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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

Hannahlei Cabanilla Claims Her 'SYTYCD' Prize: A Role in 'Rent: Live'

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

It's been approximately 186,542 minutes since Hannahlei Cabanilla was crowned the Season 15 winner of So You Think You Can Dance. Since then, she did the interview circuit, hit the road with her Season 15 castmates and jumped into rehearsals for one-half of her SYTYCDprize — Rent: Live.

Dance Dish caught up with Cabanilla less than two weeks before the big live event on Sunday, Jan. 27. She shared with us how crazy those initial days of rehearsals were because she was still on tour with SYTYCD.

"It was the craziest two weeks of my life. I would fly in the morning to go to rehearsals and then I would leave early to go fly to my tour location," Cabanilla said. "I would go straight from the airport to our warm-up onstage. I was running off of coffee and no sleep."

She had to make sure she was keeping up with her work on the SYTYCD tour stage, but she also had to make sure she was remembering the choreography taught by Rent: Live choreographer, Sonya Tayeh. Cabanilla didn't get to work with her during her SYTYCD season, but Tayeh isn't the only familiar face from the show, Robert Roldan and Sasha Mallory are also in the cast.

"She would reteach everything just for me and everyone was so helpful," she shared. "It was also comforting having Robert there. He's like my big brother. My biggest challenge has been stepping up to the plate because I am with older dancers and experienced professionals. They push me to be my best as the youngest member of the cast."

Rent fans need to get ready for the choreography that Tayeh is going to deliver for this production. Cabanilla is praising the work she is creating.

"Sonya is very inspiring and comes in with positive vibes. She works so fast, it blows my mind. If you give her a change, she can choreograph it in seconds," Cabanilla explained. "And get ready for the 'La Vie Boheme' number. It's the biggest dance scene and you are going to see a lot of craziness and chaos. It's a party scene and so much fun."

Cabanilla had admitted in her post-win interview that she hadn't seen Rent before. She managed to watch it during the tour with fellow SYTYCD castmates, Jensen Arnold and Magda Fialek. Not only did that help her get ready for the current production she's in, but her SYTYCD live experience is going to come in handy for the January 27th show. 

"I feel that with the live aspect of the show, I know what to expect. I have to run really fast to my quick changes," she said. "In the professional world, I know what to do, thanks to So You Think You Can Dance."

Cabanilla is also keeping up with a new element to her skill set — singing. It's inspired her to think about taking vocal lessons after her time on the show. 

"I've never done anything like this before. I am not a singer myself," she laughed. "It's so amazing learning the songs and hearing everyone else sing around me. I am thinking of taking lessons because I want to be able to sing. It's opened up a new world to me."

A year ago, Cabanilla was preparing for her SYTYCD audition debut and her life has changed so much since she stepped on the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts stage in Beverly Hills.

"A year ago, my life was so different. I keep looking back at videos and realizing I was training for So You Think at this time last year," she explained. "It's hard to believe I already went through it and won!"

Cabanilla's next to step is to jump immediately to the NUVO Dance Convention as a pro assistant with faculty members like Travis Wall. She is also hoping to be a SYTYCD All-Star in Season 16 because that is always one of the dreams for former contestants.

"Yes, I want to be an All-Star," she laughed. "I'm ready!"


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