A torrent of talent has descended on the Danza Viva studio, 46 Lake St. in Oak Park, seeking to qualify for the first Talent Search 2006 competition, which will soon travel to 10 local venues. So far, over 200 singers and dancers have auditioned for the 60 spots. Some are drawn by the $8,000 in gifts and scholarships that will be awarded. But most just want a chance to display their gift for hitting the right notes and nailing the right steps.

Danza Viva director Rebecca Huntman is thrilled by the turnout and the wide variety of artistry on display. She also wasn’t disappointed at having to change the name of the competition to avoid a conflict with the TV show. “We’ve been searching for talent all along,” Huntman said, “Not idols.”

The judges have seen every kind of talent on display. At the youth dance auditions, they’ve witnessed Irish folk dancing; African dance and belly dancing set to hip-hop music. There was a tap number to “Hit the Road Jack” by a 9-year-old and some spirited dancing from a 10-year-old Russian-American boy.

At the adult dance auditions, a Russian couple demonstrated their mastery of ballroom dancing”as well as break-dancing. All the audtioners had something in common though: raw courage. Dancing in front of adult judges, with no friends or family for support is a daunting proposition.

This bravery was also on display at the youth vocal auditions. Most of the competitors sang a cappella. Some showed their nervousness, while others really knew how to sell a song. The judges heard a full-throated version of “Black Velvet,” complete with a little country swagger, and a finger-snapping take on “Chain of Fools.” The poise and pipes of these young singers was positively ear-opening.

After the final cuts are made, audiences will be treated to some amazing local talent. They will also receive treats in a different form, as many of the venues will be offering discounts and giveaways. Audience members will even have a hand in choosing the winners, as attendees can vote on-line at www.WednesdayJournalOnline.com.

“They can find a link to the newspaper website at www.danza-viva.com,” Huntman said. Voting will be restricted to those who actually attend the competitions. The first elimination round will kick off at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn on April 20, followed by competitions at Wonder Works: Children’s Museum in Oak Park, on April 21; Molly Malone’s in Forest Park, April 22; and Oak Park’s Buzz Café on April 23.

“John Rice