I am a sucker for So You Think You Can Dance, a.ka. SYTYCD. Very few reality shows keep me interested, but I’ve been hooked on this one for nine seasons. In order for a reality show to interest me at all, there needs to be some real skill involved. I am not at all interested in ridiculous dating competitions or following around C-list celebrities as they lead their often vacuous lives. Shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race are fun to watch every once in a while because those contestants are working their asses off to win some money. I also followed Project Runway for quite a while because I did love seeing the amazing creations the designers were able to pull out of their heads, and who isn’t madly in love with Tim Gunn?! But the only reality show I watch religiously is SYTYCD. Why? Well, for one thing, I love watching dance. It is amazing to see how a dancer has the ability to show us the glory that is the human body. Also, I’ve actually taken many years of dance classes and been in several dance choruses as a professional musical theater performer, so I have a fairly nuanced appreciation of how freakin’ hard it is to do what these kids are doing every week. This is serious dance boot camp, people. Dancers from all backgrounds with all levels of experience are asked to learn several routines in just a few days in a myriad of different styles. Granted, the winners of each season are America’s favorite dancer and not necessarily America’s best dancer, so the voting and competition aspect can be frustrating. But I am so grateful that I actually get to watch several weeks of high-quality, fun, entertaining, and often breathtaking dance every summer. What a gift!
Over the years, there are routines that stay with me. They are truly special. Just a few weeks ago, Mary Murphy (whose high-pitched screams and enthusiasm are annoying to many but I actually find delightful) talked about how the winning dancer has to be in a piece where everything aligns with the trifecta of the right pairing of dancers, the perfect piece of music, and brilliant choreography. This actually happens on a fairly regular basis, believe it or not, but there are a few pieces that will always be standouts for me. Now, I did not start watching SYTYCD until Season 3, so there are, I’m sure, several amazing routines that did not make my top 10. I apologize to all of the stalwart fans who have been watching the show from the very beginning, but it’s my list so them’s the breaks, kids. I have listed the routines in order of absolute number one favorite on down. I didn’t do the usual “save the best for last” order because I want everyone to watch at least this first piece on the list. It is perhaps one of the most perfect pieces of dance I have ever experienced. I hope this list brings pleasure to all who view it, and please feel free to share your own favorites. Enjoy!
1. This piece is from Season 5. The dancers are Kayla and Kupono and it was choreographed by Mia Michaels. Kayla was one of my favorite dancers in this season. She was a bit of a “blank slate” whenever she was on camera as herself, which I believe kept America from falling in love with her. But I believe that blankness actually made her a vessel into which all of the choreographers could pour their ideas. She and Kupono not only dance this piece beautifully, but they truly perform it. And, of course, Mia Michaels’ choreography is, as always, simply breathtaking.
2. In Season 10, one of the shows had the choreographers of a piece actually perform with each of the competing dancers. Mark Kanemura was a competitor from Season 4 and has achieved some great success as a dancer/choreographer since then, especially as one of Lady Gaga’s favorites. So it was a no-brainer that he was brought back to choreograph and perform for this particular show. Jenna was my absolute favorite dancer of Season 10, and this number was my absolute favorite number of the entire season. It is quirky, technical, and one of the most unique pieces I’ve ever seen.
3. Season 11 (the current season) has been kind of weak, in my opinion. The competitors are very young and all kind of look and dance the same, especially the women. However, a few weeks ago, the show was pretty amazing, and the best part of the evening were the two smaller group numbers. The guys have definitely been stronger than the girls in Season 11, and this group number with the Top 7 guys shows off their skills. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the amazingly talented Travis Wall choreographed it!
4. Season 7 was a big change in formatting for the show. The dancers were paired up with All Stars for the first time. America completely fell in love with Alex due to his prodigious talent and charisma. Pairing Alex with tWitch, a true SYTYCD All Star, was nothing short of brilliant. And then giving them a hip-hop routine by Tabitha and Napoleon ended up becoming a dream come true.
5. This group number is from Season 2. I know you are all gasping because earlier I said that I didn’t start watching the show until Season 3. So why would I include this number from a season I never watched and what about all of the other amazing numbers from the first two seasons that I have not included?! Well, the long story is a very dear friend of mine had been trying to convince me to watch SYTYCD forever and I just wouldn’t budge because I had no desire to watch a stupid reality show that was obviously trying to compete with American Idol. Finally, he forced me to watch this clip of the Top 10 dancers performing a Wade Robson group number. And so I started watching the very next season with complete devotion. And the short story is this is my list and I can do whatever the hell I want, so deal. :-p
6. So many amazing choreographers have graced the show with their talents, but Travis Wall is particularly special. He was one of the final four contestants in Season 2. Then he was eventually asked to begin choreographing. He has more than proven his chops, choreographing beautiful piece after beautiful piece, over and over. This number with Kent and All-Star Neil is my favorite. It is rare that the show pairs up male dancers for a contemporary piece, and this was so magnificently performed by the dancers.
7. I LOVE JANETTE AND BRANDON!!! They were absolutely Season 5’s power couple, hands down. Brandon was so strong, and Janette completely committed herself to every style she was given. I want them to dance together forever, get married, have a bunch of dancing kids, and tour the country dancing as the SYTYCD version of the Von Trapp Family Singers. PLEASE!!! This tango choreographed by Leonardo Barrionuevo and Miriam Larici showcases their ability to tackle any style of dance regardless of their original specialty before coming onto the show.
8. Season 3 will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first season I watched. While Danny had difficulty connecting with America due to what seemed to be fairly strong arrogance, his talent was not to be denied. And Lacey? Forget about it! Talk about charisma coming out the wazoo! Add to that her more-than-amazing talent, and it is no wonder she soared right up to the final four contestants. Lacey really helped Danny come out of his shell with this hot, hot, hot samba choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin with Heidi Groskreutz assisting.
9. You already know how much I love Mark from Season 4. I had a harder time relating to Chelsie. She just came across as so young. However, this hip-hop number by Tabitha and Napoleon helped me see her in a whole new light. Tabitha and Napoleon have a wonderful ability to tell powerful stories through dance in very short amounts of time. This is one of their earliest but still one of their best.
10. I know I said Season 11 has not been my favorite season, but, man, the two small group numbers they did just a few weeks ago blew me away. This number was choreographed by Mandy Moore for the Top 7 girls. Maybe this number is so beautiful and powerful because all of the women look and dance the same, so what creates a boring season actually worked to create one of my favorite group numbers so far.
(bonus clip!) All of the seasons of SYTYCD have given us incredible dancers. Each season has a standout and Season 11 is no exception. Ricky has been flawless every step of the way. He can dance in any style. He performs every number with his entire body, heart, and soul. And he is adorably charming to boot. So even though I have many favorite dancers from past seasons, I am keenly aware that blogs are all about being in the moment. With that in mind, here is a clip of Season 11’s Ricky dancing his latest solo.