I’ve given a fair bit of thought as to what makes So You Think You Can Dance Australia so much better than its other English-speaking cousins – it’s easily better than any of them, which is somewhat quizzical given that of all the English SYTYCDs it takes place in the country with the smallest population. But it’s definitely better than the Canadian version, easily better than the American and the less said about the dreadful British show1 the better.2
I could muster the cynical answer, which is that the Aussie version, by dint of geography, is less contaminated by the flaws of the American show than most others.3 There are of course the audiovisual aspects to it: the editing and pacing on the Australian show is just heads above any of the others to an extent that’s so glaring that the show really has its own visual language unlike any of the other franchises, and one that’s engaging to the watcher.
Perhaps it’s cultural – a relatively small country where competitive dance has flourished more than one would expect, with amateur dance following in its wake, might generate a better show. Certainly the egalitarian nature of the show helps refine all styles – although the judges stress that classical dance training helps to round out a dancer’s skills, there’s never that ever-present patronization towards hip-hop that’s unfortunately become a characteristic of the American show. Watching Jason Coleman comment to a B-boy on the first audition episode that his air-flares, while athletic, had mediocre form is something that almost never happens on the American show, where “dancing on your head” is treated like something kids do on monkey-bars at the gym rather than its own high-impact and high-difficulty skillset.
Of course, Coleman, Lythgoe and Matt Lee deserve some portion of the credit for making this version of the show the best, because the three of them have clearly decided that they would rather be mentors than celebrities and they act accordingly.4 Constructive criticism is the rule rather than the exception on this show: returning dancers are quizzed as to what they’ve been doing the past year to improve and eliminated dancers advised in detail as to what they need to do to better themselves. And they never – ever – play favourites, as was evident as of the second episode when Forever was knocked out after a horrible tryout and Don (of Bohemian Rhapsody b-boying fame) was told straight-up that without demonstrated improvement outside of his genre he wouldn’t even advance to the top 100, let alone top twenty.5
And credit needs to equally be given out to Australia’s young dancers – and old dancers, given that the cutoff age for this show is 35, higher than anywhere else,6 and this year an awesome 35-year-old female hip-hop dancer auditioned and kicked ass – for constantly seeking to be the best. The judges have set a high bar, but without the active cooperation of the dancers that bar is meaningless; over and over again in auditions you hear from dancers how they spent the previous year going to classes, training outside of their genre, doing whatever they could to improve.
That relentless drive to be better permeates this show like nothing else, and it’s what makes this show the best competitive-talent reality show anywhere in the world, bar none. It’s why, from the very first audition of the third season, you know you’re in for a treat:
I’m not sure what I like about that clip the most: the audacity of a pop-and-locker dancing to Vanessa Carlton (of all things), or him busting out a flying somersault leap just to show he can, or Lythgoe getting involved enough to mouth along with the song, or Coleman visibly pleased with the audition and his comment to that effect. But it all comes together to demonstrate a collective aspiration to excellence, and you got to give props to that.
I’m looking forward to this season greatly.
- In the first two weeks of performance, I’ve seen exactly one routine that I could straight-up call “good.” [↩]
- And come to think, why can England – a country with more people in it than Australia and Canada combined – only manage a weak top 14 as opposed to its colonies’ top twenties? [↩]
- Especially since Bonnie Lythgoe divorced Nigel. [↩]
- Not that they aren’t celebrities now, of course, but there’s a difference between being famous for being awesome and being famous because you spent a long time working on your catchphrases. [↩]
- Which he of course then did, because Don is awesome. [↩]
- Which means that, were I so inclined and had the money, I could go to Australia, get a work visa and just train for a year and audition. Sadly, this will not happen. Mostly because I’m not good enough. And not rich. And did I mention not good enough? [↩]