Congrats A.C.E. Award Winners!

Sometimes, the greatest perks of my job pop up unexpectedly. Like getting to sit next to Desmond Richardson all night, listening to him ooh, ahh and moan over beautiful choreography.

We both sat on the judges' panel for the 2016 Capezio A.C.E. Awards this Saturday, along with Benoit Swan-Pouffer, Mia Michaels, Ray Leeper and Warren Carlyle. This annual choreography competition, presented as part of our sister publication's Dance Teacher Summit event, is produced by Break the Floor and sponsored by Capezio. The winner gets $15,000 and their own evening-length show in Los Angeles. The judges also choose a runner-up to receive a $5,000 and a second runner-up to receive $3,000 for a shared show.

Martha Nichols, photo via Instagram: "Still trying to wrap my brain around this moment. God is SO good! ???? #Tilted #AceAwards2016"

First place went to choreographer Martha Nichols for Tilted. All the judges agreed: We loved the infectious energy of everything about this piece, from the bold, lime green statement costumes to the movement's popping musicality. But perhaps most impressive was the way Nichols showed off her dancers' individual strengths—and how the dancers responded by performing with total commitment to her vision.

First runner-up was Dignity by Kat Harpootlian. We loved the sharp storytelling and funny characters in this little gem. Personally, I hope Harpootlian expands it into something longer! It was so rich, with intriguing, quirky little details like a character who couldn't stop sneezing.

Kate Harpootlain's Dignity, photo by Rachel Papo

Second runner-up ended up being a tie:

Tawnya Kuzia and her cast, photo by Rachel Papo

One went to Tawnya Kuzia's A Quiet Darkness, which used no overhead stage lights, relying instead on handheld flashlights manipulated by the dancers themselves to illuminate their bodies. No, it's not a completely new concept, but it was done more deftly than any of the judges had ever seen.

Long Train Running, photo by Rachel Papo

The other second runner up was Mark Osborn and Justin Myles' Long Train Running, one of three tap pieces—more tap than ever at the A.C.E. Awards. To be perfectly honest, the closing tap number by Nick Young used more sophisticated rhythms. But what grabbed us about Long Train Running was its crowd-pleasing quality of pure joy. The dancers were having so much fun, we couldn't help but smile right along with them.

And the sexy ballroom number by Eugene Katsevman, Norma De La Guadalajara, won the unofficial award for provoking the most "Mmnn"s of out Desmond Richardson. Some might argue that's the greatest prize of all.

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