by Len Lear
Virgil “Lil O” Gadson, who was born and raised in Mt. Airy, just may be “America’s Favorite Dancer.” That is the title bestowed annually on the winner of “So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD),” the popular dance competition reality show on the Fox network nationwide and Channel 29 in the Delaware Valley. (The winner is selected by viewers of the show who call in or text their votes. Millions of votes are tallied each week.)
Out of thousands of amazing dancers from all over the country in every conceivable style, Virgil, 28, a graduate of Martin Luther King High School, is one of only eight still left in the competition (when this was being written on Aug. 22).
“You are a real threat to win the whole thing,” said Jason Derulo, one of the three judges, last week after Virgil danced flawlessly to “Just My Imagination,” by the Temptations, with Comfort Fedoke, a finalist in season four. (Virgil reminds many faithful SYTYCD viewers like myself and my wife of Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall from Wichita, Kansas, the male winner in 2013 on season 10 of SYTYCD. Both are height-challenged African American Hip-Hop dancers with infectious smiles, charismatic personalities and otherworldly talent.)
“You came out of the womb born to dance,” Virgil was told last week by Nigel Lithgow, one of the judges as well as the founder of SYTYCD.
“You are so enjoyable to watch,” added Paula Abdul, another judge as well as a former judge on “American Idol” and a professional dancer and choreographer. “You make everyone smile…What size batteries do you take? Did you come with a lifetime warranty? I love you!”
This year’s competitors on SYTYCD were broken down into two groups, “Team Street” and “Team Stage.” The former consists of Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz, Broadway, Latin, Bollywood, Tap, etc., while “Street” dancers do Hip-Hop, “Crumping,” “Animation,” etc., although every dancer in either group has to learn genres they never tried before.
“When I heard they were doing ‘Stage’ vs. ‘Street,’ I knew I had to be a part of it,” said Virgil, whose specialty is Hip-Hop, last week. “I really did not know how hard it would be. There are so many great dancers (in the competition).”
Gadson is no neophyte when it comes to professional dancing. He has appeared on NFL commercials and music videos on MTV. And he’s been on Broadway. He was nominated for a Fred Astaire Award for “After Midnight” (as principle actor/dancer), which received seven Tony nominations.
Ranging from outreach programs in Philadelphia to the University of the Arts in Center City to classrooms in Bermuda and the Broadway Dance Center, 322 W. 45th St. in Manhattan, Virgil has also instructed children and adults of all ages and is very involved in his community as well as dance communities abroad.
He has also competed in Paris, Japan, China and Russia, representing the U.S. for the Hip-Hop title of many different competitions from 2011 to 2013, and he has been a choreographer. Expanding his knowledge and love for dance, Virgil attended Freedom Theater and University of the Arts, becoming a graduate of their dance program in 2008.
Gadson acknowledges that talent is not enough since there are so many phenomenally talented dancers around. In addition, he has cultivated a support system and is constantly communicating with fans on Twitter.
He recently posted a video of himself practicing for SYTYCD on Instagram with the caption: “Have a lil’ time to work on some body control! Thanks everyone for your support. It’s a motivation to keep pushing.”
On Aug. 17 he Tweeted, “My family, friends and fans! I’m so thankful and humble for this week because of your kind words.”
Tyce Diorio, who choreographs Broadway numbers for SYTYCD, Tweeted back to Virgil, “absolutely my pleasure & your incredible performance/work ethic were truly gratifying to me.”
On July 20 Virgil Tweeted, “Quick line up for tonight before the show! Can’t wait to show yall what I’ve been working on!”
Gadson comes from a family of dancers, most of whom still live in Mt. Airy or South Philadelphia. He began dancing at age 3. On the show he dances about six hours a day. His ultimate goal is to open a theater in Philadelphia called the Gadson Theater.
“Everything is a challenge,” he said in a recent interview. “I like challenges.”
SYTYCD can be seen on Mondays, 8 p.m., on Channel 29. You can communicate with Virgil or get more information at @vgadson3