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?