Miami dancer makes Top 20 in ‘So You Think You Can Dance’

Ricky Ubeda remembers watching the FOX reality hit show So You Think You Can Dance when he was young and counted the days until he was old enough to try out for the popular show.

As soon as he turned 18, the show’s minimum age requirement, Ubeda auditioned.

“Watching the show and doing contemporary dancing inspired me to practice dance because you can express yourself,” Ubeda said.

Now, Ubeda, 18, has made it to the Top 20 round. He is one of four dancers on the show — the other three were eliminated — who trained at Stars Dance Studio in southwest Miami-Dade. The others are Julian Mireles, 19, Cristina Moya-Palacios, 19, and Samantha Perez, 19.

Surrounded by friends, trainers and family, the four dancers recently watched their performances at the studio at 3800 SW 137th Ave.

Victor Smalley and Angel Armas run the studio, which they opened in 2007. Smalley appeared on a previous season finishing in the top 12. He says the show is a great opportunity for an up-and-coming dancer.

“We want to help them unlock their true artist and find out who they are and be original,” he said.

The dance show, modeled after American Idol, premiered in 2005. Airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Season 11 began in May and will run till September. The winner will receive a cash prize. In the past, winners have won $125,000.

Moya-Palacios said dancing started as a hobby, but later became her life. “I like how free it makes me feel. It’s therapy,” said Moya-Palacios who performed a contemporary dance for the audition. “It lets you release emotions and stress.”

Mireles once rolled around on mats practicing martial arts techniques, but traded the gloves for the dance floor. He said he didn’t know how he would react when he first saw himself on the small screen.

“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I think every dancer should do it. There are so many things you can do.”

Perez, who is studying to be a physical therapist, said she was familiar with the show, but never expected to be part of it.

“I always saw it on television, but I never knew I would try out and see myself on television,” she said.

Ubeda’s mother, Dina, said she knew her son wanted to be on the show, so she motivated him.

“Since he was little I would take him to dance practice,’’ she said. “We’ve been on this journey together. He’s worked very hard. He has had to sacrifice to be dancing 24 hours and seven days a week. It’s been hard work, but it pays off.”

In appreciation, Ubeda dedicated his audition dance to his mother.

“My financial situation was rough,’’ he said. “I had to have scholarships and raise funds so I can dance. It’s an expensive art. It was a way to say thank you.”