Kenichi Ebina, left, a former dance teacher at The Conservatory of Dance, in Wilton Center, won this season of America's Got Talent.

When Kenichi Ebina won America’s Got Talent last week with his “dance-ish” routines, as he described them, no one was less surprised than Christine Titus, owner of The Conservatory of Dance in Wilton Center. Mr. Ebina was a teacher at the dance school when it was in Georgetown and his talent was undeniable.

“He was very creative, very artistic, very sweet and humble,” Ms. Titus said. “He was a great performer, a great teacher, very nurturing.”

Mr. Ebina taught hip hop, street jazz and contemporary dance for 11 years from 1999 to 2010, leaving the studio when he moved back to his homeland, Japan. While at the school, he built the hip hop program.

“The kids loved him,” Ms. Titus said. “They adored him. They brought him birthday cakes for his birthday.

“He was just a talented, talented guy. He always had the most creative features in our shows,” she added. “One time he slid across the stage on his head.” As he demonstrated on the television competition, he always used creative props, Ms. Titus said. “One year he used a big, billowing scarf that would float above the dancers. He did one piece with 12 stools for the girls to dance with. He would try to add different elements to each piece.”

Loyal following

Mr. Ebina developed a loyal following at the Conservatory of Dance. Former students and their parents praised his skills, calling him a “phenomenal talent.”

Nicki Duggan, 19, of Weston, a student at Boston College, studied dance with him for five years. “He was one of my favorite teachers,” she said. “You had to work hard but his dances were some of the best at our recitals.”

She said his modern dances were “out there” and students had to do things like lie down on their backs and try to get up without using their hands. “No one thought they could ever do it. He made us push our limits with his amazing choreography,” she said.

Katherine Koller of Weston, a student at Northwestern University, took dance classes with Mr. Ebina for seven years. “He’s an artist, not just a dancer. When I saw him on the finale of America’s Got Talent I thought he was amazing. People couldn’t believe he was my teacher,” she said.

Regardless of the name of the class, Katherine said one of the fascinating things about Mr. Ebina was not knowing what unusual moves he would teach them. “In jazz class he’d have us doing robotic moves, crawling on the ground, or pretending to pulsate while being electrocuted. He also taught us how to walk more femininely and shake our hips. He was very focused and highly creative,” she said.


Ms. Titus said she did not know Mr. Ebina would be on the show until her husband called her in to watch.

“I said, ‘he’s going to win the whole thing,’” she said, adding Mr. Ebina had won the Japanese version of the show, Japan’s Got Talent, a few years ago. “He is a huge star in Japan.”

Of his performances on America’s Got Talent, Ms. Titus described them as “genius.”

“Between the video, martial arts, illusions, I couldn’t pick a favorite piece,” she said.

Once she realized he was competing, she exchanged emails with Mr. Ebina, assuring him she and the students were voting for him.

“He was grateful for the support,” she said.

Mr. Ebina won a grand prize of $1 million and the opportunity to headline a show in Las Vegas.

“He’s such a humble guy. He doesn’t know how good he is. Hopefully he knows now. He didn’t think he was going to win. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”