What a time to be a fan of great dancing. Last night’s So You Think You Can Dance finale felt like a true celebration of dance—from the lack of eliminations to the adorable final moments of camaraderie at the end of the episode. Even with so many routines, each dancer managed to keep their energy impressively high, and they actually seemed to get stronger as the night went on (maybe the presence of the All Stars helped). In doing so, they produced my favorite Final Four night of routines in quite some time. However, that might just because of all the tapping.
Yes, this week was a great week to be a tapper or even just a tap enthusiast. Having one of my all-time favorites, Aaron, back as an All Star was the icing on the cake that was this week’s joyful explosion of tap. As someone who spent years wishing this show would throw even the tiniest of crumbs of attention towards tappers, this episode was a feast. Each of the duets and solos showcased not just how technically difficult tap is as style but also how much fun it is to watch and to dance. If nothing else, I hope this finale inspired some little kid to try their first tap class because they want to be like Aaron, Valerie, or Zack.
More tap love to come later on in this recap. For now, let’s get to the rest of the dances!
Top Four Routine
When Travis Wall is at his best, there is nobody better. And this was Travis at his best. No dance this season moved me with its message like this one did, and that that’s because we weren’t told ahead of time that we were supposed to be moved by it. We could interpret it however we wanted to, and I chose to interpret it as an ode to marriage equality. The story unfolded through the choreography in such a beautiful, gentle way, with gorgeous contemporary partnering between both girls and both guys. Ultimately, I think the guys caught my eye a little more than the girls did because of their total commitment to every emotional facet of this piece, but that final image—with the two guys and two girls holding hands before joining to form one unified line—was so powerful and inspiring and joyful that I forgot for a second that this was still a competition at all.
Valerie and Ricky: African Jazz
This routine was executed well enough, but it definitely wasn’t the most memorable routine of the evening. Both Valerie and Ricky totally committed to the choreography, but they approached it in different ways. I thought Valerie was much looser in her movements than Ricky, which made them look out-of-sync at times. I know this dance style allows for a little more freedom of movement than other forms of jazz, but I still found their differences somewhat distracting. However, I do commend both of them for starting the night with such a demanding routine and still managing to perform the rest of the show without looking tired at all.
Jessica and Zack: Broadway
I wish we could have seen these two paired together sooner because they were magical together. Something about Zack’s ability to inhabit the character he’s asked to play in each dance seemed to rub off on Jessica because I don’t think her stage presence has ever been better. They both danced with such confidence—from their sly smiles to each intricate flick of their legs and change of their hand positions. I could have watched an entire show of them doing Spencer Liff’s brilliant interpretations of Fosse choreography. And this routine helped solidify my belief that one of these two would be the best fit for the On the Town part that’s given to this year’s winner.
Jessica and Ricky: Jazz
While I liked this week’s Ray Leeper piece better than last week’s, I still don’t connect with his dances beyond being impressed with the technical precision they call for. Don’t get me wrong; I think Ricky and Jessica were basically flawless in this routine, and it showed off their abilities perfectly. However, I wish his routines had just a couple of “breather” moments, so the dancers could have a second to connect with the audience and each other. With that all being said, though, I would kill to have legs like Ricky. Never in all my years as a dancer have I seen someone (guy or girl) with extensions like his.
Valerie and Zack: Contemporary
Does Tyce just really dislike Valerie? That was all I could think at the beginning of this piece (in conjunction with his harsh behavior towards her during/after the jazz routine he did for her and Ade), as he asked her to play a blind woman. However, Valerie turned the tables and used her “too nice” demeanor to captivate everyone by taking a dance that could have been a serious “issue dance” and turning it into a work of joy and light. The simple beauty of her performance floored me, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Zack’s careful partnering. I was shocked by how subtle and truly lovely this dance was—both in its choreography and its performance.
Valerie and Jessica: Bollywood
Why do the Top Two girls never get a dance that’s as good as the Top Two guys? I think Bollywood is entertaining, but it’s not going to earn either of them votes. I can never even tell if it’s being executed properly and neither can the judges, so I end up getting frustrated. I thought both Valerie and Jessica performed this dance really well, but it felt a little slow to me compared to other Bollywood routines this show has had.
Zack and Ricky: Hip Hop
I know this phrase gets thrown around so much on this show, but WHERE DID THESE TWO COME FROM? I was so impressed with both Zack and Ricky in this routine. It’s one thing to do a lyrical hip hop, but this was hard-hitting, no-nonsense, gritty hip hop. And they both not only danced it well; they sold the hell out of it. Hip hop demands total commitment or else it looks ridiculous, and these two brought their A-games to this dance. From the tricks to the footwork to the interconnected tutting, this choreography was some of the most intricate and entertaining hip hop choreography ever seen on this show. This dance seemed anything but easy, but it also seemed like both guys really enjoyed doing something so far out of their comfort zones. And that’s a testament to the choreographers.
ALL STAR PAIRINGS
Valerie and Aaron: Tap
I thought this routine was very cute in terms of its style and very intricate in terms of its rhythms, but there was something missing; it didn’t have the “wow!” factor I was expecting, to be honest. First of all, I don’t understand why the costume department didn’t put Valerie in a red dress to match her shoes; it was distractingly awful costuming, especially when Aaron looked so good in his suit. I also felt Valerie was looking down at her feet way too much, and it took away from the connection she should have been making with Aaron and the audience. In the moments where she looked up and at Aaron, she was dynamite. However, she seemed uncomfortable at times with the difficulty of the routine—or maybe looking down is just a force of habit for her when she taps (I see it all the time as a tap teacher). I wanted to tell her what I tell my students: “Your feet know what to do; don’t worry about them so much.”
Ricky and Kathryn: Contemporary
I have to apologize in advance for my lack of any kind of deep commentary about this dance; I nearly forgot everything that happened onstage as soon as Nigel opened his mouth and started talking about the “stupidity” of suicide. Now, I can barely think about this beautiful dance without going into a blind rage because of his incredibly thoughtless, insensitive, and ignorant comments about such a serious issue. When I do think about the dancing, though, I remember being annoyed with once again being told what to feel by a choreographer. Yes, Stacey Tookey, your dance was beautiful, but it actually didn’t move me even half as much as the opening routine did. I was distracted by Kathryn’s wings when I should have been watching Ricky, who literally faded into the background at times because of his dark costume and the dark lighting. What I did see of him, though, left me in awe of his talent as always. I think dancers like this didn’t need such a heavy story; I just wanted to see them dance.
Zack and Aaron: Tap
I could write a 75-page thesis about why this dance represents everything I love about tap. But for all of our sakes, I’ll try to keep this as short as possible. There have been some very strong SYTYCD tap routines in recent years, thanks to the brilliance of Anthony Morigerato. However, there’s never been anything like this. The idea of tap as a conversation—a means of sharing stories with your feet—has never been more perfectly expressed. The concept behind this routine was wonderful, especially because it highlighted what the dancers were doing instead of distracting from their talents. And the talent that was on display was beyond hyperbole—everything great thing you can say about both Aaron and Zack was true. Aaron dances with such easy grace and confidence; he’s everything a great tapper should be. And he brought out the best in Zack. You could feel the sense of homecoming on Zack’s face and in his body language throughout the dance; he may be versatile beyond belief, but this—a challenging tap routine—is his happy place. And that made it my happy place, too, as a viewer. The way the routine built with the music was genius, and the use of rhythm was so creative it leaves me speechless days later. But the thing I took away from this routine was the sense of pure joy on Zack’s face. He oozed confidence and charm, but, even more than that, he simply glowed with happiness. That mixture of technical complexity and joy is why tap has meant everything to me for 21 years, and I’m so glad America got to see my favorite style at its absolute best in this routine.
Jessica and Robert: Contemporary
Travis was on fire in this finale. His opening routine was so hopeful and inspiring, and this routine was so dark and subtly sexy. I was worried that Jessica might overplay the sensuality needed to pull this off, but she was impressively genuine. I’ve always been in awe of her strength, and this routine showed it off in a different way—by forcing her to make even the most challenging transitions look smooth. It takes strong legs and a strong core to make most of that choreography look so fluid. I loved all the little details in this routine, too, but none more than Jessica grabbing Robert’s hair and throwing him to the ground at the end. It was such a definitive moment, and she sold it so well.
Most of these solos were ones we’ve seen variations of before, and they were all great showcases for what makes these dancers special. However, I have to give Valerie points for her eponymous song choice. And Zack’s solo proved what I’ve believed to be true for a while: When it comes to pure skill as a tapper, he’s the best this show has ever seen.
My SYTYCD Season 11 Winner Prediction: Zack. I think he had the best night in terms of memorable performances, and I think his natural charm has won over so many people. Zack has the combination of genuine likability and true talent that has proved to be a winning formula for SYTYCD contestants over the years.
Favorite Routine: Zack and Aaron’s tap