With So You Think You Can Dance kicking off its fifth season this week, I felt it was an appropriate time to engage in everybody’s favorite pastime: lists! Best-of lists are great! Because you can argue about what should have been on the list and why list item X should not have been on the list.
However, just an overall “best of” list seems like an exercise in futility, not least because comparing between genre is difficult if not outright impossible. So instead, I have elected to present these best-of lists (which have been determined through a rigorous scientific process, doubt me not) divided by genre: hip-hop, ballroom, contemporary, and everything else. Top twelve for each. Why twelve? Why not?
So, firstly, hip-hop. This was actually the easiest of the lists to manage, because outstanding hip-hop and urban dancing is still comparatively rare on So You Think You Can Dance. This is not to say that it is bad; it isn’t, and most of it is reliably entertaining. However, truly standout performances in this genre are much less frequent than in the other major divisions of dance on this show.
An email buddy of mine who is a professional dancer has this theory:
When a ballroom choreographer shows up on the show, they can charge more for classes. When a contemporary choreographer shows up on the show, they can maybe get a few more butts in seats for their next production. But when an urban choreographer shows up on the show, they’re doing it because they want to be the next Shane Sparks and get to that level where they’re choreographing movies and videos and cheerleaders and making so much money they don’t have to be on the show any more. Which is why you get less top choreographers in the genre.
I don’t think this is entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either (after all, the other choreographers want to be rich too). I personally think it has more to do with the fact that hip-hop dancers are more likely to be untrained, classically speaking, and tend to be eliminated earlier. There’s just less of a window for them to really impact the show in the way that contemporary dancers do. (Ballroom dancers have the same problem but on a lesser scale.)
All right. Introduction over. To the list! (And I recommend watching the videos in high quality, if your computer can handle it. Rapid hip-hop movements do not translate well to low-quality Youtube viewing.)
12.) Comfort and Mark, U.S. season four (top 8).
Tabitha and Napoleon are really great hip-hop choreographers with a weakness, and their weakness is for melodrama. This is not to say that their dramatic routines aren’t good – of course they can be – but I personally often prefer it when they stop trying to import moral lessons through hip-hop and instead just try to rip it as hard as humanly possible. This was a great example of the latter, and one that didn’t get nearly its due from the judges.
11.) Gemma and Rhys, Australia season 1 (top 14).
It’s no secret that a number of the male dancers in any season of SYTYCD are gay, but for irritatingly predictable reasons the show almost never acknowledges this. This, then, is why I love Rhys: in his intro video in the first week of competition, he never described himself as “gay” – but pointed out that he was a drag queen, that he liked wearing makeup, and that his father was “very supportive” of who he was. In other words, he all but shouted out “hey, Australia, I’m queer” and then promptly displayed on a weekly basis how his sexuality was utterly besides the point by dancing with his female partners in a more heterosexually masculine and romantic way than any of the straight boys also on the show. Consider this dancehall-ish routine, which Jason Coleman described as “blokish,” which I feel is exactly correct. It’s also pretty slammin’.
10.) Penny and Charlie, Australia season 2.
Penny and Charlie are probably Australia’s answer to a Benji/Donyelle or Katee/Joshua pairing: a couple, paired from the start, with immense chemistry and exceptional talent. This “dancin’ vampires” routine manages to be entirely engrossing without having any of the really crazy lifts or tricks a lot of hip-hop routines throw in. Maybe it’s because of the contact lenses they’re wearing to give them cat-eyes, I dunno.
9.) Lisa and Vincent, Canada season 1 (top 18).
Canadian voters didn’t respond to this routine at all, giving Lisa and Vincent a bottom three berth (they of course weren’t eliminated). Maybe it’s because the routine is, honestly, freaky and weird. The theme of “Raggedy Ann and Andy secretly hate one another” isn’t your standard two-dancers-do-some-beats thing, after all. But this routine is freaky and weird in a good way; it’s original and funny and Lisa and Vincent hit it hard. Sometimes the voters are wrong!
8.) Lacey and Pasha, U.S. season 3 (top 6).
Dave Scott’s guy-and-a-mannequin routine is a longtime favorite of mine, for a bunch of reasons. Pasha’s solo portion of the dance is very good, way better than anyone could reasonably expect of a ballroom boy and good on its own merits as well. Lacey never drops the blank face (which is really hard to do when you’re dancing that hard) and hits her steps a bit harder than Pasha to emphasize her not-actually-a-human-ness. And it’s really funny and clever, and that is always to be celebrated.
7.) Lamb and Timomatic, Australia season 2 (top 20).
A stunning lyrical hip-hop routine that honestly makes a lot of lesser routines look comparatively mawkish. (Lamb didn’t even make top 10 of her season, which should really emphasize how rich the talent was in Australia’s most recent crop.) The simple concept of “best friends realize they’re in love with each other” isn’t layered on with a trowel, but I think it comes through – especially with that look on Timomatic’s face right at the end. Gorgeous. (The routine, not Timomatic. Although I expect some people might wish to disagree with me on that point, as he is obviously quite handsome.)
6.) Kate and Rhys, Australia season 1 (top 10).
And here’s a change of pace – a hip-hop routine with no overlying story beyond “let’s do some awesome moves.” Supple is one of those choreographers who can be maddeningly inconsistent, and his really clever concepts don’t always translate through to his dance routines – but when Supple is on, he is on. The tutting in this routine is just fucking brilliant, and the way Kate and Rhys snap through their moves is fantastic.
5.) Lisa and Vincent, Canada season 1 (top 12).
The Canadian version of the show was lacking a full-time “awesome”-level hip-hop choreographer. Luther Brown had to split his time between choreo and judging, and while Brown is a very good choreographer, he specializes in lower-key hip-hop and less on the big, crowd-pleasing tricks. Along comes Sho-Tyme, who despite a silly nom de guerre quickly displayed brilliance and became a crowd favorite. This house routine is complex as all get out, and Vincent and Lisa nail it (again), hitting their unison just about perfectly in a routine even more frantic than most hip-hop routines on SYTYCD.
4.) Katee and Joshua, U.S. season 4 (top 20).
This routine basically made Napoleon and Tabitha’s brand on SYTYCD, as well as letting Katee establish her place as the top female dancer of the season almost immediately (and, some have argued, the best dancer of the season period). It’s just good, and I have little else to say about it so I’ll just shut up now.
3.) Allison and Ivan, U.S. season 2 (top 8).
Joyful and romantic and restrained and really quite simple in concept, this Shane Sparks routine remains a personal favourite, not least because Ivan – whose hip-hop talents were mostly submerged during his tenure on the show in favour of a “growth as a dancer” meta-storyline – finally got to show everybody how good he really could be. Allison is Allison, one of the best female dancers to ever appear on the show. So there’s all that going for it.
2.) Destini and Jamile, U.S. season 1 (top 8).
Until season 4, this was the gold standard for hip-hop on SYTYCD, because it is a totally sick balls-out routine with half a dozen “shit yes” moments. Earned one of the rare judge standing ovations. (Possibly because Jamile had, after four weeks of ballroom routines, finally the chance to perform in his specialty.)
1.) Comfort and Twitch, U.S. season 4 (top 10).
And bear homage to the new king. Dave Scott’s “dancers in the year 3000” routine is great to begin with, but give it to Comfort and Twitch – probably the greatest female and male hip-hop dancers in the show’s history – and you just knock it out of the park. Period.