SYTYCD has gotten more adventurous with genre during its evolution as a show, verging out tentatively into various “world” and cultural areas of dance. Of course, these are mostly just dips of big toe in the proverbial water compared to the prevalence of the “big three” genres, and there have been as many missteps as there have been classic moments. (Twitch and Joshua’s trepak from season 4, for example. Or the horrific experience that was wasting Allie and Natalli on a go-go routine in the first Canadian season.)
Tied in with those dances are the ones that don’t quite fit into the “big three.” Disco isn’t quite ballroom – it has jazz and funk elements to it that shove it somewhere into the middle. See also the “nerd ballroom” dances and the nu-swing dances – Lindy hop and West Coast swing most prominently. And of course, there’s always “Broadway,” that catchall for musical theatre-inspired routines, be they Bob Fosse-inspired or alternately inspired by Bob Fosse. (I kid! But not that much.)
So here is the final “best of” list, because there’s too much that doesn’t fit into the round holes on this show not to include.
12.) Kate and Graeme, Australia season 1 (top 16), Bollywood.
Predating the more well-known Katee/Joshua Bollywood routine by six months, this fun modern-Bollywood, almost-Bollyhop routine is just a decent little piece of work. Jason Coleman wasn’t sure if it was authentic enough for his tastes, but really, modern Bollywood has plenty of hip-hop mixed in with it nowadays.
11.) Sara and Pasha, U.S. season 3 (top 14), West Coast swing.
Benji Schwimmer’s one-man crusade to marry ballroom and the nu-ballroom genres to house music continues unabated. There’s a bunch of the classic Schwimmer tricks in this one – the series of assisted cartwheels, the woman-pushing-sliding-male-partner bit, et cetera – but they’re infused with Pasha and Sara’s personalities quite skillfully and the routine as a whole just works.
10.) Amy and Timomatic, Australia season 2 (top 8), Broadway.
I was really irritated that in the contemporary best-of list, I couldn’t find room for a single Project Moda routine, because the clown princes of the Australian show have proven to be some of the most consistently entertaining choreographers in their particular franchise. Thankfully, they occasionally go into the Broadway realm, and this effort from season 2 is probably one of their best routines, channeling Michael Jackson at his most entertainingly corny. Timomatic unfortunately got eliminated from the show just as he was really coming into his own, but given the talent depth of that season I can’t really complain. And Amy is Amy, as good as she ever is.
9.) Sara and Neil, U.S. season 3 (top 10), disco.
Simple truth: most disco on SYTYCD sucks, because most disco on the show tends to fetishize the really big fancy lifts, and setting up those lifts can very easily make the rest of the routine drag – some perfunctory floorwork, then girl gets down on floor for big spin and then the spin becomes a lift and whoa isn’t it spectacular, oh my. (And it doesn’t help that disco is itself quite intricate.) But the thing about disco is that the audience genuinely enjoys the corny bits – the shampoo-the-hair, the gun-fingers, the mashed-potato fist whirls, all of it. People like that shit, and it’s a mystery to me why Doriana Sanchez and other disco choreographers don’t just give the audience what they want and concentrate the rest of their time on finding one spectacular lift which their dancers can enter into and out of quickly and cleanly. This one, by Sara and Neil, is exactly that kind of routine: lots of disco schmaltz, a couple of quick big stunts, and more schmaltz. And the audience eats it up.
8.) Donyelle and Benji, U.S. season 2 (top 12), Broadway.
Frenetic, crazed, and completely entertaining throughout. However, one must admit that this routine may have created the trend of unfortunate literalism in SYTYCD Broadway choreography, to the point where Will and Katee unfortunately performed “Don’t Rock The Boat” in season 4 in an actual boat. But we can’t blame this routine for being successful at what it does.
7.) Allie and Miles, Canada season 1 (top 8), “Afro-jazz.”
Okay, I admit that it is totally cheating to include African jazz in the “other” category, even if it is pretty much a distinct subform of jazz choreography. But screw it, it is my list. If you don’t like it go make your own list. And this is probably the best and purest expression of Afro-jazz in the show’s history, so nyaaah.
6.) Katee and Joshua, U.S. season 4 (top 18), Broadway.
This one was perhaps unduly hyped by the judges, but only very slightly. It’s very good, in the hammy way that Broadway routines on this show almost always end up being. Katee and Joshua performed this one like veterans, so it deserves a spot on the list, even if Nigel Lythgoe jumping up out of his seat and dancing made me want to punch him in the face a bit.
5.) Arassay and Nico, Canada season 1 (top 18), Broadway.
Strange as it might be to consider, Nico wasn’t really NICO!!! until this routine, which turned him from just being a handsome and solid dancer in the top 20 into the first sex dream of thousands of teenaged Canadian girls – seeing as how it combined a handsome shirtless man with an angel, which are two things straight teenaged girls traditionally appreciate. I also have a fondness for the lack of stereotypical Fosse-light choreography in this piece, because there are other famous Broadway choreographers, after all.
4.) Melody and Nick, U.S. season 1 (top 6), disco.
You know, I didn’t realize that both of my disco picks for this list used different covers of the same song until just now? Huh. But anyway, this is more of what SYTYCD disco should be: corny fun. Windmill pointing! Pelvic thrusts! And one or two really spectacular tricks. It’s not rocket science, people! There is no reason so much disco on the show should suck as much as it does.
3.) Miles and Nico, Canada season 1 (top 4), capoeira.
Certainly one of the flashiest guy/guy routines in the history of the show, and probably the most difficult. Capoeira is, it turns out, really really hard, even for trained dancers, because the movements are so unique to the form. It’s a testament to Miles and Nico’s talents that they were able to master the routine, and a testament to their athleticism that they were able to make the extremely tough floorwork look good. A chapter-and-verse example of how the show should go off the beaten path.
2.) Gianne and B.J., Australia season 2 (top 12), Broadway.
Easily the funniest single Broadway routine in SYTYCD history. B.J. in this reminds me of nothing so much as a dancing version of Zach Braff doing J.D. from Scrubs, right down to the I-was-just-violated look he keeps up after the routine ends. (Which is a good thing.) This routine plays up the physical comedy to 11 and keeps it there, and all of it works. And the dancing is great too.
1.) Katee and Joshua, U.S. season 4 (top 12), Bollywood.
Oh come on you knew this was going to be number one. Even if Katee and Joshua hadn’t just about nailed it, it would still be a contender based on its musicality and charm. But they did nail it. Bollywood dancers were actively posting on forums to say how holy-shit impressed they were with this routine. So there you go.