Save the Last Dance for Me: My Favorite SYTYCD Performances

It’s that time of year again—dance recital season! As a dancer and a choreographer, this is one of the most exciting times of the year, and it’s not just because of what my students and I are getting ready to perform this weekend. It’s also because So You Think You Can Dance is getting into the home stretch of audition episodes before finally revealing its Top 20. Once the performance shows begin, SYTYCD becomes must-see TV for me every week. It’s so exciting to see one of my biggest passions displayed on national TV for others to fall in love with the way I fell in love with dance 20 years ago.

In the spirit of sharing my love of dance with everyone I meet, I decided today to share links to my Top 10 So You Think You Can Dance performances. These dances continue to inspire me, motivate me, entertain me, and move me long after I first saw them.

10. Danny and Lacey’s “Hip Hip Chin Chin” Samba (Season 3)
This dance is still one of the sexiest dances to ever be performed on SYTYCD. The choreography was exciting, the musicality was perfect, and both Danny and Lacey gave star-quality performances. At this point in the season, everyone knew Lacey was a fantastic performer, but this was the dance that really showcased Danny’s stage presence. He looked like he was having the time of his life out there, and those moments of pure joy are my favorites on this show.

9. Sasha and Twitch’s “Misty Blue” Hip Hop (Season 8)
These two were a match made in dance heaven. Their synchronicity and surprising chemistry made this dance a true standout. Twitch is the best hip hop dancer to come out of this show’s crop of performers, but Sasha held her own and then some in this dance. The mixture of staccato movement and natural flow was brilliant; Christopher Scott’s choreography perfectly complimented his dancers and earned him a well-deserved Emmy nomination.

8. Neil and Kent’s “How It Ends” Contemporary (Season 7)
This dance took my breath away the first time I saw it. The way Travis Wall was able to tell such a relatable and yet incredibly personal story with only movement is incredible, and Neil and Kent’s dedication to selling that story to the audience was palpable. Both dancers truly left their hearts on the stage in terms of the emotion they brought to the table; the moment when Neil steps on Kent’s face still breaks my heart and gives me chills.

7. Danny and Neil’s “Are You the One?” Contemporary (Season 3)
This dance is so powerful, and it showcases the different but equally impressive skills of both men so well. Mia Michaels choreographed to each of their strengths to create one of the best showcases for the final two male dancers SYTYCD has ever had. Danny’s regal poise, Neil’s raw power, Danny’s flawless technique, and Neil’s magnetic stage presence—all of these things featured heavily in this dance, and their combination made for a performance that captivated me from its gorgeously tense opening to its conclusion.

6. Travis and Heidi’s “Calling You” Contemporary (Season 2)
With this dance, two stars were born: Mia Michaels as a choreographer and Travis Wall as a dancer. (Heidi was good, too, but I think we can all admit she was little more than a prop to show off Travis.) This was the dance that made people take notice of this show, and it was for a good reason; it’s still special so many years later. It’s filled with so many classic moments: the first lift, trying to hold hands through the bench, Heidi’s running leap into Travis’s arms, and, of course, the perfect musicality of Travis sliding down the bench.

5. Neil and Sabra’s “Sweet Dreams” Jazz (Season 3)
This performance simply oozed intensity. Both dancers had great jazz technique, but what really sold this dance was Neil and Sabra’s chemistry. Each look, each change in body position, and each turn of their heads were done with a controlled fire that is impossible to teach. From their leaps and kicks to the smallest curling of their fingers, this dance is a great one because of the perfection of its details.

4. Alex and Twitch’s “Outta Your Mind” Hip Hop (Season 7)
There’s only one thing to say about this dance: Alex Wong. Alex Wong! Who knew that a ballet dancer could have that much swag? Teamed with the powerhouse performer that is Twitch, Alex came alive in this dance as the most wonderful example of a dancer going outside of their comfort zone and excelling. This dance is fun; it makes me happy—and I love seeing that happiness reflected on both performers’ faces and in their energetic execution of some great choreography.

3. Lauren and Kent’s “Collide” Contemporary (Season 7)
There’s something so delicate and innocent about this performance; it almost feels as if you’re intruding on a private moment between two people falling in love for the first time. Travis Wall’s choreography made the most of Kent and Lauren’s youth, celebrating it while so many other choreographers on this show want to force the youngest contestants to dance with a maturity they simply don’t have yet. That doesn’t mean the actual choreography was immature, though. The lifts, side-by-side sections, and intricate use of the music could only be executed by the best of the best. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Kent and Lauren were.

2. Jess, Nick, and Matt’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” Tap (Season 8)
This might be considered cheating if I’m just supposed to be basing my rankings on dances that were performed as part of the competition, but I don’t care. It’s my list, and if I want to include the most entertaining dance SYTYCD has ever presented to audiences, then I’m going to include it. Tap is my favorite style of dance; it’s my specialty both as a choreographer and as a dancer. So it should come as no surprise that the single happiest moment of my time as a fan of this show was this performance. Matt Flint proved why he won his season of SYTYCD UK, and Jess and Nick were his equals both in stage presence and ability. Their rhythms were incredible, their style was gorgeously fluid, and their smiles lit up the stage. Tap brings me so much happiness, and it brought a tear to my eye to see these three dancers bring the pure joy of tap dancing to a wide audience. Somewhere up in Dance Heaven, Gene Kelly was smiling.

1. Kayla and Kupono’s “Gravity” Contemporary (Season 5)
This dance is as close to perfection as this show will ever see. The music, the choreography, and the dancers all came together to create a perfect storm of emotion and artistry. What I love most about this dance is that you don’t need to be told the story. You can see it in Kupono’s twisted smile and Kayla’s desperate attempts to leave his grasp, only to come back again and again. This dance feels more intensely raw, more visceral, and more painfully real than anything else that’s ever aired on SYTYCD. It manages to tell a gripping story while still allowing its dancers to show exactly how strong they are technically. There have been so many dances that have tried to replicate this one’s emotional power, but none of them have even come close.

What do you think of my list, fellow SYTYCD fans? Which performances are your favorites?



5 thoughts on “Save the Last Dance for Me: My Favorite SYTYCD Performances

  1. So now you are just playing to my summertime sweet spot. Putting aside the fact that I could conceive a top 10 routines out of Season 3 alone, along with a group routines and a Mia Michaels list. However, I will try and touch upon ones I think are missing. I had all the same ones on your list with the exception of #2 and #5. So here are my additions and they are in seasonal order, because like children, I can’t pick a favorite:
    Season 3
    Danny & Anya “You and Me” Viennese Waltz – Of the traditional ballroom dances I am a sucker for the rise and fall of this waltz and the show has had some good ones along the way, but this was by far my favorite. I can so easily recall everything about this dance and how it felt like they were dancing on air.
    Sara & Jesus “Cabaret Hoover” Jazz – This Wade Robeson hobos number is one of my favorite things he has done on the show. That they performed it week 1 still amazes me 6 years later. It’s just the perfect combination of creepy, fun and inventive.
    Sabra & Neil “España Cañí” Paso Doble – I realize why “Sweet Dreams” is the fan favorite of this duo but for me, to come completely out of their comfort zone and kick the crap out of the Paso (not an easy dance to sell) was spectacular. I must have rewound Neil dropping Sabra over him like a donut a dozen times.
    Season 4
    Katee & Joshua “Dhoom Taana” Bollywood – They were the first to do it and in my opinion no one has ever matched their routine, although they’ve had a Bollywood number every year since. Again, I am always pleased when the dancers take on something out of their comfort zone and are mesmerizing in it. I thought Katee and Joshua did that here. Plus, I dare you to watch it and not smile. The dance is pure joy.
    Twitch & Katee “Mercy” Contemporary – Twitch was my personal favorite from this season and what makes this number terrific is the story telling. There was something magical that happened whenever Twitch got a dance number with a good storyline (note his all-star turns with Alex and Sasha) and Katee hanging on the door is a piece of genius.
    Season 7
    Lauren & Twitch “My Chick Bad” Hip Hop – This routine for me was when Lauren won the competition. There is absolutely no reason on earth for this little blond chick to have out danced Twitch on his home turf. She did and it was awesome.
    Season 8
    Sasha & Kent “Fool of Me” Contemporary – I thought this was the first time Sasha really shines, because while I loved Misty Blue, my eyes were fixated on Twitch in that performance. In this one I thought she was exquisite and this was a beautiful piece of art on display.
    Caitlynn & Mitchell “Turning Tables” Contemporary – This was a duo I wasn’t particularly fond of as dancers and they certainly weren’t standouts for the season. However this is one of my favorite Stacey Tookey numbers the show has ever done. So I am giving it a shout out.

    • We have the same summertime sweet spot then! 😉 I’ve loved this show since Season 2—I’ve seen them on tour twice (Seasons 2 and 3), and it makes me so happy that there’s a show out there that celebrates something that’s brought me so much personal joy over the years. Dance has such a special place in my heart, so this show is incredibly near and dear to me.

      I love your picks (and I totally agree on being able to make a Top 10 list of Season 3 dances or Mia Michaels dances). That Danny/Anya waltz was so beautiful; they were such a gorgeous pair, and it always made me sad that they were in the Bottom Two so often. And YES to Lauren and Twitch’s hip hop. Lauren is my favorite female dancer to ever be on this show, and that dance is the epitome of why. She’s such a strong, fearless, energetic dancer. For being so petite and so young she had a ferocity to her that blew me away.

      • I was so mad at myself for missing season’s 3 tour I’ve seen all the rest except for last season’s, because I didn’t love it. Seeing Gravity live was rediculous. The audience in the arena I was in was silent up through a few seconds after it was over. When they broke character, the audience burst into applause and a standing ovation.

  2. Funny that I found this (well, maybe not so odd, now that season 10 has started I’M TOTALLY immersed in SYTYCD!) I’ve been going through all the clips I can find online, mulling over which ones I’d put into my Top 10. I’ll have to think about that, there are so many enthralling performances, but I MUST agree with you that Kayla & Kupono’s Gravity was riveting, & I come back to it time after time. Perfect combination of an insanely catchy song & genius choreography, with 2 gut-wrenching performances, especially when I take into account Kupono talking about a friend’s problems with addiction & his own revulsion at having to portray something so destructive. I was really disappointed in season 9 when they chose it as one of the routines to be recreated, by Lindsey & Cole. It didn’t seem fair to set them up to be compared to such a high standard.

    Oh! There’s a very good chance one of my top picks would be Danny & Anya, season 3, Girlfriend. That jive blew the roof off! Up to that point it seemed the show was setting Danny up to be hard to like, because he was too good, & too haughty, for anyone to want to vote for him. I expected Anya to rock it, but no one thought Danny would get DOWN the way he did! I think that dance turned things around for Danny & made people LIKE him.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, and I have to echo your praise for Danny and Anya’s “Girlfriend” jive. I loved Danny from the start, so I was so upset at the fact that the show seemed to be setting him up to be too arrogant to be appealing to voters. Then they performed this dance, and his personality started to come out. It was such a great moment for him, and I still love watching that dance.

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