His moves may make him look like a robot, but that doesn’t make him any less unique.
Merrick Hanna, an 11-year-old Encinitas boy, has become a recent reality television star of sorts thanks to his freestyled hip-hop “flo-bot” style dancing, in which he impersonates androids. He has performed mainly freestyle dances and competed on shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Lip Sync Battle Shorties.
The sixth grader first got into the dance style and robots in general when he was 2 at an open house for the Solana Beach Fire Station.
“I was really little and didn’t really interact much,” he recalled. “I saw this robot, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. From then on, all I did was impersonate that robot.”
Then, the impersonations turned into full-on dance moves when Merrick caught the dance group Jabawockeez on television and began copying their dance style.
Fame followed for the boy who enjoys dancing in the styles of studio hip-hop and Krump, or aggressive hip-hop, but has also taken lessons in ballet, tap and ballroom.
After someone uploaded a video of him dancing on YouTube, Merrick caught the attention of executives from The Ellen DeGeneres Show and So You Think You Can Dance. He was put on the call-back list for Ellen but decided to audition for the dance show in the meantime.
He made it in. Literally moments after receiving that notice, he got the official call to be on Ellen.
“I still haven’t completely comprehended it in my mind,” the boy said. “I’m still like, ‘Whoa. What’s happening?’ It all happened so quickly.”
Ultimately, Merrick made it through to the top 40 on So You Think You Can Dance, but his rise to fame has continued.
His YouTube channel has more than 4,500 subscribers and individual videos have as many as 34,000 views each. He was also recently on Lip Sync Battle Shorties on Spike TV, performing the hit “Radioactive” by his favorite band Imagine Dragons, and was often featured on commercials for the show.
“I was just trying to watch Spongebob on Nickelodeon and my face kept popping up on the TV,” Merrick said. “It was pretty creepy.”
The show was different because it was choreographed, but it was still fun and “had everything a kid would want on set,” Merrick said.
“There was a lot of candy,” he said, laughing. “But I forced myself not to eat all of it.”
Television shows aside, Merrick said he’s a normal boy who enjoys hanging out with friends and playing soccer and Pokemon Go. And his friends don’t treat him any differently, he said.
“My new friends think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “All my older friends are already kind of tired of my dancing because I just do it too much. They’re like, ‘Oh, you were on another show? OK.’”
He said he sees himself pursuing a career with robots and engineering when he grows up.
Merrick’s parents, who both work in science and have no dance experience, said their son’s talents came as a pleasant surprise.
Aletha Hanna, Merrick’s mother, said she tends to get emotional when she watches her oldest son — the couple also has a 6-year-old boy — perform.
“It is a surprise and a joy to watch him dance,” said the 45-year-old Encinitas woman. “It actually makes me cry. He’s so in the zone. Everything’s that come has just been so unexpected. It’s been such a fun ride. I know more about hip-hop culture now than I ever did.”
Merrick’s next performance will be in the “Culture Shock Nutcracker” at Spreckels Theatre in San Diego on Jan. 6, 7 and 8. For more information, visit sprekels.net.