In photo: Kurtis Sprung with Mara Merritt of the Merritt Dance Center, taken backstage when Sprung was in Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles LOVE" in Las Vegas.
Caroga Lake native Kurtis Sprung has always had a competitive mindset, which might come in handy as he vies for his spot on NBC’s “World of Dance.”
The show features dancers of multiple styles and backgrounds all competing for a $1 million prize. Three celebrities judge the competition, including Jennifer Lopez, NE-YO and Derek Hough.
Sprung, who lives in Los Angeles, auditioned for the show last year and filming started earlier in 2020.
“It’s been a learning experience for sure because I had never done a reality TV show before,” Sprung said.
The chance comes after spending much of his childhood dancing at the Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady.
“Kurtis started out his dance journey as a very shy 5-year-old. It wasn’t long before his charismatic personality came shining through on the stage,” said Mara Merritt, owner of the Dance Center.
“I loved class. There were a lot of boys in my class too so we used to just beat each other up and wrestle. There was a good group of [competitors] to keep me excited. I’m a big sports player and I love competition so it gave me that outlet,” Sprung said.
He learned everything from gymnastics to ballet at the Dance Center and he and his sister, Brittany, took classes nearly every night of the week.
“I had been in a few TV shows [like] ‘Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,’ where everything was a set and we were just dancing. So for [the] spotlight [to be] on me takes a little bit to get used to. I like to hide in the shadows a little bit. I like to work hard but I don’t need people to know it,” Sprung said.
“We had a big gymnastics program there so we had a lot of acrobatics and that was what kept me in. I loved doing flips,” Sprung said.
After graduating from Johnstown High School in 2011, he studied dance and math at the University of Buffalo. The math degree was more of a backup plan, in case dance didn’t work out, though so far he hasn’t had to use it.
After college, he danced with the Mia Michaels Dance Company in New York City, the Phoenix Ballet and Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, where, he performed in “The Beatles LOVE.”
“That was a dream come true. . . I was a main character in the show and created a brand new character for ‘The Beatles LOVE’ show and the Beatles being one of my favorite bands, it just was full circle,” Sprung said.
When his contract with the show was up a little over a year ago, he moved to Los Angeles and began to work on a more freelance basis, teaming up with choreographers like Teddy Forance, who has performed with many pop stars as well as with Cirque du Soleil. Beyond that, Sprung also teaches dance classes and writes and edits music for various companies.
“I started doing sound production about 10 years ago and it’s turned into a full-time business now,” Sprung said.
His freelance schedule is what finally gave him the time to audition for “World of Dance.”
“To be honest, they had been asking for a couple [of] years now for me to come on and audition. Finally, I had free time,” Sprung said.
He entered the competition as a solo contemporary dancer and the first round of auditions, which took place last year, was quick and relatively easy. Once filming started earlier this year, he found he had a lot to learn about being on a reality TV show.
“I had been in a few TV shows [like] the "Neil Patrick Harris Show," where everything was a set and we were just dancing. So for [the] spotlight [to be] on me takes a little bit to get used to. I like to hide in the shadows a little bit. I like to work hard but I don’t need people to know it,” Sprung said.
However, Sprung said he tries to treat every gig as a learning opportunity.
“That’s one thing I’ve always asked in any job is I want to learn one thing. When I was with Cirque, I learned so much about production value and how to shade the stage and how to develop a character. When I was in Phoenix Ballet, I put together a show with the choreographer,” Sprung said.
In his view, “World of Dance” is another way to learn about the industry, especially as he pursues more commercial film work. It’s also a great way to gain exposure.
“It’s going to be great exposure for me and it’ll definitely help me build even more jobs,” Sprung said.
For Merritt and Sprung’s family in Caroga Lake, the opportunity highlights how far Sprung has taken his career.
“His first solo was ‘Grease Lightning,’ complete with a blow-up tire that was bigger [than] him. That was the beginning of many wins, including the national title of Mr. Dance of America. I am so proud of his achievements,” Merritt said.
According to Sprung, his audition will be featured during the fourth episode of the show’s latest season, which premiered last week.
New “World of Dance” episodes air at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays on NBC.