Of all people in the world, my jock-y, mainstream, but also book-nerd boyfriend was the person who got me into watching “So You Think You Can Dance”. When I told him I hadn’t seen it, he scoff-laughed and said, “You’re gonna watch it,” then proceeded to wax poetic about the show and how he wishes he could animate. I thought I was just going to be humoring him, but after spending the entire first episode of season 10 going “DAAAAAMN” at the dancers’ auditions, I was hooked.
And it turned out he was right to be as enthusiastic as he is — there are a million reasons to love it. Here are some of the best.
1. It’s super-positive. Then they get a second chance to “dance for their lives” in their own style before the judges decide who to send home. During casting, the judges keep the attitude in the theater consistently supportive. The only dancers who are cut into the aired version of the auditions who aren’t so great are the dancers who have a great story or a great personality, and the feedback they get is respectful and encouraging (no Simon Cowells here).
2. The show has listened to criticism and grown. In the early seasons of the show, “So You Think You Can Dance” featured very few tappers, fewer artistic routines, excluded styles like ballet and African dance, and was apparently oblivious to the vast variety of hip-hop styles. As the show has gained traction, they’ve expanded their genres tremendously along with the diversity of the choreographers they employ, pulling not only from established choreographers but also hiring previous contestants like Travis Wall.
3. It’s an actual audition for a job, not just a casting call for a show. As in, yes, the casting will inevitably tend toward younger and more attractive dancers because it’s a TV show, but there’s somewhat more transparency in the judges’ motivations for sending a contestant through than is present in other reality shows. Technique and ability matters more than anything. While the prize for the winners is a cash prize rather than a contract, it gives the winner the ability to comfortably pursue their career without being beholden to anything legal; furthermore, it’s really tremendous publicity for all of the dancers. Mark Kanemura, for example, has been dancing with Lady Gaga. Several of the previous contestants work on Broadway. Dragon House — a crew from Atlanta — has been featured heavily on the show, which has helped them to sign with talent agencies and get featured in a recent Coca-Cola ad.
4. The experts get the final say. No one gets simply voted off. After the performances every week, the audience votes for the dancers they love, and the three dancers with the fewest votes are up for elimination. But the audience doesn’t directly choose who goes home, which eliminates some of the bias for spectacle or good looks and personality exhibited on other reality shows. The three people up for elimination get a second chance to “dance for their lives” in their own style before the judges and choreographers — who work with the dancers person-to-person all week — decide who stays in the competition. This gives the dancers at least some assurance that merit is what will keep them in the running.
5. If you’re into fitspiration, it is the very best kind. I say “DAAAMN” every single time I watch “So You Think You Can Dance” because the dancers do things with their human bodies that are insane. “Oh, okay, I’m just gonna go ahead and jump like five feet in the air like it’s absolutely nothing right now.” Or, “Oh, okay, I’m just gonna make it look like your TV is running in stop-motion now, but it’s not, that’s just me having amazing control over my muscles,” or “I’m going to make myself look like the most beautifully malfunctioning machine ever” (above), or “This person is running and spinning in the air in my direction so I’m just going to catch her in a dead stop.” When you watch these dancers, it’s impossible to look at them and envy their thinness over the raw, beautiful power of their bodies. The things they can do are amazing because they’re strong and focused, because they’ve practiced so much — the shapes of their bodies don’t matter, the capability does.
6. It is completely fun to watch. Really, all you have to do is watch Fik-Shun’s routines (above) and solos from last year to illustrate this point. But for good measure, try Jasmine and Comfort’s “Run the World (Girls)” routine and Mark and Jenna’s alien routine from last season, too.
7. It illustrates how powerful an art form dance can be. I don’t cry at media — books, movies, TV shows, music. I am unaffected and supremely unsentimental. But I cried during two of Tucker’s performances (above) from last season. I don’t know what it is about dance — maybe the act of storytelling using the whole body combined with the athletic ability, the knowledge that these people have put themselves through a tremendous amount of pain in order to be able to perform these stories for an audience? — but it’s deeply, deeply moving. I wouldn’t have known that without watching “So You Think You Can Dance.” Finally — television working for good!
You can catch up on the eleventh season so far on FOX’s website and see the next live episode tonight!