Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and Eliana Girard were announced as the winners of “So You Think You Can Dance” last night — and no one seemed more surprised about this than Chehon and Eliana themselves. The two classically trained ballet dancers were not early favorites. Chehon seemed to be permanently stuck in the shadow of fan favorite Cyrus Spencer, the street dancer with no professional training who was never in the bottom three, while Eliana only seemed able to step into the spotlight once she was unpaired from Cyrus and later danced with all star Alex Wong. The winners spoke to reporters in a conference call about their unexpected wins, Cyrus, and why they think ballet is getting more respect this season.
Cyrus and Tiffany were fan favorites, so can you tell us what you were thinking when you won?
Eliana: I forgot my name… I honestly was not expecting it. I was prepared to be happy with being runner-up, because that’s an awesome honor as well. But really, I blacked out. What just happened?
Chehon: I really anticipated being runner-up, and some of the best dancers have been runner-up. I was fine with it. I didn’t really have anything prepared. I thought Cat said the wrong name or something.
Do you think you had a defining moment on the show?
Eliana: I know I mention this all the time, but “Bang Bang” [her routine with all-star Alex Wong]. It challenged me, and it showed my vulnerability.
Chehon: I think my most defining moment was when my mom could came out, because for some reason I thought that was the week I would be going home. I just thought that would be my last week, and I thought it was so special and I just wanted to make the last show about enjoying it, and for some reason that was my breakthrough moment.
What was your reaction to winning – joy or shock?
Eliana: I absolutely thought Tiffany was going to win, because she’s absolutely beautiful and such an amazing person. I was prepared for that. It was a whirlwind.
Eliana, you mentioned that part of your reason for going onto the show was to give ballet a good reputation. Can you elaborate?
Eliana: I think I just wanted people to see a different side of it. It’s an under appreciated [genre] within the show and I think it has a lot more to offer. I wanted people to see it the way Chehon and I see it.
Given that you’re both ballet dancers, do you think that helped you win?
Eliana: I think it was pure coincidence. It’s really about who America connects to and relates to… I think it was that people saw a new side of [ballet] and saw what it had to offer.
Chehon, at one point Nigel told you you needed to enjoy your performances more. Were you not having fun at the beginning?
Chehon: I was extremely nervous of failing in the competition, and I’m a perfectionist in everything I do, so I was focused on trying to get the technique rather than on enjoying the experience. As soon as I was able to cross that barrier and overcome the fear of being vulnerable on stage and open myself up, the show really taught me in that regard. But it was the pressure in the beginning of needing to be good and knowing I had so much to live up to. I felt so much pressure and I think, yeah, it was just a fear of not being good enough. But I learned you don’t have to be perfect on the show. It’s all about the journey and the growth. I’m used to doing ballet competitions where it’s not about personality. It’s about technique and performance. I don’t’ think I realized that was what was in the show. After the first couple shows, I saw why viewers wouldn’t really connect with me, and [choreographer] Stacey [Tookey] really helped me with that as well.
So it’s just a coincidence that both winners are ballet dancers?
Chehon: It was definitely a coincidence, because I don’t think I was supposed to make it this far. I don’t think the show knew or thought I would grow as much as I did. We both came in with a slightly different [background], Eliana and I, and with my ballet experience I tried to come into my audition with a new take on ballet. I didn’t want to do a classical routine on the show; I wanted to make ballet my own. I would have loved to dance with Eliana more on the show, but hopefully we can do that on tour.
Eliana, Nigel told you you have a job offer from Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Are you interested?
Eliana: Absolutely. When I heard that, my jaw dropped, because that’s definitely one of the companies I want to work with! Are you serious? That’s another dream about to come true. I don’t have his number, though!
Would you guys be interested in being all-stars in another season?
Eliana: Absolutley, without a doubt.
Chehon: I would like that, but even more so, I’d like to choreograph in the future someday, because that’s something I’m really passionate about.
Ballet dancers have been under appreciated on the show, but it seems as if that’s changed over the past few seasons. Why do you think that’s happened?
Eliana: I think America’s come to see how hard it is and how beautiful it is and it’s just another genre of dance, and they can relate to it more.
Chehon: We have to put in so much work and it takes so much dedication and sacrifice that maybe other people can’t understand… People are more likely to be entranced with someone who’s a street dancer with no training who can dance in different styles, and they don’t know the ballet world as well.
Which routines would you like to perform on tour?
Chehon: I’m hoping “Bang Bang” and maybe I can do Alex’s part.
Eliana: Oh, yes!
Chehon: And I would like to do the leaf routine by Stacey Tookey.
Eliana: I love the Mia piece I did. That was so much fun
Chehon: We can replace the ropes with poles.
Speaking of poles, what did you think of the pole dance?
Eliana: Oh my God. I was like a little kid in a candy store. We get to play! It’s another art people have a perception of as very sexual, but it’s an art form and there are so many tricks and transitions to it…
Chehon: El is the naughty ballerina, definitely.
Eliana, when you were paired with Cyrus, you may have been helped because of his huge fan base but do you feel the routines had to be dumbed down because he’s not as experienced of a dancer?
Eliana: I hate to say it, but yes. Cyrus is so sweet and such a hard worker. He never says no. He works so hard because he wanted to work to get on the same caliber because he doesn’t have the years of practice we do. Chehon? He doesn’t have the same partnering skills as Chehon, for example. But it was a huge learning experience for me, to learn how to help someone out… It was still worth it, it really was.
And being paired with Alex Wong, do you think that helped?
Eliana: It opened up so many new doors. I was such a huge fan of him to begin with. He’s such an amazing person and we understood each other and come from similar backgrounds, so we understood how we both approached movement.
What do you both plan to do with your winnings?
Eliana: Pay bills, that’s number one. I’m gonna buy a bird! I’m a huge animal lover and definitely want a bird. And I want to help my mom out. I want to give back to her.
Chehon: I will definitely try to be saving all I can, because we’re in the profession where you won’t always have a job. And I want to use it to visit my family in Switzerland or fly them out to see me in a show. I think that’s what I’ll be using it for.
Any plans after the tour ends?
Chehon: I’ll probably be moving out here to L.A. and get my footing in the commercial world, I’ve done choreography in London and I’m hoping this might open some doors to choreograph for commercial work or TV or film work… ultimately I’d really like to be choreographing. I’m not sure how to go about it, but I think so many doors will open.
What was your hardest style to master?
Eliana: Any ballroom. That’s something Chehon and I have never done before. That’s a thing you can’t fake. If you’ve never done it, good luck! And hip hop.
Chehon: I got stuck with all the ballroom! I got cha cha, rumba, samba… it was a test for me. Trying to be a cha cha dancer is so hard… it’s so uncomfortable for me. And hip hop, I don’t really dance to Rihanna music. It just made the whole experience really hard. Once I knew that I couldn’t be perfect in these styles, I had more fun. Even with hip hop, I knew it wouldn’t be my strongest routine but I knew I could have fun with it. Maybe after this we will get into taking some new classes, and I hope to take everything I learned on the tour and run with it.
Who was your favorite choreographer?
Eliana: I can only pick one? It’s between Travis and Stacey, but I’ll say Stacey because she was pushing for quality of movement. She wanted me to connect with the emotion. It was a challenge but it was an incredible experience. She’s the type of person where you want to work for her and you want to work hard.
Chehon: Exact same answer for me. I respected everyone so much. They all brought so much to my journey, but one person who turned me around was definitely Stacey. The routine I did with Witney to the Whitney Houston song, she really truly saw me as the person I am and didn’t assume who I am by my physique. She’s such a special person, and for my final show when I did the Allison piece with leaves, that was such a perfect ending because I was able to return to her work again. She really believes in me and Eliana so much, and hearing her talk about us in such a genuine way [in interviews] is so special.
Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Chehon: We’d like to say thank you to all our friends. It’s so special that people who don’t even know you vote for you, and that’s just really special
Eliana: And thank you for all the letters and messages. We’ve spent so many nights crying over them… people telling us that they’re not going to give up…We’re excited to put faces to the letters on tour.