Who is Casey Askew? The 19-year-old dancer is putting Edmonds on the map in this season’s run of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Voting continues until 10 a.m. Thursday, following Wednesday night’s show.
As Casey enters his fourth week performing on the live show, we talked to those in his life who have supported him from the beginning.
“You were on fire up there, young man, on fire!” “So You Think You Can Dance” judge Mary Murphy exclaimed after Casey Askew’s live performance last Wednesday night. Casey, a 2013 Meadowdale High School graduate and student at Chapman University, is one of 16 dancers left on the show competing for the title “America’s Favorite Dancer,” a hefty cash prize, and a role in the Broadway musical On The Town. However, before Casey got the chance to perform for America on live television, he got his start in Edmonds.
Casey began dancing at Camille’s Dance Edge when he was just 8 years old, after a few classmates showed him the routine they learned at the studio’s summer camp. After catching on quickly to the girls’ routine, Casey decided he wanted to take dance lessons himself. “[We had] put him in the typical soccer-, baseball-, basketball-type activities and he just said, ‘You know, I think I’m done with those things. I’m going to do something else,’” Casey’s mother, Lisa Askew, recalled.
Because Lisa told Casey he needed to replace the three activities he was leaving with three other activities, Casey opted to take gymnastics, hip-hop and piano lessons. After only two years of classes, Casey decided to branch into other styles and try out for the studio’s competition team, which performed lyrical and jazz routines.
“While he was at hip-hop, he was always watching the other girls [on] the competition team,” Lisa explained. “He was already starting to do the tricks that they were doing, and he naturally could do them, and I kept saying, ‘Why don’t we just wait until you can get some real lessons?’”
“He’s been spinning since he was 8 years old; everywhere we went, Casey was spinning,” Casey’s aunt, Cathy Daly, recalled. Cathy has been watching the show since its first season in 2005, around the same time that Casey started dancing. She and her sister, Cindy Wilson, have always hoped their nephew would try out for the show.
“We watched him all the way through growing up. At first it was just fun to go watch him, and then it was clear that he was really talented, so we kind of followed him around through his competitions, down to Nationals in Vegas,” Cathy explained. “So maybe five years or so ago we started saying, ‘Casey’s got to try out for that show!’ hoping it would still be on.”
Casey’s first dance teacher, Camille Palmer, figured out he was more than the average hobbyist dancer by the time he was 10. “I just remember him walking in my class and teaching him how to do a pirouette… I showed him how to prepare, what a passé was, and he just busted out a double pirouette – first day, day one,” she recalled. “I taught him how to do a leap and a switch leap maybe the second day he was in class and he just picked it up.”
Soon Casey began to compete in solo categories with his natural talent for spinning, winning a majority of the competitions he entered. Camille Palmer recalled the time at Starpower, when Casey went to nationals for his very first year, but he didn’t want to enter in the title competition. So she told Casey’s grandmother to do it anyway. “So she entered him and he ended up winning Mr. Starpower that year. His first year: Mr. Starpower. That’s a big deal,” Camille said.
Of course, Casey could not stay at Camille’s Dance Edge forever, and he needed to begin learning dance techniques from men. “Camille was always really supportive…because she is a female teacher and only taught girls all her life, and so she always encouraged him to go to conventions and get training elsewhere,” Lisa Askew said, “so he started looking into it, no clue what he was doing, finding conventions and teachers outside of Washington state that he could learn from.” These conventions not only introduced him to male teachers, but also to many “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants.
“I think that was probably what spurred him on,” Lisa said, “because he kept seeing these “So You Think” people on convention tours and it sort of was always in the back of his mind, ‘Hey I’m [learning] from these people, wouldn’t it be cool to do that?’ because early on he also loved to choreograph. He was doing it from day one. He just has a knack for choreographing. Choosing music, making costumes, he sees it all visually.”
In 2011, Casey met his future dance partner Samantha Cantoria while attending a convention in Hollywood. The two “clicked right off the bat,” according to Lisa, and Casey asked her to compete as his partner in the Disney “Shake It Up” competition, “Make Your Mark,” the same year.
Casey competed with Camille’s Dance Edge through the end of his sophomore year of high school, but began to dance with Samantha at the nationally acclaimed studio Just Plain Dancin’ in California in 2011. The company mainly worked with him through Skype, which allowed Casey to learn most of the routines while living in Washington and still taking classes at Camille’s. He then traveled down to California when he could, with the support of his parents. “As long as he kept up his grades, and everything was good, it was OK with us,” Lisa said.
According to Lisa, Casey actually first wanted to try out for the show during his senior year of high school. “I said no, because he was very busy,” she said. She suspects he thought more about auditioning when he was about to start college in fall of 2013, but didn’t let her or his father know until February, when he planned to audition in Chicago.
“Several of his friends were going to travel to Chicago to try out in February, and I said, ‘No! You’re in L.A., try out in L.A. and that’s where you need to see if you can make it,’ because I heard it’s the largest city of all the cities to try out [in] across the United States. So I think his friends all went to Chicago and he stayed.”
The L.A. auditions took place March 23 and 24 at the Orpheum Theatre, starting at 6 in the morning. The contestants went through various stations where they turned in their resumes and head shots, or performed certain steps as a part of their audition to be one of the few hundred who get to perform their solos for the judges. Casey auditioned for the judges and received his ticket to Pasadena at about 9 p.m. on the first day of solo auditions, after waiting all day.
The Los Angeles auditions had one of the largest turnouts at approximately 650 contestants, of which only about 200 had the opportunity to audition for the judges. Out of those 200, an average of 33 contestants from each city were given a ticket to compete in Pasadena for a chance to perform on the live show.
Less than a month later, Casey and about 160 other contestants arrived in Pasadena for what has been previously known as the grueling “Vegas Week”. From April 10-17, the contestants faced the constant possibility of elimination after performing solos, and then partner routines in hip hop, ballroom, jazz, contemporary and lyrical. The week ended with a group routine of more unknown dancers, which Casey helped choreograph to music they were randomly given, Lisa recalls. “He and the group received rave reviews from the panel of judges. The entire process sounded grueling but worthwhile for sure!” she added.
Casey’s small group of fans in-the-know at home were more than thrilled to find out that he had made it to the live show. “I actually found out that he had made it to the Top 20 when I was at school – I’m a teacher,” his aunt Cathy Daly explained. “I was waiting, waiting, waiting, and luckily the kids had already gone home when my sister called.” The news was good: Casey had made it.
“So I was screaming, in my room, by myself – and it was good because I couldn’t tell anyone,” Daly said.
At the same time, Daly wasn’t completely surprised. “I thought he might make it on…he’s just really versatile and he’s done so much partner work, and that’s really key to the show,” she said. “We didn’t know for sure but I thought he had a good chance at it, although it was still surprising when you think about them only taking 20 – ten guys out of all of those auditions. Pretty amazing.”
Experiencing the live show
Since the show began its live recordings on July 2, Casey has performed a contemporary piece, an Argentine tango and a jazz number in addition to each of the group routines that open every show. As contestants are only given a week to master the group routine in addition to their partner routine, the competition can leave little free time for contestants.
“It’s such a job. Their call times are between 5 and 6 in the morning and they rehearse, practice, mark, hair and makeup, interviews, everything, all day long until about nine o’clock at night, and then they get to eat,” Lisa explained. “They probably don’t really finish up until about midnight and then they kind of fall over… it’s really hard on their bodies, obviously, because when they have free time, then they use it to practice.
“It’s like boot camp I think,” she said. “It sounds pretty torturous, but he says in the same breath he loves it because he’s learning. The producers and the crew are really pulling for them to do well, so they’re helping them as much as they can [with] everything and anything about walking, camera work, stage work, presence. It’s really how he carries himself.”
While the show challenges and teaches Casey, it also connects him to others who understand his passion for dance. While Casey was growing up, he never felt like he fit in because other kids didn’t understand his drive and passion, Lisa said. “You know how people just sort of like things and do things. But he just had this one-track mind and we as parents couldn’t even understand it. He was always researching places to take classes, or the latest choreographer that was doing something somewhere in some town… to find the best training he could.
“At this level where they’re at, all these kids have this passion and drive and no one can probably understand it but them,” she added.
Casey has already made a few strong friendships on the show. Nick Garcia, the first male contestant to be eliminated, was Casey’s roommate. Lisa says he now spends the bulk of his time with a few other contestants. “Ricky, Rudy and Zack, and Serge – he’s probably the oldest there, he’s doing great – and then Marcquet cooks for them!” she laughed.
Casey has also known contestant Jessica Richens since he was about 10, because he has been competing against her for years.
Casey’s pillars of support
Casey’s support group has only increased since the airing of the show. His mother has attended every live show, along with visits from his father, brother and grandmother. His former dance teachers Dawn Griffith and Palmer, who closed her studio in August 2013 to focus on raising her family, can be seen in the audience after Casey’s performance last week as well.
“He’s been amazed how supportive people have been… that’s what he’s enjoyed,” Lisa said. “Growing up, it was really difficult, because there were several boys that were dancing with him when he was young, but they really ended up dropping off pretty early on because there was pressure. I know one boy said, ‘Eh, I’m getting teased by my football teammate.’
“You have to really have that ability to stick through it and not be made fun of. [In California], there’s a whole community of art [that’s] all supported here, but in Washington State, no way.”
One of his first friends at Camille’s Dance Edge, Kaysea Studioso, even spent two weeks with Casey’s mother in Los Angeles to show her support. Studioso has only been able to get into the live show once, after waiting outside for two hours for a chance at a seat-filler spot. “Lisa took me to the line of people waiting to enter the show using online voucher tickets and we asked a woman named Stephanie that was working with the show if she could get me in.” Studioso explained that Lisa was a dancer’s parent and from Washington,” and Stephanie “put me on this woman’s ticket that had two extra spaces. We weren’t guaranteed entrance to the show, but they took us back as seat fillers and filed us into seats just before the show started!” Studioso recalled.
It was not a show Studioso will forget quickly. “It was one of the most amazing experiences. I mean, I have seen him dance a million times before, but this time was different. You could tell he was just putting it all out there enjoying himself and living on that stage,” she recalled.
Palmer felt the same way when she watched Casey’s performance last week. “When the kids are younger, it’s a different kind of excitement on their faces when they’re dancing. It’s like they’re doing it for fun,” she explained. “But now when I watch him, you can tell it’s his favorite thing in the whole world to do. It’s what he wants to do with his life. You can see it in his face when he dances, just the passion that he has for it. He’s just one of those kids that has to dance. I mean, he loves it, but it’s like he just needs it.”
Casey competed again with the top 16 contestants Wednesday night. With three more cuts until contestants officially begin to compete with All-Stars and secure their spots in the group that will be touring this fall, the show is becoming more competitive than ever.
“That’s our first goal, is to get to [the tour], and then of course, we want him to win the whole thing. But if he can get on the tour that would be awesome,” Daly said.
His mother, however, has a slightly different perspective concerning Casey’s advancement on the show. “I’m surprisingly not nervous, because I only get nervous if I feel he is worried about something or not happy about something,” Lisa said. “I was just worried about how he was feeling; not so much if he got eliminated, because he at that point had already said, ‘Even if I was the first to be eliminated, it would be okay because I’m just so thrilled that I got this far.’”
Casey is currently in the dance program at Chapman University, but Lisa says he may have to put Chapman on hold for a semester or enroll in community college if he gets the opportunity to tour, as the rigid schedule in Chapman’s dance program will be hard to work around.
“As long as he stays the humble person that my husband and I expect him to be, [that’s] all we care about,” Lisa explained. “The crew has been hard on him, but he knows it’s because they really care about them being successful and he is so thankful for that.
“He’s there to learn; really that’s kind of this whole process. He wants to stay in it as long as possible because he wants to be getting the experience to work with these choreographers and teachers that are helping him learn and grow,” she added. “He just looks at it as one more thing to do on the resume, not the end process, but the beginning process of what he’s trying to do for a career.”
Casey is most interested in pursuing the commercial side of dancing, focusing on touring and choreographing like Season 2 contestant Travis Wall, who now returns to the show as a choreographer.
“I’m so thankful he did it,” Lisa said. “He was very scared to do it, because I think during high school he was saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think I would want to do that because I don’t want to be humiliated on national TV.’ … As he got older, he was more confident, obviously, and realizing, it’s not about being humiliated, it’s about trying and going for a dream.”
Vote until 10 a.m. Thursday, July 24
— By Caitlin Plummer