Photo of Lythgoe by Anthony Behar/PictureGroup, courtesy Fox. Photo of Deeley by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox.

Nigel Lythgoe and Cat Deeley's Favorite "SYTYCD" Routines of All Time

It's been 14 years (!) since "So You Think You Can Dance" first graced our television screens. Over its 16 seasons, the prolific show has presented hundreds of routines. And many of them have been jump-off-your-couch-and-cheer great. "SYT" numbers regularly wow viewers, win Emmy Awards, and launch the careers of dancers and choreographers.

So in a way we weren't surprised that, when asked to pick their favorite "SYT" routines, producer Nigel Lythgoe and host Cat Deeley had the same initial response: It's too hard! We asked them to choose 5 to 10 pieces; Lythgoe couldn't narrow his list to fewer than 12.

In the end, their agonized-over choices included not only stone-cold classics, but also some unexpected picks. Here—in chronological order—are the "SYT" numbers Deeley and Lythgoe can't live without.


Cat Deeley

"Ramalama (Bang Bang)," choreographed by Wade Robson, danced by the Top 10 (Season 2)

Photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy Fox

"This was my first season on the show, and I'd never seen anything like this routine! Wade just took things to an entirely different level, and the ghoul-and-goblin hair and makeup was absolutely incredible, too."

Also a Nigel favorite!

"Gravity," choreographed by Mia Michaels, danced by Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau (Season 5)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Growing up, I'd seen the ballet at Christmas, and it was all very beautiful and lovely. But I'd never seen dance take on truly dark subject matter until this routine. Mia has the most incredible mind—she can translate deep, inexpressible emotions into movement that surprises you but also hits you powerfully."

Also a Nigel favorite!

"Run the World (Girls)," choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo, danced by Comfort Fedoke and Jasmine Harper (Season 10)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Jasmine and Comfort, plus Nappytabs choreography, plus Beyoncé! Oh my goodness, all I wanted was to have my own bike and plaid shirt and hot pants and join them onstage. And when we went to the White House as part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, Michelle told us this was her favorite routine!"

"The Mirror," choreographed by Travis Wall, danced by J.T. Church and Robert Roldan (Season 13)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"This routine seemed to move just about everybody, didn't it? So beautiful. And I personally got to give Travis his Emmy Award for this one, so for me it's extra special."

Also a Nigel favorite!

"It Takes a Lot to Know a Man," choreographed by Travis Wall, danced by Darius Hickman and Taylor Sieve (Season 15)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Travis really got at the prejudices that seem to be driving too many people in the world at the moment. This routine asked us to be kinder to each other, more empathetic. What a powerful message that is. I have two little boys, and I'd like to think that they could be anything they want to be, so this one touched me."

Nigel Lythgoe

"Calling You," choreographed by Mia Michaels, danced by Heidi Groskeutz and Travis Wall (Season 2)

Photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy Fox

"I asked Mia about the story behind this one, and she said it's about two great friends, one of whom has a physical love for the other that can't be reciprocated. The flower that Travis can't quite take from Heidi, the bench that separates them—it all symbolizes the love he can't give her, because he's gay."

"The Chairman's Waltz," choreographed by Wade Robson, danced by Jaimie Goodwin and Hokuto "Hok" Konishi (Season 3)

Photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy Fox

"The hummingbird and the flower routine was so clever in the way it highlighted Hok's abilities as a b-boy. Really tremendous."

"Are You the One," choreographed by Mia Michaels, danced by Neil Haskell and Danny Tidwell (Season 3)

Photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy Fox

"The two princes! I got letters afterward from fathers saying, 'I wanted my son to be a football player, but then I saw this piece and realized how athletic dance could be.' I thought, Wow—we're really changing people's opinions."

"Dhoom Tanna," choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan, danced by Joshua Allen and Katee Shean (Season 4)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

The very first Bollywood routine we did, it was just fantastic, just nonstop energy—I don't know where they got their breath from.

"This Woman's Work," choreographed by Tyce Diorio, danced by Melissa Sandvig and Abe Obayomi (Season 5)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Tyce's breast cancer routine made such an impact. I'm sure it meant worlds to people who'd been through illness."

"Outta Your Mind," choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo, danced by Stephen "tWitch" Boss and Alex Wong (Season 7)

Photo by Kelsey McNeal, courtesy Fox

"This one showed one of the greatest strengths of the show, which is the versatility it brings out in the dancers. There was Alex, a ballet dancer, looking fantastic in a hip-hop routine next to tWitch!"

"Fix You," choreographed by Travis Wall, danced by Allison Holker and Robert Roldan (Season 7)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"You can't have a list like this without Travis. This one was very personal to him, and just beautiful."

"After Party," choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo, danced by Du-Shaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall and Amy Yakima (Season 10)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Sometimes you just want to see dancers having great fun, and it doesn't get more fun than Fik-Shun and Amy as bellboys."

"Strange Fruit," choreographed by Travis Wall, danced by the Top 9 All-Stars (Season 14)

Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy Fox

"Travis is brilliant at making social statements in movement rather than words. This one actually made me feel ill, physically sick, while watching it—I had such a powerful emotional response to the choreography."

Latest Posts


Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

Sienna Lalau: The Dynamite Dancer and Choreographer Helping BTS Make Magic

At just 20 years old, Sienna Lalau is the living definition of "dynamite dancer": bold, confident, almost addicting to watch, and, at her core, overflowing with pure passion. From her work with The Lab Studios to Video Music Award–winning choreography for BTS, there's no stopping this starlet from bringing her love of dance to the global stage.

"Dance is something that can truly connect people," Sienna tells Dance Spirit. "It's a universal language. We may not speak the same language physically, but when we dance, there's a connection where we understand each other on another level."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Beat the Cheat: Combat Incorrect Jump Landings With These Targeted Fitness Exercises

As dancers, we all have our vices—those little technique cheats that we know are incorrect, and we try our best to fix whenever we can remember...but at the end of the day, we just can't seem to banish them for good. After all, these cheats usually appear to help us: They can get our legs higher and our petit allégro a little faster, not to mention help us crank out that one extra rotation in a turn we dream about. Unfortunately, cheating proper technique also sets dancers up for a myriad injuries caused by improper alignment and undue stress on the body.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Joe Murchison, Courtesy Step Afrika!

8 Dance-Centric Juneteenth Celebrations to Check Out This Weekend

Dance organizations across the country have been planning ways to celebrate Juneteenth since well before it was declared a federal holiday by Congress this week. June 19 marks the date on which news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, TX, more than two years after the Civil War was declared over and enslaved people in the U.S. freed. Here are eight class and performance offerings, some in-person and some online, celebrating Black joy and resilience that you can check out this weekend.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search