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January 20, 2018

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Q+A: Sharna Burgess, ‘DWTS’ pro dancer and returning USA and World Hip-Hop Dance Championships chief judge


Mark Tracy Photography/

Sharna Burgess.

Click to enlarge photo

Sharna Burgess.

Click to enlarge photo

Sharna Burgess.

Hip-Hop Dance Championships

Hip-Hop Dance Championships

Australian professional dancer Sharna Burgess had the challenging task of being partnered with comedian Andy Dick on her debut Season 16 of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

Her time in Las Vegas is much less tempestuous this week as she serves for the second consecutive year as chief judge of the USA and World Hip-Hop Dance Championships at Red Rock Resort. She’ll move to Orleans Arena this weekend for the world finals.

The 27-year-old who danced in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney first represented Australia in the world dance championships when she was just 15. Before joining the pro troupe on “DWTS,” she assisted with choreography on the Australian and U.S. versions of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”

This week, she’s carefully watching and scoring dance crew entries from 40 countries in three age categories competing for U.S. and world titles. Dancers have traveled from as far afield as Australia, Argentina, Poland and Russia.

Last year, The Crew from the Philippines won Adult Hip Hop, Sol-T-Shine from Japan won Varsity Hip Hop and Bubblegum from New Zealand won Junior Hip Hop.

Also last year, Luxor headliners the Jabbawockeez, winners of Season 1 of MTV’s “America’s Dance Crew,” returned as guest stars with a never-before-seen routine and received a milestone award.

I had four important questions for Sharna:

What do the judges look for?

We are looking at everything. At this level, it can be the smallest detail that determines first or second. The judging panel is split into two groups: technical and creative. Technical judges are looking for proper technique of each street style they use, correct representation of the style. The crews also need to incorporate multiple styles in their routine to gain points.

Creative judges are looking at staging, concept, costume, music edits, performance, entertainment. Between all the judges on the panel, we cover all bases. This is nationals; absolutely nothing can be missed!

What can you say about the caliber of talent?

What these crews create together is so inspiring. And what our young kids are capable of is nothing short of mind blowing. At the end of the day, this is nationals, and our crews are competing to represent at the world championships the following week.

We get to see the best that America has to offer, and believe me these crews bring everything they have and leave it on the stage. It’s really incredible.

Why do you think hip-hop dance is so popular worldwide?

I think it’s relative to two things. The evolution of hip-hop dance styles and their popularity runs parallel with the evolution of hip-hop music and its growing culture. It’s been around since the late ’70s, early ’80s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s when hip-hop culture began spreading worldwide.

And, as a result, the music and dance styles were no longer an underground thing. The world knew about them and the world fell in love with them.

The other thing that’s had a huge impact on hip-hop styles spreading internationally is social media. Hip-hop is American born, but the likes of YouTube has made it possible for kids in Asia, Europe and Australia to watch any style, to watch and learn from the greatest dance innovators of today.

It’s become accessible for anyone to watch and be inspired.

Why do you take time out of your busy schedule to judge the championships?

My first year with Hip-Hop International was last year, and I fell in love with everything I witnessed. I was truly inspired by these dancers, and not just because of their skill level and creative innovation.

All the crews had a camaraderie with the utmost respect for one another. They were united by an incredible love and dedication to their craft.

They lived and breathed hip-hop, and many had overcome life struggles and difficulties to be the dancer they are. It is a room full of true artists. That is something very special — and something not to be missed.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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