Contestants work just as hard after season ends

After weeks enduring serious physical strain and riding an emotional roller coaster, dancers lucky enough to stand in the winner’s circle at the end of a season of “So You Think You Can Dance” must answer one question: What now?

Those who thought they gave it their all in competition often find themselves laboring even more to launch the next phase in their careers.

Benji Schwimmer won season two of “Dance” and quickly moved into teaching and working on choreography for shows like “Dancing With the Stars” and “American Idol” and videos including Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman.” Schwimmer — who begins shooting “Debonair,” a film he wrote, later this year, hasn’t wanted to lose any of his “Dance” momentum.

“No one came up to me after the show and asked me if I wanted to write a screenplay for a movie,” Schwimmer says. “I just did it and then bugged anyone I could think of to take a look at it. … You’re still going to be working to make your dreams come true after the show.”

Joshua Allen, the season-four winner, also is busy trying to make the most of his “Dance” triumph. Allen has a part in the dance film sequel “Step Up 3-D,” scheduled for release in 2010.

“The thing about this show is that you get used to working very hard all the time,” Allen says. “It’s like a boot camp that prepares you for what you’re going to deal with in the entertainment business.”

“The experience of the show is completely surreal,” says season-one champ Nick Lazzarini. “You’re under a spotlight the whole time, but it’s not like that when it ends, because then you have to go out and audition to get your next job — even if you did win.”

Winners receive hefty financial spoils, but one needn’t necessarily finish first to get a nice bump from the show. Kherington Payne — a season-four finalist who was sent home in week six — will appear in the remake of “Fame,” which comes out this fall.

“It turned my life upside down in such a good way, and I came away with a great agent and a great support team, which is good, because when you leave the show, you need that to help you,” Payne says.

For Payne, the real value of the “Dance” experience came with the criticism she faced on a weekly basis from the judges along with all kinds of commentary on the Internet. She thinks it made her grow up faster into a tougher person.

Payne isn’t the only dancer not to finish No. 1 but find a way to make the most of the “Dance” exposure. Stephen “tWitch” Boss — a season-four veteran who ended the show in the top four — will also appear in “Step Up 3-D,” and he’ll be launching tWitch Boss Clothing this fall.

Boss also feels the pressure he was put under during the show helped him mature, though he didn’t exactly love it at the time.

“You learn to take criticism because that’s just part of how it works,” Boss says. “You’re going to be criticized, but that’s OK because there will be those people who love what you do, and you focus on that.”

For season-three winner Sabra Johnson, dance was the reason she auditioned for the show, and dance is what she wants now that her time on the show is done.

“It’s the thing I love, so I just want to be able to do it as much as possible,” Johnson says. “Because of the show, I don’t worry about money anymore, and I’ve been able to work in New York with a dance company and as a teacher and I’m so thankful for that.”

“Being a dancer or any kind of artist is always hard. The show can help a little, but it’s not like dance is a booming business and it’s easy to find work all the time. We’re all going to have to keep working just as hard as we did on the show.”

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