Stephen "tWitch" Boss was a thoroughly modern dancer. He grooved with his family in TikTok videos. He appeared in the "Step Up" movies and the "Magic Mike" sequel. He lit up the stage of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" for nearly a decade.
But when it came to the root of his own creative inspiration, Boss looked back to the early 20th century and the loose-limbed luminaries of Hollywood's golden age.
"The greatest of all time had to be Gene Kelly, man. Gene Kelly, because he’s a guy’s guy. I love Fred Astaire, but Fred Astaire was so smooth, and it was great. He was so classy," Boss told The Associated Press in 2014, the year he joined the "Ellen" show.
"But Gene Kelly — he could be like somebody’s dad, who just decided to get up off the couch and dance around and clean the kitchen up," Boss added.
In the course of his all-too-brief artistic career, Boss — who died this week, at 40 — embodied so much of what he admired about Kelly: the easy charm, the infectious enthusiasm, the palpable zeal for his craft. You could imagine him dancing around his own kitchen.
He could make others feel like jumping off the couch, too. In his eight years at the "Ellen" show, Boss richly endeared himself to viewers. He was a staple of the daytime series, helping to set a tempo that got audience members on their feet.
The tributes that streamed in Wednesday were a testament to his effect on others and the sheer depth of his talent.
Paula Abdul, a dancing star of the 1980s and a former judge on "So You Think You Can Dance," praised him as a key member of the contemporary dance world.
"tWitch greeted the world every day with a beautiful smile that was a direct reflection of his beautiful heart," Abdul said in a statement. "He was a beacon of light & a true talent whose legacy & impact will live on in the dance community."
Stephen Laurel Boss was born on Sept. 29, 1982, in Montgomery, Alabama. He started dancing as a teenager, performing in several local and regional theater productions. He specialized in freestyle moves.
Boss studied dance performance at Southern Union State Community College and Chapman University, and he later taught hip-hop dance at school back home in Alabama.
"He has the personality and the look to succeed," Leslie Crook, one of his former students, told The Montgomery Advertiser in 2008. "He is just one of those 'so likable' people.
"Everyone that meets him falls in love with him," she said.
Boss eventually moved to Los Angeles to chase his dreams of professional dance stardom. He scored small but career-boosting roles in the movies "Blades of Glory" and "Hairspray," an adaptation of the Broadway smash.
"So You Think You Can Dance," a reality show on Fox, introduced Boss to a much wider audience. He was the first runner-up during the show's 2008 season, and he served as a judge a decade later.
"It really ingrained in me that you can do anything if you put your mind to it," Boss told The Montgomery Advertiser in February 2009.
Boss made national headlines during the 2008 season, when he and a dance partner, Kherington Payne, performed a Viennese Waltz set to the Celine Dion song "A New Day Has Come."
The dance had been created by choreographer Jean Marc Genereux as a tribute to his young daughter who had Rett syndrome, a severe genetic disorder.
The performance reportedly moved the judges and audience members to tears.
"The only time she gets so animated is when she sees people move," Genereux told The New York Times, referring to his daughter. "Hopefully this piece will make her react and feel great."
"So You Think You Can Dance" sent Boss to the next level of his career. He landed a part in the 2010 movie "Stomp the Yard: Homecoming" and got cast in three entries in the "Step Up" film series: "Step Up 3D," "Step Up Revolution" and "Step Up: All In."
Boss also appeared in a small role in "Magic Mike XXL," the 2015 sequel to Steven Soderbergh's portrait of a male stripper, played by Channing Tatum.
Boss began his tenure on the "Ellen" show in 2014, where he started out as a recurring guest DJ before taking on a more permanent role. He was a beloved fixture of the show, and in 2020 he was promoted to an executive producer role.
When the "Ellen" show was coming to an end last year, the host paid tribute to her sidekick and collaborator in glowing terms.
"I'm supposed to be throwing to a montage right now of some of our favorite celebrity moments, but I'm not going to do that," DeGeneres said. "Over a decade ago, I met somebody who changed my life and our show — and I'm talking about you, tWitch."
Boss, seemingly caught off guard, embraced DeGeneres and sat down next to her for an extended homage. The audience cheered and applauded.
Boss continued to reach into the homes of his fans even after the "Ellen" show ended. He and his wife, fellow professional dancer Allison Holker Boss, frequently posted videos on TikTok: the couple dancing to Lizzo; their kids dancing to a Fisher Price DJ toy.
She wished him a happy birthday in a TikTok video on Sept. 29. tWitch could be seen dancing, surrounded by family and friends, seemingly lost in the ecstasy of what he loved most.
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