JoJo Gomez Okimura was 16 when she first met Stephen “Twitch” Boss at a convention for the hit Fox competition series “So You Think You Can Dance.” She enrolled in Boss’ class and was overjoyed when he called her up onstage to assist him.
“I was so nervous, but he made me feel so safe onstage with him,” she says about her first interaction with her idol. “He made me feel seen.”
Whether she was auditioning or dancing in class, Gomez Okimura says she felt valued and secure in the “SYTYCD” alum’s presence.
Boss had a similar effect on everyone he interacted with during his life, she says. When news broke of his death by suicide on Dec. 13, members of the dance community flooded social media with condolences and tributes. “When we all found out the news, it was like we were paralyzed,” Gomez Okimura says.
Dancers and choreographers collectively grieved online and offline, sharing their favorite memories of the “So You Think You Can Dance” contestant, all-star and judge. His legacy of joy and inspiration lives on through their stories, Gomez Okimura says.
“Being in a room with someone like Twitch, you grow as a person, you evolve in your craft,” she says.
One of the biggest lessons she learned from him was that kindness trumps everything.
“How you treat people is what they’re going to remember forever,” she says. “It’s not your dance abilities. That could be part of it, but before anything, you’re a human being, and the way you treat people is the most important thing.”
Dancer Dezi Saenz recalls the time she spent making dance videos with Boss and his wife, Allison Holker. After dancing together, they had a deep conversation about life. Saenz was fascinated by the light, joy and energy he exuded.
“I think just who he was, aside from all the accolades and accomplishments, should be something that is celebrated within not only the dance community, but by everyone,” Saenz says.
When Boss returned to “So You Think You Can Dance” during Season 7 as an all-star, he was paired with Alex Wong for a hip-hop routine set to Lil Jon’s “Outta Your Mind” — choreographed by Nappytabs’ Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo. Adored by the judges and fans, the routine became one of the show’s most memorable moments and has been reshared far and wide in the wake of his death.
Wong, who practiced ballet, grew as a dancer because of Boss’ guidance during the routine.
“The message behind that routine is that [Twitch] believed in everybody,” Gomez Okimura says. “He helped them reach their fullest potential, standing right by their side.”
Wong still remembers how “positive and caring” Twitch was throughout the rehearsal process, and beyond the episode.
“He was always laughing,” he says. “I would always be joking around with him.”
Wong had to drop out of the competition due to an injury and was unable to perform the routine again during the finale. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres took his place for a hilarious and unexpected re-creation, he says. It’s also what sparked Boss’ career on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Boss began DJing the popular talk show in 2014 and was promoted to co-executive producer in 2020.
Wong went on to work with Boss again for projects like Disney+’s “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” and various dance conventions. Wong says Boss’ legacy in dance is “unparalleled.”
“He was such a positive force and outspoken in a great way, and an idol and mentor to so many people,” says Wong. “He’s just irreplaceable.”
Boss had a strong impact and presence in the dance industry, Derek Hough says.
Hough got to know Boss through Holker, whom he worked with on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Their bond grew when Boss joined Hough as a guest judge on NBC’s competition series “World of Dance.” He recalls the “meaningful and philosophical and emotional” conversations they had. Hough says Boss looked for the silver lining, no matter how bad the situation.
“He was a curious person,” he says. “Whenever we had conversations, it was always like, ‘Let’s go deeper than what’s on the surface in this situation,’ or about this person, or about the dance community, or whatever was going on around the world.”
There are a few people who are synonymous with the dance community, and Hough says Boss is at the top of that list. Boss also “transcended being a dancer,” he adds.
“The second you think of Twitch, you think of that infectious, beautiful smile that he has, and the way he was able to soften a whole room or soften a person just by his presence,” says Hough.
Hough says Twitch didn’t just sport Superman apparel. To his family, friends and community, he was Superman.
“I think the dance community and everyone who met him really looked at him like a superhero,” Hough says.
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