Bryan "Chibi" Gaynor (in gold) performing with Dragon House Crew on "So You Think You Can Dance" (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
When Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer of Dragon House Crew auditioned for Season 9 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” fans were blown away by his “new” style: animation. The fascination continued in Season 10, when judges selected not one but two animators—Jade “Soul” Zuberi and Dorian “BluPrint” Hector—for the Top 20. And while we’re still waiting for an animator to be crowned America’s Favorite Dancer, one thing’s for sure: America’s caught the animation bug.
But what exactly is animation? Dance Spirit went to the pros to find out.
Where did animation come from?
This style isn’t new. Some sources say it originated in the late 1980s. Old-school animators, like Boppin Andre, drew inspiration from a form of stop-motion animation called dynamation, which brings inanimate models to life within a live-action film—think the early versions of King Kong and Godzilla. Most animators trace their history back to the 1958 dynamation movie The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (which is why Boppin Andre used to call the style “Sinbad dance”). Claymation films are also a source of inspiration for animation dance.
The resulting movement is almost human, but not quite. “When you’re animating, you’re pretending to be an inanimate model that’s trying to move like a human,” says Bryan “Chibi” Gaynor of Dragon House and RemoteKontrol crews.
“Animation is about bending reality,” adds Soul. “You want to make the audience question whether what they’re seeing is real.”
Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer (left) and Stephen "tWitch" Boss performing Like a Criminal on "SYTYCD" Season 9 (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
How Do You Become an Animator?
Anyone can pretend to be a robot on the dance floor, but becoming a master animator takes a lot of time and research. “As with any style, start by doing your homework,” says Soul. When Soul first began animating, he would spend hours on YouTube watching animation-dance videos to pin down the basics.
Glitch stresses that you need to master the fundamentals of popping—hard hits, stopping, isolations, etc.—before you can animate. “Then you can begin to experiment and find out what feels good on your body,” he says. “For example, you can add movement—waving, tutting, gliding—to the hard hits of popping to make it look less mechanical.”
While it’s essential to learn the fundamentals, it’s equally important to develop your unique way of moving. “It’s easy to mimic someone else’s style,” Chibi say. “It takes time to find you.”
If animation has been around since the late ’80s, why the sudden surge in popularity? Soul explains that animation, like any form of street dance, requires exposure to grow. “Now that we have YouTube and camera phones, we can record our stuff and put it out there—and it spreads like wildfire,” he says.
When Chibi auditioned for “SYTYCD” in 2007, he not only introduced America to animation, but also set the standard for what it’s supposed to look like. The animators who have followed him—on “SYTYCD” and “America’s Got Talent,” in the Step Up movies, on YouTube and on TV commercials—continue to raise the bar. “The young people coming up are gonna have something that really amazes us,” Chibi says.
Dorian "BluPrint" Hector (left) and Jade "Soul" Zuberi performing Trigger on "SYTYCD" Season 10 (photo by Adam Rose/Fox)
A Note on Music
Jade “Soul” Zuberi of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 10, Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer of Season 9 and Bryan “Chibi” Gaynor of Dragon House and RemoteKontrol crews all note the importance of music to style development. Because animation hit the commercial dance scene around the same time dubstep music exploded, many mistakenly call it dubstep dance. “Animation is not dubstep dance,” says Glitch.
Glitch’s music preference depends on his mood. When he wants to be expressive, he performs to slow music. Hip-hop helps him convey strength and power, and glitch-hop (a form of electronic music with deliberate “glitches” or malfunctions in the sound) is perfect for crisp, small movements.
Soul prefers dancing to classical, ambiance or glitch-hop music.
But just because animation isn’t dubstep dance doesn’t mean you can’t perform animation to dubstep music. Chibi likes using it because it offers a lot of sounds he can capture. “It can be a simple ‘tick, tick, tick’ or a big move that emphasizes the sound,” he says.
And the Top 20 finalists are: (bottom row L-R) Malece Miller, Amy Yakima, Makenzie Dustman, (middle row L-R) Fik-Shun, Tucker Knox, Brittany Cherry, Nico Greetham, Alexis Juliano, Jade Zuberi, Paul Karmiryan, Curtis Holland, Mariah Spears (top row L-R) Jasmine Harper, Jenna Johnson, Carlos Garland, Alan Bersten, , Hayley Erbert, Bluprint, Jasmine Mason and Aaron Turner (by Mathieu Young/FOX)
I kind of can’t believe this week’s episode lasted a full two hours: it went so fast! There was so much classic “SYTYCD” drama to focus on, it felt like the episode was over before Mary Murphy could even mention the Hot Tamale Train. Along with plenty of nail-biting moments as the Top 20 were chosen, Cat Deeley kept reminding the audience that there’d be a total of ten (!!!) performances squeezed in between footage of anxious would-be Top 20-ers facing the judges. Yet among all this craziness, a few moments still managed to really stand out from the rest:
1. Aaron Turner made it into the Top 20 at the last minute! Aaron had gotten cut at this very point last season, and we all thought that history would repeat itself in Season 10 as the judges told Aaron he was going home. But lo and behold, Emilio Dosal’s unexpected injury freed up a spot for Aaron! You can’t really get excited about such a turn of events, but points to Aaron for his amazing performance in Anthony Morigerato’s tap routine last night—way to prove that you deserve to be on the show.
2. Tucker Knox is in! Yay! Call me cynical, but it seems like everybody on reality TV has to have a tragic sob story—and the (arguably excessive) on-camera waterworks to go with it. But Tucker’s history really grabbed me. (After a serious car accident, his ability to walk, let alone dance, was in grave danger.) Tonight, Tucker cried tears of joy after dancing the Stacey Tookey routine, left almost inarticulate by how his life has changed since the accident. But I still can’t decide if Mary Murphy totally ruined the genuinely emotional moment when she cooed, “You’re just overwhelmed, aren’t you?” Awkward.
(L-R) BluPrint and Jade Zuberi: the biggest things in animation since Cyrus (by Adam Rose/FOX)
3. Against the odds, both Jade Zuberi and Dorian “Bluprint” Hector made the Top 20. The “SYTYCD” producers were totally messing with our minds here: the decision came after dramatic footage was shown of Jade’s struggles with partnering, tWitch repeatedly told Bluprint to “come back and see us again” and Cat wondered out loud several times whether there was a spot in the Top 20 for an animator. Who would’ve known that both animators would make it through? I know I’ll be on the edge of my seat for the rest of the season where these two are concerned. Will Jade and Bluprint become a dream team or bitter rivals? Or will they just crash and burn under the pressure of having to perform new styles?
4. Did anyone else notice that Amy Yakima and Jasmine Mason had Sonya Tayeh-style topknots for their victory performance (which, um, Sonya Tayeh choreographed)? I certainly hope that was a conscious choice, or it would just be too funny a coincidence. Mary called them “princess warriors,” but I thought they looked more like Amazons from outer space—in the fiercest way possible, of course.
5. Christopher Scott’s sand routine for the top 10 guys. This was just so cool that I almost wish it had been the episode’s final number. It seemed like choreographer Scott got really excited about carrying out the concept of the piece, which he described as man “manipulating the earth.” With epic music and stunning visuals (strong, tough-guy hip-hop danced while sand floated through the air), this number made me think of Cirque du Soleil. Even Nigel was blown away (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). He raved, “When I die, I would like you to dance with my ashes like that.” Um, whatever you say!
Since you’ve got a whole week to kill before another thrilling episode airs, why don’t you enter our “SYTYCD” sweepstakes? You could win a trip to see the Season 10 finale live and in person!