Narrative Success: My Favorite SYTYCD Routines

Season eight of So You Think You Can Dance performs live in San Jose tonight, so in honor of the tour, I’ve complied a list of my favorite routines from the series (I only started watching in season four, so this list reflects these latter seasons).

I had the pleasure of attending season seven’s So You Think You Can Dance tour (winner: Lauren Froderman), and while it was a hoot to see the performers live in person, I felt the viewing experience to be little disconnected. The intimacy of watching the dances on television was understandably lost in translation to the arena stage. At such a far distance, I found myself watching more of the jumbo video screens, rather than the dancers themselves. I felt removed, despite the energy of thousands of screaming fans. But there were still many unexpected highlights, including D-Trix’s shirtless breaking solo to Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” while massive pink hearts soared above him. Seriously.

In re-watching my favorite SYTYCD routines, it’s clear that there is a particular aesthetic that I’m drawn to in a SYTYCD performance. I’ve found that the most successful routines are the ones that convey a narrative and/or tell a clear and concise story. The audience is able to connect to this story and use it as an anchor for their emotional responses (I see those tears, Mary Murphy!). At the risk of over-simplifying, this application of a theme or narrative takes what could be viewed as abstract movement and contextualizes it for an intimate television audience, turning the performance into something that any viewer can understand and enjoy.

In the videos that follow, the live performances live within the context of the rehearsal process, wherein the choreographer/s discuss the inspirations behind the dances.

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“Bleeding Love” – Mark Kanemura & Chelsie Hightower, choreography by Napoleon & Tabitha D’Umo, Season 4

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“How It Ends” – Kent Boyd & Neil Haskell, choreography by Travis Wall, Season 7

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“If It Kills Me” – Jeanine Mason & Jason Glover, choreography by Travis Wall, Season 5

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“Gravity” – Kayla Radomski & Kupono Aweau, choreography by Mia Michaels, Season 5

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“I Got You” – Melanie Moore & Marko Germar, choreography by Napoleon & Tabitha, Season 8

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Update 5.28.14: Looking back at this list on the dawn of SYTYCD‘s 11th season, inexplicably featuring the desperate-for-relevancy Justin Bieber, my same appreciation for narrative driver holds.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. My absolute favorite routine from seasons 9 and 10 was a vibrant and eclectic dance by SYTYCD alum-turned-Lady Gaga featured dancer Mark Kanemura. This unique performance was untethered from any context whatsoever. Sit back and enjoy this bold celebration!

“I Am The Best” – Mark Kanemura & Jenna Johnson, choreography by Mark Kanemura, Season 10


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