I hope all of you who celebrate it are having a fun and safe Independence Day!
So begins another season of So You Think You Can Dance live shows, and I’m trilled to be writing about them once again. As a dancer and choreographer myself, no other show on television makes me smile like SYTYCD, and I can’t wait to discuss the highs and lows of each week of the competition with all of you. Until the Top 10 is selected, my recaps will be a bit more general—focusing on some thoughts about the episode as a whole as well as my favorite routine and dancers of the evening (there will also be some predictions for who’s going home after I’ve started to see who the audience is gravitating towards).
If this episode is any indication, we’re in for a real treat this season in terms of both the talent and variety of dancers we’ll be getting to see over the next several weeks. Yes, there’s still an abundance of contemporary dancers who are difficult to tell apart (but some did make a name for themselves in this episode), but I loved seeing a Top 20 episode with multiple ballroom duets, two ballerinas, two tappers, and two hip-hop dancers with very different styles. If there was one thing I was most impressed with while watching this episode, it was the variety of dance styles I saw on display.
In an episode that featured 10 dances (and one subpar group number from Sonya Tayeh), it was easy for at least a few routines to get lost in the shuffle. Despite the variety of styles presented, there were still too many contemporary routines about a couple in the middle of an argument. (Travis Wall, you can do better.) Also, the embarrassment of riches in terms of ballroom numbers meant that there was now the ability to directly compare partnerships, and the duos of Nick/Tanisha and Serge/Brooklyn didn’t have the same fire and stage presence as the dynamite pairing of Malene/Marcquet.
The dances that stood out to me more than any other in this introductory week were the ones unlike anything else we saw that night. The energy of Malene and Marcquet was unmatched. The rare treat of the female pas de deux between Jacque and Jourdan was impressive to behold, even if I did feel the choreography was a little above their abilities. (There were simply too many turns.) Teddy and Emilio’s “Night Shift” duet was an inspired blending of their two hip-hop styles. Zack and Valerie’s tap duet was as challenging as it was entertaining. And Ricky and Jessica’s breathtaking contemporary piece set them apart from their fellow contemporary dancers by showcasing a stunning combination of strength and grace.
Standout Performers: Malene, Marcquet, Teddy, Emilio, Ricky, Jessica, Valerie, Zack
Favorite Routine: If you read my SYTYCD recaps last season (or my Tweets so far this season), you know that I will readily admit to being biased towards tappers on this show. Tap is the style of dance I specialize in as a dancer and a choreographer, so it has thrilled me like little else to see the style I hold close to my heart finally getting the SYTYCD respect I felt it was denied for so many seasons. In fact, thanks to last season’s Top Four finalist Aaron Turner (and Nick Young before him), we’ve been treated to some great tap routines on this show in the last few seasons. But none of those could even hold a candle to the show Zack and Valerie put on this week.
Of course, most people will say that that best routine of the week was Ricky and Jessica’s gorgeous contemporary piece. However, we’ve seen contemporary talent like that before. What we haven’t seen before was a tap routine like Valerie and Zack’s. It was by far the most difficult tap routine in the show’s history—and not just because of the stairs. Yes, I held my breath every time they tapped up and down those steps (especially the pullbacks that took them backwards down the stairs). But the thing that most impressed me with this routine was the complexity of the rhythms they had to create throughout. Every beat in the song was matched by a beat from their tap shoes, and as Nigel said, those beats came from different parts of their shoes to create a variety of different sounds. Great tappers use the different parts of their shoes the way a drummer uses the base drum, snare drums, and cymbals, and that’s exactly what Valerie and Zack did.
More than anything else, those two dancers captured the exuberance of tap in such an enjoyable way. For being such a difficult routine, they never stopped looking like they were having fun. Tap is such a traditionally joyful style of dance (think Singin’ in the Rain), and it always puts a smile on my face to see a routine that reminds America just how purely entertaining this style of dance can be.