So you think Hilary Duff can dance?

Hilary Duff, right, backstage with backup dancer Hilary Duff. (Photo by Tim O'Shei - 2007)

Hilary Duff, right, backstage with backup dancer. (Photo by Tim O’Shei – 2007)

So, you think Hilary Duff can dance?

She can … but it doesn’t come naturally to the singer/actress. So when Hilary was booked a few years ago to sing and dance to her song “Stranger” on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” it wasn’t a routine job.

In fact, Hilary came close to crashing on national TV!

Thanks to a little backup from her dancer friends, “Hil” (as they call her) made it through.

I learned this story one September day when I was working on a story about backup dancers for Dance Spirit magazine. I was backstage at Hilary’s concert, sitting in the dressing room with two of her dancers, Julianne Waters and Anjolie Marfori. We were talking about Anjolie’s dream job – dancing for Janet Jackson – when Hilary walked in the room.

“Hi, Tim!” she said sweetly, shaking hands with me and my wife, who was sitting in on the interview, and then settling onto the couch next to Julianne.

“Tell me about your relationship with your dancers,” I said.

Hilary giggled. “I was so nervous to dance — I never danced before on the tours,” she admitted.  “I was so shy at first. I would barely move, barely dance at all.”

In rehearsals, Julianne and Anjolie took it upon themselves to make Hilary more comfortable. They walked her through the steps and showed her tips and tricks for making things look good on stage. (Example: Holding your stomach tight makes it easier to dance in heels.) “I was totally green to it all,” Hilary said. “It helped me so much. They’re great girls, and I felt so comfortable.”

But then came the “Stranger” performance on SYTYCD. The plan for this performance differed from her Dignity tour show – Hilary sang the song with eight women (Julianne and Anjolie plus a half-dozen others) dancing behind her. In rehearsals that day she had a hard time nailing the step.

“I just forgot everything for sound check,” she said.

Just a few hours remained before the show. Julianne took her aside in the dressing room and walked her through the choreography. Hilary was still nervous – “I was scared I was going to mess it up!” – but when it was show time, she nailed it. After the final note ended, but with the cameras still running, Hilary and Julianne looked at each other. Each breathed a sigh of relief as they locked eyes and smiled.

One month later, with the Dignity tour under way, Hilary had learned her steps and was nailing them night after night. During one show, she noticed that Julianne and Anjolie, along with backup singers Johanna Boberg and Nadia Duggin, were reaching out and tapping each other on stage. She asked what they were doing and learned that it was a game of tag. “What? You guys play tag?” Hilary said. The backups told Hilary that they didn’t include her because they figured she wanted to focus on singing, dancing and working the crowd. But Hilary waved them off. “I want to play!” she said — and so she did. Hilary told me that playing tag was a way to “keep it interesting” while doing the same show night after night.

Hilary summarized her thoughts on her dancers by telling me, “We’ve become great friends.” I saw evidence of that a few minutes later inside Hilary’s home on the road — her bus. (Stay tuned for that story!)

Tim O’Shei
LSY! founder & executive editor

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