For 90 seconds last month, a Los Altos Hills teenager appeared on national television, wowing viewers around the country with his precise and energetic dancing.
As a member of the Mona Sampath Dance Company, which teaches Bollywood dance and fitness, 13-year-old Rishi Iyer danced his way through several tryouts and auditions to make the top 48 finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
Rishi was among 22 company dancers, ages 10-32, competing against approximately 70,000 groups and individuals nationwide for the coveted $1 million top prize.
Although the group failed to advance to the next level, the top 16, as far as Rishi is concerned, they did win something big – the incredible experience, which he wouldn’t trade for anything, he said.
“It was thrilling being among the top 48 teams out of 70,000,” Rishi said. “I met tons of new people, performers and really good human beings.”
Rishi’s “America’s Got Talent” journey began several months ago when he and the team began preparing for their first audition in Hollywood.
After learning the choreography from artistic director Mona Sampath, team members rehearsed for nearly four hours a day for several weeks to perfect their dance routines. Their discipline and determination paid off, and the team cleared its first audition in Hollywood early this year, then the second in Las Vegas in spring, moving up to the top 48 July 20 back in Hollywood.
The routines and costumes changed at each competition, becoming more challenging and creative as they moved up levels, Rishi said. The dancers, clad in bright-colored sequined costumes, combined the fluid grace of Bollywood dancing with fast-paced modern moves for an East-meets-West performance that had the audience on its feet applauding.
“Working with (the show’s) choreographers was amazing,” Rishi said. “Our routine went without a hitch – it was flawless.”
Behind every successful young dancer is a committed parent, a role Rishi’s mother, Praba Iyer, has enjoyed playing ever since he was a baby. Chaperoning Rishi through all of his out-of-town “America’s Got Talent” auditions was no picnic, Iyer said. The three trips, each a week long, involved several hours of daily rehearsals; consultations with makeup, costume and choreography departments; and hours and hours of simply waiting around, she said.
But watching Rishi’s passion for dance come alive during rehearsals and onstage made it worthwhile, she added.
“I’ve always told him to find his passion and follow that,” Iyer said.
Rishi’s interest in dance began when he was a baby. He danced before he could walk, bobbing his head and tapping his feet to the music she played in the car, Iyer said.
His Bollywood dance instruction began in their home garage when he was 6. As a 9-year-old in 2006, Rishi was the youngest dancer to join the Mona Sampath Dance Company (formerly Naach). He became a company dancer soon afterward, and the rest is history.
Currently a company dance-camp instructor, Rishi said he hopes to improve his techniques by learning more jazz and hip-hop moves so he can one day become a full-time company instructor.
When he’s not dancing, Rishi likes to play basketball and the piano and is an avid cyclist. He will be a freshman at Gunn High School in Palo Alto in the fall and hopes to become a software engineer like his dad.
To view the dance routine the group performed on “America’s Got Talent,” visit www.desihits.com/news/view/mona-sampath-dance-company-on-america-s-got-talent-20100726.
For more information, visit www.monasampath.com.