Dancers tackling Nappytabs' intricate choreo at The Academy (Adam Rose/FOX)

"SYTYCD" Season 15 Recap: Welcome to The Academy

After four speedy rounds of solo auditions, we've arrived at The Academy!

If you've been living in "So You Think You Can Dance" Land for a long time (shout-out to everyone who was alive and watching back when Nick Lazzarini won Season 1 in 2005), The Academy is the new Vegas Week, when the narrowed-down group of dancers who impressed the judges in NYC and L.A. get thrown to the wolves. (This year, as we found out in last night's ep, Academy sessions happened at the Dolby Theater in L.A.) They're put through grueling choreography rounds, where they're tasked with picking up choreo super fast, then performing it, then hoping not to get cut, and then moving onto the next style—learn, rehearse, repeat.

This week, the choreographers on deck were husband-and-wife dream team Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo and ballroom wizard Jean-Marc Généreux. But first, we kicked things off with a prelim in which the 70 Academy dancers did solos for Nigel, Mary, and Vanessa. Those performances determined whether or not they'd move on to the choreography rounds. And the judges weren't playing—Nigel said he was ready to "break a few hearts."

So, how'd the first Academy episode play out?

The Solo Standouts

Darius Hickman

This contemporary dynamo auditioned last season, and the judges loved him and his story (his mom went to prison, and dance got him through the ordeal). This season, he's back, with his mega-deep pliés in second, fierce focus, and legs. The performance was excellent—one Mary said would "keep her going for the next couple hours." Not sure what that means, but Darius is on to meet Nappytabs!

Jensen Arnold

We know Jensen from last season, too: She's Lindsay Arnold's little sister, remember? But she says she's ready to step out of her big sis's shadow. (More possible big sisters, based on looks, for Jensen: Lauren Conrad and Julianne Hough. Right?!) She busted out a side aerial to start things off, and continued with a whole lotta shaking and sassing from there on out. (Nigel called her dancing heavy, but we just pretended we didn't hear that.) Unsurprisingly, she got through to the hip-hop round.

Tessa Dalke

We bow down to Tessa. She's the one studying psychobiology, remember? And now she's at The Academy a week before her bio midterms. Um, go girl. Her jumps are as light as, well, air, and she's got the prettiest feet we've seen this season. Mary thought she was extraordinary (same!), and called her solo the best of the day. Unsurprisingly, she got through to choreography.

By the end of the solo round, 53 dancers remained. And they got to tackle...

Hip Hop with Nappytabs

Tabitha promised the dancers "the hardest work they've ever done in their lives." And so the remaining Top 20 hopefuls partnered up for "moments of slow grooves" and "a bunch of musicality moments." They had 90 minutes to learn the routine, during which, naturally, some of them started to get injured and exhausted and scared. Then it was time to perform in groups of six, three pairs at a time.

The first group "really brought it" and all get to stick around (including terrific tapper Evan DeBenedetto). But from there, the cuts came fast and furious. For every few dancers that nailed the routine (including Jay Jackson and Hannahlei Cabanilla), a bunch were cut. By the end of the hip-hop round, eight more dancers were out of the running.

Ballroom with Jean-Marc Généreux

Then it was cha-cha time! And Vanessa got the giggles! Returning favorite Kyle Bennett, Jr., was up first. Could the animator cha-cha? Kind of! Nigel commended his effort, and he was on to the next round, along with the rest of his six-person group. Ballroom vets Jensen Arnold and Melany Mercedez got some screen time next, and were both expected to crush it. But here's the thing: Getting a not-fluent-in-ballroom partner (like Melany, who was paired with animator Ryan Green) can make the situation...complicated. Fortunately, the judges know that, and Melany and Jensen both got through, along with fan fave Jay Jackson.

41 dancers are on to the next challenge—cue Travis Wall and Mandy Moore! Same place, same time, next week!

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A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.


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