Members of the audience didn’t know what to expect at the inaugural Special Olympics “Dance Challenge: A Showcase of Dance Talent Featuring Special Olympics Athletes Created and Hosted By Nigel Lythgoe” It soon became clear that this long title could be shortened to one word: fun.

The dance talent came from nearly 20 nations: a ballroom dancing duo from Mexico, a hip hop crew from Australia, K-pop group from Korea and a solo dancer from Ghana with all the right moves. And many, many more. They danced to songs you’ve danced to – and songs you wished you could dance to. But these Special Olympics athletes nailed it, every time. The audience was brought to its feet more than once.

The judges must have had a difficult time deciding on the 3 top winners from each category. The panel was led by Nicole Scherzinger, actress and dancer; and included Paula Abdul, international recording star; as well as Amrapali Ambegaokar, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Mariam Larici, Louis van Amstel and Travis Wall.

Setting a humorous tone was emcee Nigel Lythgoe, creator and executive producer of “So You Think You Can Dance.” There were several speakers during the evening, including legendary dancer Ben Vereen, who described the joy he saw on the faces of the Special Olympics dancers and how dance brings people together. “You see the joy, you see the love,” he said. “We are united, we are unified. There is no difference between us.”

Athletes competed in four categories: solo, duo, crew and ballroom. (Note: A complete list of winners will be posted Saturday on http://www.specialolympics.org ) At the evening’s end, Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver praised each dancer’s example and urged the rest of the audience to accept the “challenge to be as uninhibited and free” as each of the dancers.

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