His dance instructors compare him to a Jack Russell terrier because he’s such a high-energy performer, and there’s no doubt that this stage presence, combined with his technical skills, landed Zack Betty an audition, then a Las Vegas callback, for the Fox-TV program “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“You can teach technique, but you can’t teach that kind of passion,” said Victoria Perreault, incoming artistic director of the Portland Youth Dance company, of which Betty is a member.

Betty, an 18-year-old senior at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, auditioned for the show in New York City this winter. Now in its seventh season, the reality show features more than 100 semifinalists and 10 finalists, who compete “American Idol” style for cash and prizes.

Betty’s audition began with a three-hour-plus wait in the rain. Fully drenched, he finally made it inside, then did a lot of waiting and watching until it was his turn to perform.

He did a solo piece and two numbers with different partners.

“Then they told me to grab my ticket to go to Vegas,” said Betty, who lives in Standish with his parents, Patricia and Paul Betty.

In April, he flew to Las Vegas with 122 contestants who had been chosen from a field of thousands.

“The beginning of the first day, I did another round of solo,” Betty said. “I made it through a couple rounds of solo. Then the hip-hop round was next. I didn’t deliver exactly what they wanted and I got cut.”

Still, Betty was happy to get to that level. “I was very surprised to make it that far,” he said. “I do think the nerves kind of got to me.”

Betty, who began dancing when he was 5, said he intends to audition again.

“It was a great experience, to be able to go to Vegas at this young age,” he said.

Betty’s sister, Tanieccia Betty, now 26, first got him interested in dance. He used to attend her dance recitals and try to imitate her moves.

He now trains in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary and hip-hop dance.

“Zack represents a person who works so hard but also has amazing talent,” said Susan Thompson Brown, the Portland Youth Dance company’s incoming director.

“He’s one of those people who was born to do this,” said Perreault. “He’s always stood out. You can’t take your eyes off him when he performs. Technically, he’s the most advanced dancer we’ve ever had at the studio.”

On Friday, Betty will graduate with Bonny Eagle’s Class of 2010. He plans to attend Marymount Manhattan College in New York, where he will major in dance.

In the “So You Think You Can Dance” episode that aired May 27, Betty was in a number of the shots. The next episode, a two-hour special, will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Fox (Channel 23). Betty said he doesn’t think he’ll appear in that episode.

But this is unlikely to be the last we hear of Betty.

Melissa Cloutier has worked with Betty since he was 9, at Portland Youth Dance and Casco Bay Movers, where she’s the managing director. She said, “He’s definitely bound for big things.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]