By my count there were 299 pairs dances amongst the second seasons of the Canadian and Australian So You Think You Can Dance plus the fifth and sixth seasons of the American version. (I also saw a good chunk of So You Think You Can Dance Netherlands, but nothing from it was going to make any top-whatever list, frankly.) With the British version finally starting up in 2010, there will be four seasons of this show airing in English-speaking countries every year minimum until the whole shebang goes under, which hopefully is a long way away, even if Nigel Lythgoe is terminally irritating.
So here are the best twenty dances from this year’s four seasons of English-speaking SYTYCD.
But… before we begin, an honorable mention for my favourite routine of the year, which was Lamb and Timomatic’s cha-cha from week 2 of the Australian show. I can’t in good faith rank it amongst the best of the year, for a bunch of reasons: Timomatic’s Latin moves are inconsistent at best, the choreo is more a melange of cha-cha, samba and salsa than it is a straight cha-cha, and they bobble a few points (there’s a pretty obvious handhold search early on, for example). But I still really like this one more than any of the others despite technical issues, mostly because it’s got a clever, vivacious spirit to it that I appreciate.
Oh, and I might as well throw in Don’s dance-for-your-life solo from the Aussie winnowing week because who knows when I’ll have an excuse to post it.
All right! Onto the list proper.
20.) Kathryn and Legacy, contemporary (US season 6 top 18, choreographer: Stacey Tookey). The amazing double standard of SYTYCD that has even leaked down to its fans is that using the b-boy skills of someone like Legacy in a contemporary routine is pandering to him and his fans, but when somebody like Jakob gets to do jetes in absolutely every routine he gets that’s just letting him use his natural skills. As Television! You Black Emperor pointed out, calling Legacy “untrained” is of course entirely valid because if you just asked Jakob to do crabwalks and airflares he could do it no problem! Yeesh. Anyway. This was great.
19.) Jeanine and Philipchbeeb, hip-hop (US season 5 top 20, choreographers: Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo). Although this is of course at least in part a showcase for the great Philipchbeeb to do his thing (and he does it superbly), it is worth noting how strong Jeanine is in this routine. She can’t quite match Philip’s freezes – because of course who the fuck can do that – but she keeps up with him in a pretty intricate routine and some of her steps are just golden. An early hint of how good she was going to be, and a great routine from Tabonaps before they jumped deep into the pool of gimmicks and schlock.
18.) Tara-Jean and Vincent, salsa (Canada season 2 top 6, choreographer: Gustavo Vargas). This was pretty much the first moment where I bought into the idea that Tara-Jean would make a credible champion for the second Canadian season: she’d started out dancing a bunch of mediocre dances and getting by on great chemistry with Everett, and it gradually became apparent that she was talented, but was she really the best (or at least good enough that her winning wouldn’t be a horrible crime against dance)? This was where I was sold. Vincent is just good at everything and especially so in his specialty, and Gustavo MOTHERFUCKING Vargas (that is his FULL NAME) brings it with the insane stunts here in what’s just an excellent club salsa routine amped up to the nth degree. (So of course they gave him fucking Mollee and Nathan when he came to the American show. Yeesh.)
17.) Jayme-Rae and Daniel, Afro-jazz (Canada season 2 top 20, choreographer: Sean Cheeseman). Daniel really deserves to be on a list of Dancers Who Got Eliminated By The Judges For Bullshit Reasons (along with Brandon Dumliao and everybody in season 6 who went before Nathan and Mollee). He would top that list, however, for getting nuked in favour of the perfectly decent but not-that-engaging Austin. Jayme-Rae was probably the best overall dancer of her season and thus was fated not to win. Sean Cheeseman is the man. It says this right in his name. Thus: excellence.
16.) Penny and Charlie, hip-hop (Australia season 2 top 20, choreographer: Tiana Joubert). Dancing vampires. (Freaky Goth vampires. None of this Twilight shit.) It still works. On a totally unrelated note, I was surfing through EW’s site a few weeks ago and saw a link for a video recap of SYTYCD, and clicked on it and there is this dumbshit explaining that she doesn’t care about SYTYCD because “there’s nobody famous in it.” What do you say to that? I mean, seriously. How do you respond to something that fucking stupid?
15.) Ellenore and Ryan, Argentine tango (US season 6 top 18, choreographers: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo). What’s truly thrilling about this tango is that Ellenore early on suffered a wardrobe malfunction – getting her dress caught in her heel – and instead of it becoming a disaster they simply danced through it and made it look intentional. Ryan here deserves extra credit for being one of the best ballroom partners in this show’s history, on par with Benji or Pasha (although both of those were stronger dancers overall). Ellenore had a very strong season but the poor luck to be thrown into a number of dances with mediocre choreography that she was forced to elevate.
14.) Melissa and Ade, contemporary (US season 5 top 8, choreographer: Tyce Diorio). I’ll freely admit that the “Cancer Dance” isn’t my favorite piece of work, but I’d have to be stupid or blind to not admit that it’s a superior piece of work even despite its rather blatant trolling for emotion: Melissa’s performance is exceptionally skilled at conveying the multitude of emotions of someone facing death and Ade is probably the most talented forklift to ever grace the show’s stage.
13.) Talia and Charlie, contemporary (Australia season 2 top 10, choreographer: Larrissa McGowan/Australian Dance Theatre). I already said my piece about this before, but I’m glad to see Garry Stewart and his merry band of crazies get more exposure this year than ever before thanks to SYTYCD. They do amazing work.
12.) Jeanine and Brandon, paso doble (US season 5 top 4, choreographer: Louis van Amstel). The “Matrix paso” is probably the new textbook for modernizing paso on SYTYCD: it’s fierce, does a bang-up job of recalling the fights in the film while still telling its story in paso language, it’s fierce, the performances are spot-on by the two best dancers in this season, and did we mention the fierceness? Because it is fierce.
11.) Gianne and BJ, Broadway (Australia season 2 top 12, choreographer: Adam Williams). Still the best Broadway performance in any season of this show, ever.
10.) Jayme-Rae and Daniel, dancehall (Canada season 2 top 18, choreographer: Jae Blaze). Canada’s version of the show pretty consistently has the best hip-hop performances, both because we’ve got very strong choreographers but also because for whatever reason our version doesn’t de-emphasize hip-hop like the Americans do. Witness this grimy, sexy dancehall, which is just awesome on so many levels. Most of them involving rumpy-pumpy.
9.) Janette and Brandon, Argentine tango (US season 5 top 12, choreographers: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo). Probably the best tango up to this point in SYTYCD history, not just for the excellent choreography or brilliant dancing, but moreover for the laser-intensity between Brandon and Janette – probably one of the best power couples ever even if they didn’t get the recognition that others might have. There is simply not a step wrong in this.
8.) Kim and Everett, jazz (Canada season 2 top 10, choreographer: Sean Cheeseman). I didn’t get this the first couple of times I saw it, but eventually came to admire it greatly; it’s all about the pseudo-Dexter vibe from Everett and the creepy movements Kim does expertly in her is-she-dead-or-not character. Sean Cheeseman deserves a tilde in the old DVDVR style. He shall be known as CHEESEMAN~! henceforth.
7.) Kathryn and Ryan, cha-cha (US season 6 top 8, choreographer: Jason Gilkison). How much did Kathryn deserve to win the sixth season of the American show? Let me put it this way: I considered an additional three routines of hers for this list (her hip-hop with Russell, her samba with Ryan and her hip-hop with Legacy). Nobody else from season 6 was even close to her count: Kathryn was the only dancer from the entire season able to dance credibly in all three major areas that the show covers (classical training, ballroom and street dancing). Witness this cha-cha, in which she is essentially indistinguishable from a veteran ballroom dancer to any but the most trained eye. Sure, I get that Russell is charming and all, but nobody else in season 6 was in her league.
6.) Lamb and Timomatic, hip-hop (Australia season 2 top 20, choreographer: Travers Ross). Tabitha and Napoleon only wish they could do this. Which is understandable, because this is amazing.
5.) Kathryn and Jakob, contemporary (US season 6 top 6, choreographers: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson). Just a gorgeous duet that manages to be romantic and complex in its description of the characters’ emotions all at once. Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden are working with a vocabulary that many choreographers never even speak.
4.) Melanie and Cody, hip-hop (Canada season 2 top 14, choreographer: Luther Brown). The talent on the female side of the second Canadian season was very deep, but the deepest depth of that talent belonged to Melanie Mah, who was the reason the word “beast” became such a cliche for the judges. But what the hell else could you call her, when she was that ferociously good? Here she is dancing hip-hop with Cody, a perfectly good hip-hop dancer working in his specialty, and he can barely keep up because she is so fucking beastly at it. Also, this is the best – and dirtiest – thing Luther Brown has ever put together for this show, and he has some good stuff under his belt, so that means a lot.
3.) Talia and Loredo, contemporary (Australia season 2 top 12, choreographer: Amé Delves). Still one of the best routines ever. Also illustrates what you lose when you take away the stairs from the SYTYCD set: this routine just wouldn’t be the same without the balcony.
2.) Janette and Brandon, cha-cha (US season 5 top 16, choreographers: Jean-Marc Généreux and France Mousseau). Okay, remember what I said about Janette and Brandon’s tango? All of that applies in this situation, except this time everything is five times faster.
1.) Kim and Emanuel, contemporary (Canada season 2 top 14, choreographer: Stacey Tookey). When Billy Bell danced to this same song in his tryouts to make top 20 of season 6, Adam Shankman famously burst into quite genuine tears. When Stacey Tookey heard the same song, she choreographed the story of two people’s entire life together in just over ninety seconds. There is so much going on in this piece that it amazes me that it can be so introspective, a rarity on competitive dancing in this show, where by demand pieces are supposed to be flashy and exciting rather than contemplative and calm. Every time I see it I find something new to appreciate, from the brilliant acting by both dancers to Emanuel’s staggering performance considering he had at this point a broken rib and two broken fingers. (Really, coming into the season, everybody was dreading that Emanuel was going to douche up the show, and instead he became a solidly consistent performer with flashes of greatness. It was a most pleasant surprise.) This isn’t just the best routine of this year; I’d go so far as to say it’s the best of any SYTYCD routine ever.