The bruises and battered spirits have healed over for this former reality show dancer

By Kelsey Kloza

©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co.

Looking around the studio on 8th Avenue where she teaches, it’s difficult at first to pick out the leader of the class. Everyone is dressed in sweats or tee-shirts and tube socks. But then the music comes on and all eyes turn to the tan brunette in the front line. Karla Puno Garcia demonstrates some steps, wide-eyed students follow her attentively as she moves across the floor. There is no question now about who the master dancer is in the room.

The 24-year-old Garcia’s strength in the contemporary style of dance landed her a spot last summer on the Fox reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Each week, 20 contestants must dance in different styles and the number dwindles each show from viewer and judge votes. Garcia made it through four weeks before she was kicked off for her weak performance of a fast ballroom dance called the Quickstep. Just two weeks earlier, her moving interpretation of a contemporary piece won her a top rating. Such is the fickle nature of “So You Think You Can Dance” viewers and judges.

“It’s very dramatic,” she said. “It’s as dramatic as it seems. It just feels like life or death.”

Her journey to “SYTYCD” began as a three-year-old tap dancer in San Francisco. Garcia moved to the Washington D.C. area when she was five-years-old and started to seriously study more classical forms of dance. Numerous ballet, jazz, and contemporary classes and competitions later, Garcia graduated high school and entered New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a major in dance.

Garcia was given a break from the academic life when she took a leave of absence after she was hired to join the short-lived Broadway show Hot Feet. “It was choreographed by [famous tap-dancer] Maurice Hines and so it was this new exciting thing.” With her first Broadway show under her belt, Garcia got her first taste of real accomplishment in the dance world. “I was the youngest one [at] 20 in this new Broadway show. It was fun! The show wasn’t well received by the critics though and it only lasted like 3 months,” she said. “I was like, well that was a fun, quick little stint.”

After the show ended it’s limited run, Garcia finished out her three-year program at NYU and started auditioning, a lot. “I got a lot of rejection,” she said. “Nine times out of ten you’re going to get rejected, so you just have to keep going and that was part of the experience and the learning process for me.” She auditioned for the 2007 season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” but didn’t make it through. After traveling all over the country for different jobs, including a gig in the Florida version of the Radio City Music Christmas Spectacular and the tour of the Broadway hit “Wicked,” Garcia decided to try out for the 2009 season of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“I thought this time around, I had a lot more experiences that kind of matured me and made me ready for the experience,” Garcia said. Her mother bought her a plane ticket to Denver so she could audition. Garcia said: “[My mom] spent a lot of money on that but she believed in me. I wanted to make this worth it.” It turned out that Garcia did not let her mom down.

“I walked into the room and the judges were like ‘You made it!’ I almost ran into the door. I was so happy.” However, the excitement quickly turned into exhaustion and frustration.

Photo Courtesy Fox Network, 2009

“It is a popularity contest most of the time,” she said. “I felt helpless sometimes. I was like, I don’t know what to do.

It was just so frustrating and it was hard to enjoy, but I tried.” The elimination process of the show involves viewers voting for their favorite dance couple of the week. The three couples with the least amount of votes must dance solos for the judges, who then decide on a boy and a girl to leave the show. Ultimately, Garcia felt that her lack of air-time compared to some of the other contestants contributed to America’s not voting for her. “I know I heard people thought I was boring sometimes,” she said “but it’s like, you don’t know me, you don’t know any of those people actually.”

Besides her inability to feel noticed, Garcia also dealt with the harsh criticisms of the judges and the fans. One of the comments left by scteacher212 on the SYTYCD forums said: “I personally think that Karla is the weakest of the threegirls. She has not done a single dance this season that I liked so I would not be opposed to her going home.” Criticisms such as these along with supportive fan comments crowd the SYTYCD websites about all the dancers.

“If I were to give advice to anybody that would be on the show, it would be do not go online and do not Google your name. You just get so down on yourself.”

A broken spirit may also have been a contributing factor in her early termination from the show. But Garcia believed that being the second oldest contestant in a sea of teenagers played a part in her downfall. “I could still hang and it was still fun but I had a lot of other experiences that made me different in my mentality. I wasn’t doe-eyed. [It wasn’t like] if I don’t win this, I’m never going to dance again or if I do win this, then I’m going to be a star.”

For Garcia, life after the show continues much as life did before the show. Sometimes she gets recognized on the street and putting SYTYCD on her resume certainly hasn’t hurt her any. “I’d walk around and I’d get recognized. It opens a lot of doors for teaching and choreographing,” Garcia said. “I felt like I accomplished something but it’s not like I’m better than everybody or I look down on people.”

Back in the dance studio where Garcia is teaching, she finishes her choreography, grunts out a loud sigh, and collapses to the floor. It seems like she’ll never stand again. Finally, she picks herself back up and goes to turn off the music. Of course she stood up again; Karla Garcia always manages to get back up when life kicks her down.

For more information on Karla’s upcoming and current projects, check out her website at www.KarlaPunoGarcia.com!