Auditioning for popular dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance requires a certain level of bravery, talent and commitment. For Lauren Luteran, though, just being able to dance requires much more strength and stamina than the average performer exhibits.
Luteran, 19, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis — a genetic disorder that causes lung infections — just five months after she was born. Doctors told her parents that putting her in some kind of sport or activity would help the mucus in her body break down. Her family wanted to keep her in a contained environment, so they enrolled her in dance classes. From day one, she loved it, and she began competing the following year.
Cystic fibrosis doesn’t have a cure, and most patients do not live beyond their 30s. Lauren follows what she calls “a really rigorous routine day to day” in order to keep her health in the best condition possible. She starts each day with treatments and follows a very specific regimen just to be able to go about her life.
“My parents raised me to be compliant and to be on top of it so I can live as long of a life as I can — and get to do the things I love and enjoy life,” she tells PEOPLE.
With her strong technical ability and passion for movement, she doesn’t let anything get in the way of her dreams. Since she began dancing at the age of 5, she’s trained in a variety of styles, from ballet to hip hop, but particularly enjoys contemporary. Being on So You Think You Can Dance has been a goal of hers almost since the beginning — and a huge source of inspiration.
A fan of SYTYCD from the age of 8, Luteran decided this was her year to audition, and went into it with “no expectations,” she says. When she was invited to audition in person, she couldn’t turn down the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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In 2015, Luteran worked with SYTYCD legend and Emmy-winning choreographer Travis Wall, whom she calls “one of my biggest inspirations in life,” through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She first heard of him from season 2 of the show, when he finished as the runner-up.
Wall choreographed a contemporary solo for the young dancer. She decided to rework the routine for her SYTYCD audition and says it felt “special to do his work on TV.”
The song used is titled “Marathon in Roses”, but Wall decided to name the routine “Marathon”, telling the story of Lauren’s life through movement.
“Relating to me, it’s more like my life is a marathon and I’m trying to get to that finish line,” she says.
The piece was both a crowd and judge favorite, as Luteran is moving onto the Academy round.
She went into this next phase of competition with no expectations and saw it as a chance to “share my story and enjoy and soak up the moments.”
The Academy round begins Monday night, and while Luteran can’t share all of the details, she says that just getting to that point felt “surreal.” She also enjoyed connecting with other dancers throughout the process, as well as working with world-renowned choreographers.
She hopes to be a source of inspiration for anyone trying to overcome something difficult, and has learned not to waste a second of time.
“I think it’s important to experience so much that you can in life because life is over so quickly, and you may not get to do the things that you love out of fear,” Luteran says.
While she isn’t sure what exactly her next steps will be, she hopes that her audition alone will continue to “inspire people I don’t even know.”
“I’m proud of who I’ve become and I’m proud of who I am becoming,” she says.
So You Think You Can Dance airs Mondays 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
To learn more about cystic fibrosis, or support those currently in treatment, visit cff.org
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