Wednesday, Oct 31 2012 12:23 PM

He showed America his moves -- and won!

BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

A trophy as tall as his 9-year-old son was the offical prize when Ephraim Penn won a dance contest on the "Today" show last week.

But the only reward that mattered to the Bakersfield dance instructor came after he plucked his son from the crowd of spectators so that he, too, could do some freestylin' on national television.

"Can you move like your dad?" asked "Today" co-host Savannah Guthrie.

"Better," said young Devin, and with screaming sirens competing with the booming beat, he backed up his bold claim with a series of leaps, flips and splits that proved his old man is as good a teacher as he is a dancer.

"He helped me with my audition tape," Penn said. "He was really heartbroken because he wanted to dance on the show, but I said it was just for one person. But I told him if I won, I'd bring him out with me."

Hundreds of people from all over the country sent audition tapes for the "Show Us Your Moves" contest. Five dancers, including Penn, were selected to compete live on Friday's show before three celebrity judges, including actress/dancer Debbie Allen and singer/dancer Ciara.

The dance-off included representatives of several styles, including jazz and break-dancing. Penn, who went last, felt good about his 45-second hip-hop freestyle performance, though there was one competitor who unnerved him a bit: the little cutie in the sparkly ballerina outfit.

"You have to go all out when dancing against kids," Penn said. "Everybody is going to look at kids and say, 'How cute.' The ballerina was my biggest competitor. She was hitting all her moves."

But when you're on you're on, and Penn left it all on the outdoor dance floor that day.

"I was nervous because I wasn't for sure what I was going to do, because it's freestyle. But I felt good about it. They had a nice little crowd. I kind of feed off the energy of the crowd. It made me dance even harder."

Penn got to see a little of the city on his whirlwind visit, thanks to an old friend he met on "Soul Train" back in the day. The friend now lives in New Jersey and swung by to show Penn and his son Times Square and Grand Central Station.

"Devin had a good time, but while we were walking, some guy snatched a lady's bag and he ran by us, trying to get away. And then Devin said, 'Daddy, I don't like New York.'"

That hiccup aside, the trip was a success for Bakersfield's newly minted celebrities.

"As I was about to board the plane to come back home, some lady said, 'I saw you on the 'Today' show.' I told them, 'You're making me feel like a celebrity,' and they said, 'You are a celebrity.'"

Penn, who has been inundated with congratulatory calls from friends and students at his PennPoint Dance Academy in downtown Bakersfield, is hoping his moment in the national spotlight comes with an encore.

"I loved it. I had a really good time, and the success is more than I expected. I just hope somthing else arises from it." Xxx gg gg g g g g gg g g g g gg g g g gg g gg

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