Ballroom cabaret stars Luka and Jenalyn are already making waves in the ballroom world—and they’re just getting started. (You might know the duo from their debut on NBC’s World of Dance, where they impressed J-Lo, Ne-Yo, and Derek Hough enough to make it through the qualifiers round.) For the second year in a row, they competed at the UK’s Blackpool Dance Festival, the world’s most prestigious ballroom competition. (Last year they made history as the youngest finalists.)

This year, they placed 4th in their division and their fantastic performance garnered them a standing ovation (one of only two achieved during the entire competition), and it’s no surprise. Luka and Jenalyn are committed to pushing the limits of ballroom, as well as their own skills, which is why they came to the competition with an incredible routine like nothing you’ve seen before.

To stand out among the world’s best ballroom dancers, the duo knew they needed to do something different, so they took an exciting risk and enlisted choreographer Phillip Chbeeb, a renowned choreographer and Season 5 So You Think You Can Dance contestant, to help them craft an artistic and athletic piece for the competition.

Luka and Jenalyn Phillip Chbeeb

Jenalyn, Phillip, and Luka (photo by Emmanuel Pacheco)

“We’re huge fans of his work. He saw what we could do, so he became a fan of ours, too,” Luka says.

For Phillip, coming from the street dance world, the chance to work with a cabaret ballroom duo was a new and exciting stretch.

“Ballroom is very traditional. A lot of the moves are set. I was looking to bring some of the street world into it, to allow them to feel more human and get them to move more,” Phillip says.

And that he did. Luka and Jenalyn are already known for their impressive tricks and throws. For this choreo, Phillip had them take that to the next level.

“The way they throw themselves is super human, which is one of the many great things about working with them,” Phillip says.

To build the piece, Phillip studied their videos to get a sense of their style. “I tried to look at what they’re comfortable with to get an idea of how their bodies moves naturally—and how far I could push them outside that comfort zone without showing weakness,” Phillip says.

The collaboration process was both challenging and exciting. “It was basically bootcamp. I tried to give them homework,” Phillip says. “I’d literally send them different challenges, and they would send me videos back.”  

The physicality was no joke; Luka had to lose 15 pounds to stay nimble enough.

“She walks on the back of my hand, does a front flip, flies around my neck—all one after another,” Luka says.

With limited in-person time with Phillip, they really had to push themselves. “We basically worked from when the sun came up until the sun went down,” Luka says.

Luka and Jenalyn Phillip Chbeeb

Luka and Jenalyn working hard in rehearsal (photo by Emmanuel Pacheco)

“There were so many things we weren’t used to doing,” Jenalyn says. In addition to the physical challenge, the duo had to convey an emotional performance as well.

“Doing this ‘3-minute monster’ was more dancing than usual,” Jenalyn says. “But the challenge was portraying the story of humanity to touch people.”

Although it was a challenge, those risks paid off when they took the routine to Blackpool.

Luka and Jenalyn

Photo by Emmy Pacheco

Luka and Jenalyn

Photo by Emmy Pacheco

“The biggest highlight was getting a standing ovation. That was a really humbling experience,” Luka says. It’s coined as ‘the hardest place in the world to get a standing ovation.’ You’re competing against the best in the world.” 

(See that standing ovation below.)

“Being the youngest ones there was a pretty amazing experience,” Jenalyn says.

Athough they’re pros, the duo cites World of Dance for giving them more confidence in their performance.

World of Dance taught us so much,” Luka says. “Being around so many different people and artforms impacted us in so many different ways.”

Luckily, we’ll get to see more of Luka and Jenalyn on our TV screens soon.

Check out their impressive routine, performed at Universal City Walk for the World of Dance Live 2017 tour, and make sure to tune in to World of Dance on NBC, Tuesdays at 10/9 central to see them compete.

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