"I just like to zone out with my iPhone - I have my piece recorded, so I just listen to that, and I take my own little corner to stretch out in," he said, laughing.
Dancers in dramatic eyeliner streamed past him down the hallway as judges upstairs called number after number. There were 300 dancers in the building, but only a handful would make it to the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix, which held the second of its 12 semifinals in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Founded by Larissa Saveliev, a former dancer with Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, Youth America has been hosting competitions for dancers ages 8 to 19 around the world for nearly 20 years. In all, 5,000 will compete in this year's competition. Only 300 will make it to the finals in New York.
At stake are dance-school scholarships and coveted positions in some of the best companies in the world - not to mention the exposure that comes from performing in front of world-renowned dancers.
Backstage Saturday, dancers stretched at the barre in a small training room, plugged in their iPods, and tried not to let their nerves get to them.
"You try to de-emphasize that I-have-to-win-something mentality," said Bojan Spassoff, the president of Philadelphia's Rock School for Dance Education, which had upward of 40 students competing Saturday. "It's more about the experience of preparing and dealing with nerves."
Judges say they look not only at dancers' technical prowess but their passion for dance.
"[Competitors] are young enough that you can look for potential," said Karine Plantadit, a Tony nominee in 2010 who spent most of the morning judging dancers with her extraordinarily well-behaved poodle, Prince Henry, on her lap. "It's a powerful weekend. [The competitors] are playing with their dreams."
Most of the dancers competing Saturday have plans to join professional companies as soon as or even before they graduate from high school. Many say they view Youth America as an opportunity to show off their skills and network with major companies from around the region.
Last year, Tulsa, Okla., native Madison Price, 17, made it to the finals in New York, where she met dancers from the Rock School. This year, she left home to enroll there. "I've always been pretty independent, and I was ready to get away and try something here," Price said.
"Don't you miss me a little bit?" her mother, Cindy, asked with a laugh. She and her husband, John, had traveled from Oklahoma to see Price dance in this year's competition. Like many parents, they'd spent the weekend in and out of the auditorium, waiting for their child's number to be called.
Wendy Roldan, 39, said she watched her daughter Megan, who's just 11 and competing in her first Youth America competition, run onstage Saturday morning only to find that her ensemble's music would not start. Megan, smiling determinedly, danced half the piece without any music as Wendy watched anxiously from the audience.
"In the middle, they had the dancers exit the stage," Roldan, of Poolesville, Md., said. "And then they came back on and killed it."
Saturday's competition ran from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., when dancers would learn who was headed to New York. In the meantime, they had to simply sit back and enjoy the show.
"I'm not going to lie - it's stressful," said Bella Raykhman, 13, a dancer from the Olga Kresin Ballet School in Northeast Philadelphia who has been competing in Youth America since she was 8. "It's not easy. But it's worth it."
Contact Aubrey Whelan
at 610-313-8112, at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.