Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes on So You Think You Can Dance

(This isn't digital but I love this show and need to write this as a reference for my next two pieces.)

So You Think You Can Dance is one of my favorite shows. Even if I have zero dance background (not counting my ballet classes as a kid), I love this show. Every (U.S.) summer, I rush home every Thursday night to watch the latest episode. I avoid Twitter on Friday mornings so that I won't see who was eliminated. I LOVE THIS SHOW.

For those of you who haven't had the immense pleasure yet of watching the show, So You Think You Can Dance, it is a reality show on the Fox network, sister to much more popular reality competition American Idol. While AI has infinitely more viewers and fans, SYTYCD is a far better show. The contestants train for years (whether in formal classes or hmm... on the streets? like if you're a hip-hop dancer?) and by the time they get on the show they are experts at their own style - contemporary, jazz, ballroom, Latin, Broadway, etc. The challenge every week is to be able to master a range of styles outside of their own. Contemporary dancers are asked to do hip-hop, hip-hop dancers are asked to do ballroom, and they all get weird styles like African jazz or Bollywood, and the point is to shine no matter what style.

The season starts with auditions all over the U.S. where dancers who make the cut get a ticket to Vegas. The judges have to feel that dancers are (a) awesome at their own style, and (b) have enough talent to possibly be awesome at other styles as well. The dancers all get flown to Vegas where they are tested in all the main styles (usually hip-hop, ballroom, Broadway and contemporary). The judges cut after each round and sometimes dancers are asked to "dance for your life" - when they've done badly at a certain style the judges are allowed to ask them to dance a solo in their own style to remind the judges of their potential and why they're still being considered. It's brutal!

The judges choose a Top 20 - ten boys and ten girls who are all partnered up. Partnership is key on the show - they always compete in pairs. The show has played with a lot of formulas regarding how people get mixed and matched but here's what usually happens: guys and girls get paired up and stick with their partners for the first five rounds. The remaining Top 10 are all switched around after that randomly with each other. SYTYCD tried one season (7) where they only got ten dancers at the start and they were randomly paired up with an "All-Star", a contestant from a previous season (who I'm assuming has done well enough commercially to be called an All-Star). This season partners stay together for the first five weeks, then get switched around with All-Stars and each other after they make the Top 10.

There are two mainstay judges: the usually awesome Nigel Lythgoe (who is also the executive producer), who is also executive producer of AI and the fabulously loud Mary Murphy. Nigel used to do ballroom and tap, Mary is a ballroom vet. They usually get one or two choreographers to judge as guests but this year they've done away with choreographers-as-guests and have started inviting actors and directors instead who have a dance background or who love the show.

Choreographers play a key role on the show, as they engineer all of the dance numbers. It seems like Nigel gives them free range to do whatever they want, which can end up a good or bad thing. But the show has a set of mainstay choreographers - Napoleon & Tabitha for hip-hop, Mia Michaels, Stacey Tookey & (former contestant!) Travis Wall for contemporary, Sonya Tayeh for jazz, etc. They add to the range of personalities on the show and long-time viewers have gotten to know the choreographers through their work across the seasons. (Nappytabs remains my favorite!)

At the end of the season, America votes and the show crowns the winner as "America's favorite dancer". I've been watching the show since Season 4 (when I spent a summer with my tita and cousins in LA who love the show, we're now on Season 8), and the technically best dancers rarely win. Season 4 - I think that contemporary dancer Katee was the best but hip-hop guys Twitch and Joshua made the Top 2, with Joshua as the winner. Season 5 - Brandon was certainly better but America chose Jeanine (both contemporary). Season 6 - contemporary dancer Jakob was insanely amazing but krumper Russell won.  In earlier seasons Nigel seemed to be proud that America voted for their favorite, or the dancers with the most personality. But in more recent seasons he seems to have gotten very unhappy about the technically best dancers not winning and sometimes getting eliminated way before the finale.

This season has been amazing. My favorite dancers, Tadd and Marko, have made it to the finale! I've been upset  about Nigel pimping out his favorites this season (ugh RYAN) and seeming to favor the female dancers, but I am still hoping that Marko or Tadd will come through. Probably Marko.

But why did I write this lengthy piece? I have a hidden (or not-so-hidden?) agenda.


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