TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 14 Perform”

It’s amazing how in one week So You Think You Can Dance can go from feeling it like it was struggling for content to being jam-packed with dancing this week. While it was a bit jarring to have to see four dancers go home instead of two, I think the cuts that were made were fair. Carly and Serge had become one of my favorite partnerships on the show, but sometimes a pair does something so special that they simply can’t go home, which is what happened with Jessica and Casey.

It was nice to see the dancers in the bottom do their solos, but it reminded me of how generic most SYTYCD solos are. Nobody really stood out to me, which made their work in the group routines even more important. Sadly, Carly and Serge were given the dreaded quickstep, which I thought they did a great job performing, but it wasn’t going to beat what Jessica and Casey did. And Teddy and Emily have been a difficult pair for me to connect with from the start; their inability to accurately translate Bob Fosse’s signature style just made it worse.

It was sad to watch those four dancers receive their critiques from the judges because it was so obvious who they were keeping. However, I can’t blame them. What Casey, Jessica, and Travis Wall created together was stunning. There was a simple beauty to the choreography that made it my favorite Travis piece in quite some time. (I even liked it better than his small group routine for the guys this week.) Travis uses music brilliantly, and when his dancers exhibit that same musicality, it’s a match made in heaven. Both Casey and Jessica were so fluid in this piece, but Jessica’s strength is what absolutely blew me away. Her movements required incredible amounts of control, and her lines looked flawless throughout. And for two people who I’ve had trouble connecting with in terms of genuine emotion, I found myself completely buying the joy they exuded through their whole bodies.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 16 Perform”

This week gave me a couple of things I’ve been waiting for since the live shows began: a breakout moment for more than one contestant and a bottom six that I actually really felt really invested in. I’m still sad that no one dancer has stepped up to the point of becoming my favorite yet, but some are starting to separate themselves from the pack. And I think seeing some dancers I really enjoy in the bottom six had something to do with that separation. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s (almost) gone.

Seeing Tanisha, Bridget, Serge, and Zack face elimination made me see how much I’d come to really enjoy all four of them. It’s never easy to watch people on this show go home, but the outcome of this elimination—with Marcquet and Brooklyn leaving—turned out as well as I could have hoped for. I appreciate both of them as dancers, but they never really had that spark that makes a great So You Think You Can Dance contestant. If people had to go home, I was okay with it being them.

Despite giving me a scare right away with the bottom six, this was an entertaining episode, and I think a lot of that entertainment came from watching a series of dancers have their first shining moments on the SYTYCD stage. Yes, there were some blasé routines. I couldn’t believe Dmitry tried to pass off that mess as a foxtrot; Brooklyn and Casey’s hip hop was boring at best; I appreciated Zack and Jacque’s technique but found their routine a pretty uninspired Sonya effort; and I’ve decided I’m just not a fan of trying to make these dancers learn Bollywood. (They always look like they’re trying, when dance should always seem effortless.)

However, there were more standout moments than we’ve had yet this season. Serge continued to prove himself as an outstanding partner for Carly, and her final move displayed a strength that was astounding. Emilio and Bridget followed up their adorable jive from last week with a very grounded and beautiful contemporary piece that allowed both of them to really compliment each other as dancers, and it allowed Emilio to show some serious growth (pointed feet!). Tanisha wowed everyone with her very unforced sexy stage presence in her hip hop with Rudy. And Ricky blew me away in Travis’s small group routine with both his technique and his style.

I may not have a dedicated favorite yet, but the list is narrowing down. And I love that I’m starting to really get invested in these dancers and their journeys.

Standout Performers: Carly, Tanisha, Bridget, Emilio, Serge, and Ricky

Favorite Routine: I love a good group routine, and this week had two of them. Don’t get me wrong; the small group contemporary piece was pretty, but we’ve seen all of that before. The Top 16 Mandy Moore routine was a wonderful exercise in synchronicity. It’s always a brave thing to show these dancers doing the same thing side-by-side because it highlights strengths and weaknesses, but when it works, it works so well. The same thing happened with Travis’s small group routine, which was my favorite routine of the night.

This was the first routine of the season where I know I’ll think of the dance whenever I hear the song (in this case, “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic). The song has a great beat and wonderful dynamics; it was made for routines like this one. And Travis’s choreography pushed a lot of his dancers out of their comfort zones to great effect. Like Mandy Moore, he didn’t shy away from big choreography sections done by the whole group, which can have a very powerful impact. It was fun to watch each dancer really embrace the style of the dance, and it was a unique style that didn’t look like the same kinds of dances we watch every week. The lifts were creative, and the movement was fresh. And it seemed like a dance tailor-made for a contestant like Ricky. It was fun to watch him shine technically, but it was even more fun to watch him so clearly enjoying performing this routine. It was the perfect marriage of dancer and dance, and I could watch him in this piece all day long.

TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 18 Perform”

And so it begins…

This week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance was the first of what I’m sure will be many times this season that I was disappointed with at least half of the duo that was sent home. I wasn’t heartbroken to see Jourdan leave—I didn’t connect with her in her pieces, and I think, out of the two ballerinas on the show, Jacque seems to be more versatile and energetic as a performer. But I loved Stanley. He wasn’t given the best material to work with (that boring telephone Broadway routine last week and this week’s Tyce Diorio flop), but I saw so much potential in him. His leaps were a thing of beauty, and he had a quality of movement that was truly unique. The good thing about SYTYCD is that I usually like all of the dancers that make the Top 20. The bad thing is that it makes watching eliminations difficult from the beginning, and it’s only going to get harder from now on.

One thing that wasn’t hard for me to watch at all was another fabulous week of Misty Copeland commentary from the judges’ table. Her critiques are always so direct and constructive, and I loved that she called Nigel out for his comments about Serge and Carly’s hip hop. She’s right; a judge’s job on this show is to educate the audience about the difficulty inherent in different routines—because a dancer’s job is to make the difficult look easy, so a judge’s job is to explain just how challenging a routine really was. Nigel doesn’t do that enough, and I am so happy he got taken to task even a little bit for it.

Misty was also on-point with her comments about the dancers’ performances this week. Technique is important, but so is stage presence. My favorite routines of the night were ones that had that X-factor in terms of the overall performance of a piece, while the routines I can barely remember were ones that missed the mark when it came to facial expressions. Everyone on this show is a good dancer; the ones who will separate themselves from the pack will be ones who stand out as strong performers and commanding presences on the stage (see last season’s entire Top Four).

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 to Top 18”

Sorry for the delay in my recap this week, everyone! I went on a little long weekend getaway, but now I’m back and ready to talk dance with all of you.

After being very impressed with the diversity and overall performances in the first week of live So You Think You Can Dance competition, I’m sad to say I found myself less than impressed with what we were presented this week. There weren’t any truly terrible routines, but there wasn’t anything groundbreaking either. I was sad to see Malene and Nick go because I liked both of their performances last week, but their work this week wasn’t nearly as memorable.

The biggest thing I took away from this week was the difficulty these partners seemed to have connecting with each other and sometimes also with the material they were given. There were more than a couple of routines where one partner seemed far more emotionally invested in the partnership than the other half of the duo. Valerie was so focused on her (surprisingly graceful) technique in her contemporary with Ricky that I felt nothing coming from her emotionally. Jessica and Nick seemed too labored in their West Coast Swing routine to create the fun atmosphere Benji Schwimmer wanted. And in perhaps the most egregious lack of connection this week, Emily was almost comically pandering to the audience and cameras instead of trying to create a connection with Teddy.

Many of the routines suffered from looking too much like routines we’ve already seen done and done better on the show (a common complaint I have after watching since the show’s early days). All of Sonya Tayeh’s jazz pieces feel the same now, and the same can be said for many of Travis Wall’s contemporary routines. All Argentine Tango routines will be measured against Allison and Ivan in Season Two, and all West Coast Swings will be measured against Sara and Pasha’s from Season Three—and the two we saw this week simply weren’t as good.

However, there still were some standout performances on the stage this week—especially from dancers excelling out of their given styles (with the exception of the brilliant work Ricky did in his contemporary routine, of course). Tanisha’s power and flexibility surprised me, as did Zack’s jazz technique (although the rhythmic nature of African Jazz works perfectly for a dancer with a tap background). And no one blew me away like Serge did this week. He was a bit of a disappointment last week, but his maturity and partnering abilities served him so well in his contemporary routine.

Standout Performers: Serge, Carly, Tanisha, Zack, and Ricky

Favorite Routine: I like being surprised by SYTYCD dancers, and Serge completely surprised me this week in his Sonya contemporary piece with Carly. Nigel was right when he said Serge dances from his heart. There was something so genuine about his performance, and I think it brought something deeper out of Carly than she would have found with anyone else in the competition. As is true for most male ballroom partners, he let Carly shine and was there for her in every lift and trick. I feel like that steady presence allowed Carly to find an impressively fluid kind of strength to her movements. They were one of the only partnerships on the show this week where I could feel real trust between them.

Serge’s maturity gave this piece a lovely, unforced kind of tenderness. Nothing felt overwrought, which can happen sometimes in SYTYCD contemporary pieces. Instead, it felt honest; it felt grounded. Carly’s technical precision elevated Serge’s technique, and Serge’s emotional honesty elevated Carly’s performance. That’s what good partnerships are all about, and I love that this partnership surprised me with just how good it was.

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/29 – 7/6)

This week was heavy with reality television and not a lot of scripted programming (with Suits taking a week off). It began with a new episode of The Bachelorette that made it perhaps more obvious than ever that Josh is the one for Andi. (Her genuine, glowing smile when he said he was falling in love with her was a close runner-up for my favorite moment of the week.) The week continued with the hilarious penultimate episode of The People’s Couch and the first So You Think You Can Dance live show of the season. The rest of the week was filled with special TV events—from World Cup soccer and Wimbledon tennis to Marvel Universe and Indiana Jones movie marathons.

I don’t think it will come as a surprise that the most fun I had watching TV this week was when Zack and Valerie performed their tap duet on SYTYCD. It always puts a smile on my face to see my favorite style of dance in the national spotlight, and this routine brilliantly captured the essence of why I love tap. It was complex in its rhythms, stylish in its execution, and entertaining from start to finish. Watching Zack in this routine is like watching a master at work, and his performance only gets more impressive with repeated viewings.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 Perform”

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.

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Top 10 Performances from SYTYCD Season 10

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Today is the finale of the 10th season of So You Think You Can Dance, so it seems fitting to wrap this season up with a countdown of my 10 favorite dances. I’m keeping this list to duets, but feel free to tell me your favorite solos and group routines in the comments!

10. Jasmine and Marko Jazz: Top 10 Perform (“Blurred Lines”)
I love routines that have a very defined sense of style, and that’s what this routine was all about. It needed to be a complicated mixture of staccato movements, fluid transitions, and charismatic stage presence—and Jasmine and Marko delivered like only they could, with great lines and the magnetism of born performers. This was the dance that made Jasmine my favorite performer this season. Not only did she hold her own against her All Star partner, she out-danced him with the classy kind of swagger that’s all her own.

9. Fik-Shun and Twitch Hip Hop: Top 4 Perform (“Hello Good Morning”)
This dance was a testament to what can happen when two of the best in their genre get together to perform. Both of these men have star power to burn, and it was so entertaining to watch them play off each other. They made this dance look easy, and, even more importantly, they made it look like so much fun.

8. Jasmine and Comfort Hip Hop: Top 4 Perform (“Run the World”)
This dance was all about the girl power. It featured two fierce women sharing the stage and elevating each other to new performance heights. Comfort was incredible in this routine, and her strength allowed Jasmine to reach inside of herself and bring out a ferocity we’d never seen from her before. This performance was Jasmine’s way of throwing down the gauntlet and showing just how much she deserves to win.

7. Amy and Fik-Shun Viennese Waltz: Top 12 Perform (“A Thousand Years”)
Sometimes a SYTYCD routine moves you unexpectedly, and that’s what happened with this dance. It wasn’t technically perfect, but it was full of such genuine emotion. It took these two dancers far outside of their comfort zone, and the result was a beautiful display of a kind of innocent, sincere chemistry that put a smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes.

6. Aaron and Jasmine Hip Hop: Top 12 Perform (“Gold Rush”)
Jasmine and Aaron really sold this sexy, strong, and hard-hitting routine that was a perfect match for their partnership. This was the first routine where I really noticed just how fierce Jasmine could be, and I loved watching her inner diva take center stage. Jasmine sliding into a split on top of Aaron was probably the hottest move I saw on SYTYCD this season, and this whole routine balanced playful entertainment, pure dance ability, and grownup sex appeal better than any other this season.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 10 “Top 4 Perform”

Can there actually be too much of a good thing when it comes to dance?

For me, the answer will always be “no,” but even I have to admit that last night’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance sacrificed a little bit of quality for a lot more in terms of quantity. And while I was happy to see so much dancing on two hours of primetime network television, it was clear that some of the routines suffered from a lack of energy and focus from a group of dancers who should all be given awards for making it through those two hours without collapsing onstage.

I won’t waste my time talking about guest judge Gabby Douglas because, although I adore her, she was on the same level as Carly Rae Jepsen in terms of her clichéd, generic responses. They should have just kept the panel to Nigel, Mary, and Paul Abdul, whose heartfelt (if sometimes spacey) critiques and compliments can grace my ears any day.

But enough about the judges, we have approximately 5000 dances to recap (and I’m only half-joking)!

SOLOS

Jasmine: Remember when we all thought Jasmine’s relationship with Cyrus was going to be a major storyline this season? I cannot say enough about how thrilled I am that this was the only time since Vegas Week that her heartbreak was mentioned, because her narrative became all about her dancing as soon as she stepped on the SYTYCD stage. Jasmine has an incredibly believable duality to her personality: the humble, shy girl who comes alive and finds her confidence when she dances. Her solo this week was another lesson in projecting passion to an audience while never sacrificing technique. And watching both Jasmine and Cat get emotional when it was revealed that Cat got her into the Top 20 was my favorite moment of the whole show last night.

Amy: Amy is a beautiful soloist in terms of pure technique. Her legs are so strong, and her core strength blows my mind. However, sometimes her movements can feel a little choppy and rushed, with too much manufactured angst rather than pure emotion. I think she’s a brilliant technical dancer, and this was my favorite of her solos so far. But I just don’t connect with her solos emotionally in the same way I did with the best SYTYCD female dancers.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 10 “Top 6 Perform”

I would just like to take one moment to say I CALLED IT!

From the very first week of the competition, I knew there was something special about Amy and Fik-Shun and Jasmine and Aaron. These two couples just seemed to click and bring out the best in each other in a way no other couple was able to this season. Both were perfectly matched and great compliments for one another—with the youthful energy of Fik-Shun and Amy providing a good counterpoint to the mature chemistry between Jasmine and Aaron. Both of these couples were made up of performers, dancers who come alive in a special way as soon as the music starts and the lights go on. They were power couples from the first week, and now they’re the only couples left standing.

As excited as I am to see the four best entertainers left in the competition move on to the finale, I can’t say I was 100% pleased with the results. While I agree that Haley’s time had come, I’m not so sure I was ready to say goodbye to Paul. He was clearly the best technician left, and I thought he had really grown into his own as a performer as well. In the last couple of weeks, I found myself falling under his spell and becoming more and more impressed with his versatility and stage presence. I would have liked to see him in the finale instead of Fik-Shun (I just think Paul has grown more and shown more versatility throughout the season), but saying goodbye to any of the guys this week would have been hard.

You know what wasn’t hard at all this week? Listening to Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the guest judge. He proved once again why he’s my favorite to fill the third seat on the panel with his jokes at Carly Rae Jepson’s expense, self-deprecating sense of humor, and adorable crush on Aaron. (Note to Jesse: Get in line, my friend.)

Ferguson was kept busy this week with a full slate of dances, so let’s start discussing them!

SOLOS

Fik-Shun: While I may not think he’s shown the same level of growth and versatility as Paul and Aaron, there’s no denying Fik-Shun’s genius in his own style. This solo was one of the best hip hop solos I’ve ever seen on So You Think You Can Dance; his musicality was perfect, his movements were ridiculously fast and precise, and his smile absolutely lit up the stage once again.

Paul: Ballroom solos can sometimes fall flat, but this solo was captivating from start to finish. Paul is such a chameleon that I sometimes forget what his specialty actually is, so this solo was a great reminder of just how good he is as a ballroom dancer. He oozed controlled power while still managing to exude the easy charisma that’s made him so likeable, which is a tough balancing act to perfect.

Aaron: I’ll announce my bias before I say any more: I’m a tapper. Tap holds a special place in my heart, and sometimes I get emotional just thinking about what this style of dance has given me. There’s a certain joy that tap gives me—the joy of a little kid putting tap shoes on for the first time and discovering that they can make music with their feet. And this solo was such a pure expression of that joy. Aaron’s love for this style came through in every part of his performance—from the genuine smile on his face to the relaxed and easy way he moved his upper body. It was like watching someone come home, watching someone in their happy place. Yes, his rhythms were incredible and his musicality was precise and thoroughly entertaining, but what really made me love this routine—what made me cry happy tears while watching it—was seeing Aaron show the world what I feel when I put on my tap shoes: the joy, the comfort, and the thrill of entertaining an audience with the music of my feet.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 10 “Top 8 Perform”

I’ll start this recap with a confession: I cried a lot during this episode. A LOT. Read my tweets from last night, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It wasn’t because of the “Who inspires you?” stories each contestant told (although those were sweet and some were truly touching). It wasn’t even because of the contestants for the most part.

It was the All Stars who left me wiping my eyes after nearly every performance. There was something so profoundly moving about watching their reactions to getting praise from the judges they once stood in front of as dancers. They all looked so genuinely appreciative of each compliment given and each kind word said. Those kinds of humble reactions are so rare on reality TV, and we saw it eight times last night.

And those compliments from the judges were well deserved; the choreography we saw was excellent. I also felt the All Stars did a fantastic job of showcasing their partners—much better than a lot of the regular choreographers when it comes to working with All Stars and contestants. It was exciting, entertaining, and a breath of fresh air to see these dancers come into their own as choreographers. The show felt different last night, and I mean that in the best possible way. It hummed with a new energy, and I loved every second of it.

In fact, the only thing I didn’t love was having to see someone go home. By the time the elimination results came, I wished both girls could have gone home instead of one of the guys. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike either Jenna or Haley, but I like both Fik-Shun and Tucker so much more. I was ready for it to be Jenna’s time to leave, but it broke my heart to say goodbye to Tucker after two weeks in a row of truly beautiful dancing.

Now, let’s get to recapping; we have an outstanding bunch of routines to talk about!

Aaron and Chelsie: Jive
Before I start, I would just like to remind everyone that Aaron was dancing with a shoulder injury, quite possibly a torn labrum. I’m not totally sure why this wasn’t brought up since Aaron and Chelsie both tweeted about it, but it frustrated me to hear Mary critiquing his shoulders when that was where he was injured. However, I was impressed with his professionalism and determination to dance as well as he could. I thought his jive technique was solid, and his performance level was off the charts. While I did think some of the turns and lifts looked awkward, I was thoroughly entertained, which is what I’ve come to expect from this consummate pro and showman.

Fik-Shun and Allison: Contemporary
I love Allison. I love her relationship with Twitch. And I love any and all versions of “Skinny Love.” Needless to say, I would have loved this routine no matter who was dancing it with her. But there was something special about watching Fik-Shun raise his game in the presence of such a talented dancer. I thought Allison was smart for using Fik-Shun’s unique skills in her choreography (I also wonder if she was inspired by her fiancé and his ability to blend genres, as well as her own work with many different styles). While I couldn’t take my eyes off her while they were dancing apart (Allison is just ridiculously captivating), I was so pleased with his work in the side-by-side section. In fact, that was one of my favorite moments of the whole show last night. His technique is raw and imperfect, but he matched her beat for beat and put his whole heart into that section of choreography—and the result gave me the best kind of chills.

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