Dancers auditioning for "SYTYCD" Season 14 in NYC (Adam Rose/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" Recap: Vanessa Sees Ducks!

This week, we're in the Big Apple: home of Broadway, New York City Ballet, and Dance Spirit HQ! They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. So who made it to The Academy this week? Pretty much everyone—with lots of amazing Vanessa Hudgens one-liners along the way. (We love you, Vanessa!)

Let's give it up for the night's standout performers—because they're all going to The Academy!

Kaylee "Impavido" Millis

She says Impavido is "Italian for 'to fear less," and that's what she stands for as a dancer. Kaylee has always wanted to be a dancer, and when she was young her parents were like, "Nah, you can pay for that hobby yourself." So, at 12, she got a job working at her mom's deli, and used the money to travel and dance. (If Kaylee looks familiar, it's probably because you've seen her as a PULSE Elite Protégé.)

The judges say: Nigel praised Kaylee's individuality and her "neat style" and "great face where you know you're pleasing people." He also liked her funk. Mary "absolutely loved it."

Vanessa says: "So beautiful! You are such a beautiful dancer! So much precision. Your groove is amazing. Beautiful, beautiful dancer."

Ana Sanchez

The 4'11" ballroom dancer tells Cat Deeley in her pre-performance interview that she "wants to get on the Hot Tamale Train." Spoiler: She does. (Also, can we puh-lease get some more Cat Deeley up in here?) Ana and her partner (who isn't technically auditioning because he's "too old") perform a Colombian salsa, which, they explain, is faster and has more flavor and passion than a regular salsa. (Sounds like some salsa shade-throwing, amirite?) The lifts were great, but Ana seemed more focused on the steps than on having fun with them.

The judges say: Mary screamed really loud, then praised Ana for her stamina and called her a "little hot tamale." Nigel liked the lifts and said he "can't wait to practice some of those lifts with Vanessa." 😬

Vanessa says: "YAS QUEEN! Good things do come in small packages! That was so fun! The way you're like WOO when you're dancing!"

Koine Iwasaki

The Japanese-born dancer—whose parents are both sushi chefs—says dance "helps her communicate in a way that language can't." That is so beautiful, and so was her performance. Lots of deep second pliés, loads of emotion, and one very bendy back.

The judges say: Standing ovation! Nigel said she had power, strength, and tremendous technique, and that her performance was very professional. Mary appreciated the layers to her performance, as well as her beauty and strength.

Vanessa says: "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. I got chills when you hit your last pose. Your control! Your precision! You showed so much. When you smiled, I literally said awwww and it just made me so happy."

Joseph "Klassic" Carella and Huwer "Havoc" Marchet

Their style is called "flexing," and you can read more about it (and see it!) here. It's a genre that originated in Brooklyn, and it involves "connecting, punchlines, grooving, gliding," and other elements. It's weird and different, and we would've liked to see them go to the choreography round, but...

The judges say: ...straight to The Academy! Nigel says it was very artistic, and he thinks Havoc is a genius. Mary says it was "sick."

Vanessa says: "You like, told a story. And there was like, some comedy." (Bless your happy heart, Vanessa.)

Chaz Wolcott

This guy! He's a professional Broadway dancer who toured with both CATS and Newsies, so there's that. He's also on faculty at Broadway Dance Center. As if this tapper's not going to get through. His sounds are clean, he's super classy, and he pirouetted for long enough that the cameras eventually cut away to Vanessa screaming "YAS!"

The judges say: Standing ovation! Mary says Chaz was the first tapper to get her teary-eyed, and Nigel says Chaz was one of the best tappers he's seen in years.

Vanessa says: "You are so good! So so good! I felt you through your dance. There was a certain yumminess to your dancing."

Ryan Bailey

He's a quirky guy who has his own quirky contemporary style, and we love him. He says his style "sometimes confuses people" (foreshadowing), but it's nice to see some totally original work. He danced to "Time of My Life"—that Dirty Dancing classic—and took it in a totally unexpected direction.

The judges say: They didn't so much say words as they did just kinda fumble around looking for the right way to describe what they'd just seen—but they knew they liked it.

Vanessa says: "Your routine was really confusing to me. I saw a duck..."

That's all for this week! There's more to come from NYC, so we'll see you back here next time!

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Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

When Ashton Edwards was 3 years old, the Edwards family went to see a holiday production of The Nutcracker in their hometown, Flint, MI.

For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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"The adrenaline was pretty exciting, being able to create during the pandemic," says Gattelli. "I felt like we were representing all performers at that point. There were so many who wanted to be working during the pandemic, so I really tried to embrace this opportunity for all of them."

Gattelli says it was a dream come true to pay tribute to the dance geniuses that preceded him, like Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Onna White and Jerome Robbins, in his choreography. Each number shows off a "little dusting" of their work.

Dance Spirit spoke with Gattelli about all the triumphs and tribulations of choreographing in a pandemic, and got an inside look at specific homages to look out for.

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Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?

Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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