How ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Elevated the Art

‘So You Think You Can Dance’ brought dance to mainstream prominence.

From So You Think You Can Dance to Dancing with the Stars to America’s Best Dance Crew, the entertainment value of dance competition shows is endless. The unspoken message: You could move your body in the same way if you put your mind to it.

British producers Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller are behind the launch of the dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance. The summer reality show first premiered in July 2005, and this summer we saw the inspiring launch of So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation. SYTYCD took some time to find its footing, but the creative energy of the production team combined with talented dancers vying for the top prize ensured several Emmy awards and a place among the most watched shows of the summer. The format was picked up in 37 different countries, from Belgium to China, and its 13th cycle just aired. The show is now one of the longest-running dance franchises and hasn’t lost steam in 11 years.

The success of dance TV shows has not only ensured high ratings but has caused a small ripple effect in the dance world itself. In 2010, writer Claudia La Rocco reported in the New York Times that throughout the country dance schools saw a rise in applications for various dance workshops for amateurs as well as professional dancers who wanted to sharpen their skills. David Parker, choreographer at Julliard, Barnard College and the Alvin Ailey School, commented that he was appreciative that the show “in a way shuts people down to dance as being anything but slick, flashy entertainment.” Parker noted that his students were broadening their classical training with more cultural influences.

My Immortal - Mandy Moore - So You Think You Can DancePhoto by FOX via Getty Images

What’s the appeal of televised dance?

Shows like So You Think You Can Dance offer viewers a peek into the world of trained dancers: years of grueling work and continuously mustering the confidence to go to auditions where you’re often rejected with a quick “Thank you.” The general public loves competition shows, so it’s not far-fetched to combine them with one of the most beautiful art forms.

Lythgoe and Fuller’s initiative ensured that dance gained a resurgence via TV entertainment and brought the beautiful art form to a larger public than ever before.

Jason Derulo - Get Ugly - So You Think You Can DancePhoto by FOX via Getty Images

To outsiders the impenetrable dance world can seem harsh: from body image issues to competitive jealousy to the hard realization that the ultimate road to stardom is not what you’ve envisioned. Dance programs show that there’s more behind the veil. We now see the friendship between dancers, contestants who are endlessly practicing in the studios, rehearsal halls and on the grand stage. It’s a slick portrayal of the dance world.

The appeal of So You Think You Can Dance is not only the competitiveness of the dancers or the valuable life lessons that pop up in every episode. It’s all about the beauty of dance. With modern, tap, ballroom, hip-hop and jazz, the contestants express themselves in a kaleidoscopic array of emotive dance styles.

On So You Think You Can Dance, each choreographed piece, musical note, light and stage prop contributes to a mesmerizing performance that’s often no longer than 90 seconds. The conflict, stress, beauty and competition for that number-one spot keep viewers coming back for an inexhaustible source of pure entertainment: dance.

JaQuel Knight Hip-Hop - So You Think You Can DancePhoto by FOX via Getty Images

While there are many excellent dances to choose from, here are five memorable So You Think You Can Dance performances throughout the years.

5. “Dreaming with a Broken Heart” by tWitch and Kherington, Season 4, choreographed by NappyTabs.

tWitch is one of the breakout stars from the franchise. Think a stint in Magic Mike XXL to regular appearances on Ellen. tWitch is known as a hip-hop dancer, but in several performances he has shown that he’s a very impressive all-around dancer. Granted, the set is slightly cheesy when it comes to the various props and accessories but the electrifying chemistry between the two dancers combined with John Mayer’s song engulfs the literal interpretation of the dance and you’ll succumb to their movements.

4. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Melanie and Neil, Season 8, choreographed by Mandy Moore.

Toned-down performances can be a hit or miss when it comes to the emotional routine and the required emoting of the dancers. Performing a modern dance to Bonnie Tyler must be the secret dream of many ’80s babies. The clean execution turns it into a great performance.

3. “Bang Bang” by Alex and Eliana, Season 9, choreographed by Stacey Tookey.

It’s always interesting seeing ballet dancers at work in a commercial environment. The dance tells the story of the on-and-off relationship between the pair and their refusal to let go. The elegant movement, the intricate colored lighting and the marvelous Nancy Sinatra track are a feast for the senses.

2. “Wicked Game” by Amy and Travis, Season 10, choreographed by Travis Wall.

Amy Yakima became the Season 10 winner of So You Think You Can Dance. This performance explains why. Amy dances with choreographer Travis Wall, and everything truly comes together: music, choreography, performers, lights.

1. “The Chairman’s Waltz” by Jaimie and Hok, Season 3, choreographed by Wade Robson.

Interpretive dance is always tricky, but in Season 3 two dancers were believable when they were portraying the hummingbird dance and you actually felt that they were a flower and a bird. The score from Memoirs of a Geisha gives it that extra eerie touch.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions for “Calling You” by Travis and Heidi, Season 2, choreographed by Mia Michaels, which earned the show its first Emmy. The hip-hop routine “Outta Your Mind” by tWitch and Alex, Season 7, choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon (NappyTabs). The emotional routine “I Got You” by Melanie and Marko, Season 8, choreographed by NappyTabs. The energetic jazz vibes of “Sweet Dreams” by Neil and Sabra, Season 3, choreographed by Mandy Moore. Finally, “Gravity” by Kayla and Kupono, Season 5, choreographed by Mia Michaels. end

Join the discussion! What are your favorite So You Think You Can Dance performances?

 

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