. The kids danced to “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire and wore black and neon yellow costumes. He was so excited to get on stage and show off his moves. JT was born to be on that stage! Ms. Vanessa, JT’s teacher told his parents that JT was very unique in that he paid attention in class, he picked up choreography quickly and he had musicality.
JT auditioned for the competition team that summer and was excited to become a member of the youngest group, Team Purple. The team was made up of 2 boys and 8 girls which trained 4 hours a week in ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop. JT enjoyed his dance classes and loved being able to compete. His first solo was a contemporary dance choreographed by Ms. Melanie to “Little Things” by One Direction. Ms. Melanie told JT’s parents that JT had a gift and she pushed him to be his best. Along with dancing, JT was now watching YouTube videos of gymnasts like Gabby Douglas and Mary Lou Retton so he could teach himself how to do aerials, back flips, roundoffs and other tricks in his backyard. His parents got him a trampoline and he loved it.
JT was now dancing about six days a week and putting in approximately 12-15 hours weekly at the studio. He also began attending some of the larger dance convention workshops such as JUMP, Monsters of Hip Hop and Wild Dance Convention. Everywhere he went, the choreographers teaching the classes were continually drawn to JT and he received scholarships to future events and competitions.
At age 9, JT traveled to Ocean City Maryland where he competed his solo at Starpower Nationals. He happily left the event earning him his first national title and carrying a huge trophy and sash naming him “Little Mr. Starpower” National Champion!
In February 2016, the Fox TV hit show SYTYCD announced they were auditioning kids ages 9 – 13 for their summer hit series. JT’s mom received many phone calls from dance teachers and friends suggesting JT audition for the show. Reluctantly, Leslie agreed to complete the online audition application and sent his jazz solo thru a private YouTube link to the producers. Leslie was soon contacted by the producers who were interested in JT and wanted to do a back story on him. JT and his Mom flew to Chicago for his audition, knowing that even if he didn’t make it to Hollywood, he would be on tv with a back story which was really exciting. JT danced his heart out through various rounds of auditions and finally made it to the big stage to perform in front of the judges – Paula Abdul, Nigel Lythgoe and Jason Derulo. JT wowed them with his jazz routine choreographed by Ms. Melanie to “Business of Love”. As he walked off the stage, JT was holding his golden ticket and would soon be on his way to Los Angeles!
Approximately 100 of the best dance kids arrived in Los Angeles for SYTYCD Academy Week. The kids would be cut daily after learning choreography and performing on stage. JT was very nervous as he was now standing in a room with some of his dance idols and couldn’t believe he was actually there! The first cut wiped out of 50 of the dancers but JT was still in the competition. He made it as one 5 boys on to Season 7 All Star Robert Roldan’s team! Robert picked 4 contemporary boys and JT, who was his wild card jazz dancer. By the end of the week, Robert had to pick the one kid he wanted to take to the Top 10 for the live shows. He picked JT. It was amazing and exciting and overwhelming! We couldn’t believe it!
JT and Robert perform “Mr. Bojangles”
JT and Robert were America’s favorite duo and performed memorable performances week after week. JT was able to learn from some of the best choreographers in the industry. He was learning and growing as a dancer and Robert was there to guide him along the way, always being a positive and loving mentor. They performed so many memorable dances like “Stand in the Light” choreographed by Mandy Moore, and “The Mirror” choreographed by Travis Wall, which not only went viral but also earned Travis an Emmy for Outstanding Choreography.
JT and Robert perform “The Mirror”
In the end, the 10 year old little boy from Bristow, VA was named Runner-Up and could now add Emmy Award Winning dancer to his resume.
JT returned home to Virginia after SYTYCD with a dance agency (Go 2 Talent) and new goals in mind. He continued his training but was now being hired for jobs and traveling regularly. His first job after SYTYCD would be to perform on the Grand Ole Opry Stage for the CMA Country Christmas special. Filmed in Nashville and choreographed by the Golden Boyz, JT was reunited with Robert and several other SYTYCD dancers who also performed in the number. JT dazzled the audience with his dancing while Idina Menzel and Jennifer Nettles sang “The Little Drummer Boy”.
Next up, JT would appear on Dancing With The Stars Disney Week and DWTS Finale contemporary routine with Val Chmerkovskiy and Normai.
As the summer of 2017 approached, JT’s family decided it was time to leave Virginia and move to the West Coast where JT could continue to train, as well as explore dance opportunities in Los Angeles. The Church family moved to Chandler, AZ and JT began training at Club Dance Studio as a member of their Pre-Pro Team. Immediately JT and Leslie traveled with his new studio to The Dance Awards in Las Vegas where they were competing for studio of the year and JT was competing for the title of Mini Male Best Dancer. After a week-long of competitions, both JT and his studio walked away with those titles. It was very exciting! Next JT would appear on Nickelodeon’s Lip Sync Battle Shorties where his lip syncing and dancing to “Cake by the Ocean” would earn him the coveted blinged out microphone.
JT continued to train hard in all styles of dance with an emphasis on Ballet, Latin Ballroom and Hip Hop. Shortly thereafter, DWTS Juniors would call asking to see if JT would like to audition as a Junior Pro. JT worked hard preparing for his audition and put in extra hours at Imperial Ballroom in Scottsdale, AZ. He was thrilled when he heard his hard work had paid off and he would become a Junior Pro, along with some of the most talented young dancers in the industry. Partnered with skateboarder Sky Brown and mentored by Alan Bersten, Team Alan worked hard! Week after week, Sky was able to shine on the ballroom floor with JT as her partner. In the end, of the four couples standing, JT and Sky took home the first Junior Mirror Star! JT had now proved his ballroom skills were the real deal.
JT continues to train in all styles of dance and even uses the hashtag #itraininallstyles to highlight his efforts. He was chosen to be a Kids Cast Member for the 2019 Monsters of Hip Hop Show highlighting the best young hip hop dancers in the industry.
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At age 14, JT continues to train hard in dance and focus on being the best he can be. Living outside of Los Angeles allows him time to be a normal kid and enjoy time with his family and friends when he isn’t working.
Currently, JT is in Vancouver, Canada where he will soon start filming his first movie! “A Christmas Waltz” will air on the Hallmark Channel this holiday season. The story is written by Michael and Janeen Damian who also wrote and produced the High Strung films. JT will be playing the role of Nicky, a young boy dancer. JT is very excited for his movie debut and hopes to continue to expand on his acting career. He also hopes to be on Broadway one day and go back to his musical theater and jazz roots which fostered his love of dance in the beginning.
The future looks bright for JT and he’s excited to set new goals and work towards achieving them one dance step at a time!
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