Professional dancer Christine Yasunaga, a member of the original “The Lion King” cast, has returned home to Hawaii to give back to the local dance community with the TV show ‘Destination: Groove Dance Hawaii’ hosted by Yasmin Dar and Jordan Segundo
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You can say that Christine Yasunaga’s dance career has come full circle.Ten years after landing a role in the original cast of The Lion King on Broadway, the onetime struggling, aspiring dancer turned professional is now giving back to the local dance community through her new TV show Destination: Groove Dance Hawaii.
The show, which debuted last Sunday and coincidentally shared the same opening weekend as The Lion King at Blaisdell Concert Hall, is a 12-episode dance competition patterned after the popular network show So You Think You Can Dance.
This Sunday, viewers will get to meet the 12 finalists selected from a group of about 60 amateur dancers who auditioned for the show in May. Each week, the dancers will be required to showcase a variety of styles, including jazz, hip hop, modern/Polynesian, Broadway, Latin,African, lyrical and more.
In the end, one person will receive an unbelievable grand prize package consisting of national agency representation by DDO Artists Agency in Los Angeles, a private audition for the Broadway showThe Lion King, a private audition for Walt Disney World Florida, one-week accommodations and a dance scholarship with Millenium Dance Complex in Los Angeles,and a cash prize.
“I wanted to do this show because I really wanted to help guide dancers here in Hawaii,“says Yasunaga, a 1989 graduate of Iolani School who now teaches dance at Iolani and Punahou as well as Pilates at Heaven On Earth.“I’ve done everything from Snoopy’s World of Magic to a Broadway stage. I’ve had a successful career as a professional dancer, but I’ve also had my struggles.
“I remember living in Brooklyn, in the snowstorm, living on saimin, but I would still get on that subway and go to classes or auditions.”
Yasunaga admits that it’s “extremely difficult” to become a professional dancer because there are simply more dancers than jobs.
Her advice is to have a strong drive, put yourself out there, meet people, take classes and not give up.
“For The King and I on Broadway, I auditioned six times before I got it,“she remembers.“On my third try they told me,‘We love you but we don’t have a part for you,’ and I said,‘I’m going to keep coming back until you hire me.’”
Yasunaga, who was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from UCLA where she majored in dance. After college, she joined a modern dance company in L.A. but “didn’t do too well in Hollywood,” and decided to move to New York.
“It was frustrating not working,” she recalls. “And then in my second month in New York, I landed a Radio City musical.”
Today,Yasunaga’s dance resume includes work in L.A., New York, Japan and Paris, the pre-Broadway production of Flower Drum Song with Lea Salonga, in Radio City Music Hall’s Spring Spectacular, and as a dancer with Ricky Martin, Bernadette Peters, with the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, Hawaii Ballet Theater, and a hiphop dance troupe for Nike.
Of her many accomplishments, The Lion King on Broadway has to be the most special.
“I was with them for four years, and we had such an amazing time,” she says. “As the original cast we wanted to do everything and anything. I mean how many people can say they were a part of the group who created this? The show really became a part of us.”
Yasunaga had 13 costume changes in The Lion King, playing everything from the lioness to the gazelle, the hyena and the fliers in the air. She also met her husband, Darryl Pellegrini, while working in the show. “He was the drummer in the pit,” she explains.
n 2003, the couple, still living in New York, welcomed daughter Myla to the world. The next year they decided that Hawaii “was a much nicer place to raise a child.”
“I was a successful dancer but it was time to move on and be a mother,“says Yasunaga.“And then coming back home and seeing various dance concerts, I felt that Hawaii has special talent here and I wanted to help open doors for them.”
In her 10 years as a professional dancer, Yasunaga has made many friends in the business, and she’s now using those connections to not only help with her show, but also help the contestants in achieving their dreams.
The 12 finalists on the show were chosen by a panel of judges who are experts in the dance industry. Each week, the contestants will dance a routine taught to them by some of the finest choreographers and dancers in the country with a chance to freestyle at the end of their performance. From there, a panel of celebrity judges will select one dancer for elimination each week.
Some of these judges and cho-
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