Best of the Best
Since “So You Think You Can Dance” debuted in 2005, we’ve watched each week of its 11-season run hungrily, eager to see what the choreographers have in store for us. Their routines are the core of the show, and the source of some of our favorite television memories. But many “SYTYCD” pieces have also helped shape and shift trends in the larger dance community. They’ve brought amazing musical artists to our attention, changed the face of contemporary dance—even created new genres (hello, lyrical hip hop!).
To the dancers and choreographers who bring “SYTYCD” to life: We salute you. Here are the routines that changed the course of the show—and forced the world to take made-for-TV dance seriously.
Ramalama (Bang Bang) (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
Ramalama (Bang Bang), Season 2
Choreographer: Wade Robson
Dancers: The Top 10
Song: “Ramalama (Bang Bang),” by Róisín Murphy
The impact: In the early days of “SYTYCD,” everything Robson touched turned to “You’re safe this week.” His group routine for Season 2’s Top 10 was so far from a “typical” jazz routine that America went wild for it. The zombie-esque choreography showcased the angular, fiercely musical style that would become Robson’s signature.
Calling You (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
Calling You, Season 2
Choreographer: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Travis Wall and Heidi Groskreutz
Song: “Calling You,” by Céline Dion
The impact: Michaels defined contemporary dance as we now know it on the show with this routine. Remembered as “the bench dance,” it featured the perfect balance between simple, quiet movements and explosive lifts and jumps. One second, Wall and Groskreutz were touching hands through the bench in a moment of innocent passion; the next, Groskreutz was flying into Wall’s arms.
Time (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
Time, Season 3
Choreographer: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Lacey Schwimmer and Neil Haskell
Song: “Time,” by Billy Porter
The impact: Michaels’ tribute to her late
father was one of the show’s first tearjerkers. Schwimmer portrayed a young Michaels reuniting in heaven with her dad, who was played by Haskell with sincerity and charm. Time marked a turn for “SYT” contemporary routines: They started to focus on powerful narratives rooted in real-life experiences. (Later, Tyce Diorio and Travis Wall created memorable contemporary pieces about loved ones stricken with cancer, and Stacey Tookey and Sonya Tayeh also explored themes of abandonment, loss and heartbreak.)
The Chairman's Waltz (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
The Chairman’s Waltz, Season 3
Choreographer: Wade Robson
Dancers: Jaimie Goodwin and Hokuto “Hok” Konishi
Song: “The Chairman’s Waltz,” from Memoirs of a Geisha
The impact: Pair a dreamy contemporary dancer with an eclectic b-boy and you have a potential choreographic disaster. But Robson set Goodwin and Konishi up for success in this piece—affectionately known as “the hummingbird and the flower”—by customizing the choreography to their talents, rather than trying to shoehorn them into something pre-made. “We studied flowers and hummingbirds and how they interact in nature,” Goodwin remembers. “It was important to Wade that we kept the clarity in our storytelling.”
Sweet Dreams (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
Sweet Dreams, Season 3
Choreographer: Mandy Moore
Dancers: Neil Haskell and Sabra Johnson
Song: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” by The Eurythmics
The impact: This is the routine that brought classic jazz (think layouts and fan kicks) back into the mainstream. Moore’s idea was to create a piece about a business lunch. “I asked if I could use a table, and the show felt the routine didn’t need it,” she says. “But I begged, and finally co-executive producer Jeff Thacker gave in.” Thank goodness: The powerful, athletic piece was all about the hard-hitting accents in the music, which Moore highlighted with lots of awesomely intense table-slamming.
Bleeding Love (photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy FOX)
Bleeding Love, Season 4
Choreographers: Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Dancers: Chelsie Hightower and Mark Kanemura
Song: “Bleeding Love,” by Leona Lewis
The impact: Lyrical and hip hop used to be different worlds. But in Season 4, the NappyTabs dream team brilliantly combined the two—using their strong hip-hop choreography to tell an emotional story—and “lyrical hip hop” was born. “We choreograph to the words, and every word has a meaning,” Napoleon told audiences. Hightower and Kanemura nailed it onstage, and the moment when Kanemura used his hand to “tear out” Hightower’s heart quickly became one of those “let’s use this in our next comp routine” moves.
Dhoom Taana, Season 4
Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan
Dancers: Katee Shean and Joshua Allen
Song: “Dhoom Taana,” from the Om Shanti Om soundtrack
The impact: Before this piece came along, most of America had no clue what Bollywood was. But the style immediately became a “SYT” classic. With its hyper-upbeat music and intricate hand gestures, this routine was a guaranteed success in the sensory-overload department. Beyond its fun and flashiness, though, it also opened a major door for the show by introducing audiences to a previously unfamiliar style.
The Garden, Season 4
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh
Dancers: Mark Kanemura and Courtney Galiano
Song: “The Garden,” by Mirah
The impact: After three seasons of “good girls,” it was refreshing to see a duet in which a woman got to be both a vixen and a powerhouse. Turns out, that’s just the Tayeh way. This routine—one of Tayeh’s first for “SYT”—showed off the quirkiest sides of Kanemura, as well as new facets of Galiano. “Sonya brought a different element of jazz to the show,” Galiano says. “I felt so strong and sexy.” Girl power!
Gravity, Season 5
Choreographer: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau
Song: “Gravity,” by Sara Bareilles
The impact: With Radomski as a powerless addict and Aweau as her addiction, this hauntingly beautiful routine struck a cord with viewers. “Kupono and I were pushed to extremes we didn’t think were possible,” says Radomski. “An enormous number of people reached out to us afterward. We had no idea we would be able to move people so deeply—and, in some cases, help them make it through a dark time in their lives.”
How It Ends, Season 7
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Dancers: Kent Boyd and Neil Haskell
Song: “How It Ends,” by DeVotchKa
The impact: Wall is the ultimate “SYTYCD” success story: After being named runner-up during Season 2, he became one of the show’s most beloved choreographers. Though he made his “SYT” choreographic debut during Season 5 (the impressive If It Kills Me for Jeanine Mason and Jason Glover), it was this duet that solidified Wall’s superstar status. “This routine made a huge impact because it was so personal to Travis,” Boyd says. “This was also the first time two men had danced together in an emotional way on the show. There are many issues and opinions about gender in our society, but the reason we dance is to tell stories and relate to humanity—regardless of gender.” Keep breaking those boundaries, Mr. Wall. We’re all along for the ride.
Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."
"Whole, low-fat, or skim?" The question of which milk to drink has gotten a little more complicated lately, with a wide variety of nondairy milks popping up in grocery stores. To find out which ones are worth your milk money, we had registered dietitian Monika Saigal answer some FAQs.
Yesterday, the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran, both 14-year-old dancers, were among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane charms audiences with her bright energy and crisp technique. The San Francisco, CA, native first started dancing at age 4 at a local community center, and at age 7 started training in Memphis, TN, at the Classical Ballet Memphis. Her family later moved to Rochester, NY, where she continued studying at the Draper Center for Dance Education. In 2002, she was a YoungArts Foundation winner in dance, allowing her to become a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She joined American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 2003, was made a soloist in 2007, and was promoted to principal last fall. Recently, she originated the role of Princess Praline in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Catch her later this spring during ABT's Metropolitan Opera season. —Courtney Bowers
You and I both know that dancing is the best thing since chocolate chip cookies! But its always nice when dance gets the recognition it deserves from non–dance-world peeps. That's why we did our own happy dance when we saw Shape magazine's article on how dancing can actually make you a better athlete.
When Ruby Castro became a Top 10 finalist on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 13, she was a fresh, feisty new face to most at-home viewers. But in the dance world—particularly on the ballroom circuit—Ruby was already a household name. Miami-based Ruby grew up as a belle of the ballroom: Her parents, Manny and Lory Castro, are veritable superstars of the scene. They're the owners of Dance Town, an ultra-competitive studio in Doral, FL, and raised Ruby to follow in their furiously fast footsteps. Before she graced the "SYT" stage, Ruby had already been named a U.S. Junior Champion in Latin Ballroom, and competed on "America's Got Talent"—twice!
So, we know she's talented, we know she's versatile, we know she's stunning, and we know she can dance. But here's what you may not know about Ruby.
You know that thing when you're onstage at a competition and you catch your teacher unconsciously marking through every step of the choreography in the wings, just willing you and the rest of the group to dance perfectly?
Yeah—that happens in ice dancing, too. Case in point: the scene at the Olympic rink yesterday, as Canadian ice-dancing legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated their way to their third Olympic gold.
Obviously, their performance was all kinds of epic. But the off-ice "performance" given by their coach, Marie-France Dubreuil, was EVERYTHING.
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I want to dance in a ballet company, but I'm insecure about my body. I'm not skinny, and I don't think I ever will be, because that's just not the way I'm built. Please be honest with me: If I don't have the traditional ballet body, do I have a future in professional ballet?