Finally, the auditions are over. It’s all about you now, the audience. For the past few weeks, the dancers have been praying to the rhythm gods for the judges’ approval. But tonight, the dancers are hoping to stay on the good side of the audience.
Opening the show, Cat Deeley introduces each of them individually as they twist and gyrate to the music. They scurry backstage while Cat revs up the crowd and presents the judges for the evening: hip-hop and pop choreographer Dan Karaty, ballroom expert Mary Murphy, and executive producer and token British Guy Nigel Lythgoe. And in case you didn’t catch last season (blasphemy!) or forgot how this works, Cat explains, “We’ve paired the top 20 contestants into ten couples. Each week, the couples will pick their dance styles randomly from a hat. Then, they perform, and at the end of the night, you vote for your favorite. In our Thursday night results show, we’ll reveal which three couples pulled the lowest votes. Those dancers will then have to dance a solo, and the judges will decide which guy and which girl will be going home.” Get it? Got it? Good.
Cat then leads us into a montage of clips of the top 20’s auditions and choreography challenges. Even though this is supposed to be a series of clips we’ve already seen, I know for certain that I’d never seen some of the top 20 dancers before tonight. Therefore, some of the clips I’m seeing are brand-new, not a “reminder.” But, whatever. I’ll play along. (Cue sarcasm…) “Oh yeah! I totally remember Neil from the auditions!”
The first couple of the evening is Jaimie Goodwin, a 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Virginia Beach, VA, and Hokuto “Hok” Konishi, a 22-year-old b-boy dancer from Los Angeles, CA. Jaimie first caught the eye of the judges at her audition in New York City. “I’ve actually been training in everything, like ballet, tap, jazz… but ballroom and hip-hop are kinda foreign to me so they make me nervous,” she admits. Sadly, her mother passed away two years ago from breast cancer, and ever since then, her father has tried to maintain the steady flow of support she was used to from her mother. Hok found that his third time auditioning was a charm, finally breaking into the top 20. His lack of a work visa was an obstacle in his progress last year. Of course, he’s all too glad to hear that his first piece on SYTYCD will be a hip-hop routine with Shane Sparks.
“When you got a dancer like Hok, you can just create, create, create, because he can do almost anything you want him to do,” Shane says. However, Jaimie struggles to learn the moves. Shane concedes that Jaimie isn’t the greatest hip-hop dancer but admires her aggression and personality, believing that the routine will still be a success.
Jaimie and Hok hit the floor with Tambourine by Eve. The dance begins with a few slow-motion, pop-lock steps before it breaks out into a fast, bass-thumping routine. Hok makes it look easy, as we all expected, and Jaimie can barely keep up. However, considering this is probably her first run-in with the genre, I do have to give her some credit. After all, she DOES know all the moves and manages to keep the beat too, even if she does look out of her comfort zone. And hot. She definitely looks hot.
Of course, the judges all sing Hok’s praises and tell Jaimie that while she isn’t the best hip-hop dancer, her attack and commitment made the dance great. “I would like to see a little bit more of ‘you’ in the work, I must say,” critiques Nigel, “because I find you a little more exciting than some of the choreography that was there this evening…” Shane can’t help but laugh from his seat in the audience. “I found it holding you back a little bit, Hok, but I imagine Shane did that for Jaimie… I think she did a really good job. For somebody whose style it isn’t, you did a good job.”
Anya Garris, a 25-year-old Latin ballroom dancer from New York City, is paired up with Danny Tidwell, a 23-year-old contemporary/jazz dancer, from Virginia Beach, VA. Anya has been a professional ballroom dancer for the past 17 years and is originally from Russia. She had auditioned with her ballroom partner (of nine years) Pasha Kovalev, who also made the top 20. She feels that she can bring the important element of passion every time she dances. Danny is the adopted brother of last season’s runner-up, Travis Wall. They first met at a dance studio owned by Denise Wall, Travis’ mother, who adopted Danny when he was 12 years old. “Dance for me, in my life, has been a form of communication,” he says. “It betters myself; it’s more like therapy.”
So how would a ballroom dancer and a contemporary dancer handle the jive? Choreographer and U.S. Latin dance champion is hoping he can get their jive talking. “The jive has a very bouncy, flavorful, exciting energy to it,” he says. Danny, a perfectionist at heart, was frustrated that he couldn’t pick it up as quickly as he wanted to. Anya has a habit of trying to take control of the situation and coming across as “bossy,” but it’s all with good intentions.
From the very first beat, Anya and Danny are all over the place with their energy. Bam, bam, bam, move, move, move. And with a fast-paced song like Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne, they have to be. I’m amazed at how quickly they move and, at the same time, how much fun they look like they’re having. It doesn’t look like a routine at all; it looks perfectly natural and lively. Kick, kick, boom, boom, shake, shake—whoa! Did he just do a split? No, even better… he did a split that slid backwards through Anya’s legs! Geez. Legwork all over the place.
The judges can do nothing but compliment the couple, but they also make several comments about how cute and sexy Anya is. “You guys take my breath away. I can hardly speak, believe it or not,” says Mary. “The hot tamale train just pulled up and let Anya off the train. Special delivery!” Yes, she really did say that. Maybe she’s getting beverage tips from Paula Abdul. “You are going to be a couple to be reckoned with on this series; that’s for sure,” Nigel predicts.
Lacey Schwimmer is an 18-year-old swing and international Latin dancer from Redlands, CA. And according to her, she’s a “professional krumper.” Really? A professional? Someone will really HIRE you to “krump”? In case you didn’t hear about it the first fifty times it was mentioned, she’s also this little sister of Benji, last year’s winner. She rattles off her titles, “Youth United States Swing Champion” and “Youth Latin Champion.” She’s coupled with Kameron Bink, a 20-year-old contemporary/hip-hop dancer from Coral Springs, FL. We won’t be forgetting who he is anytime soon, giving that rockin’ red hairdo.
Dancing by Elisa begins, and Lacey is lifeless and awkward in Kameron’s arms. Suddenly, there’s a lot of movement and flowing and just… energy. Okay, I’ll admit it. “Intense” is a good word here. My eyes are glued to the screen watching the dramatic entanglements of the two dancers. Lacey throws herself into the song, both figuratively and literally, as she flings her body into Kameron’s arms without hesitation.
“Lacey, you were hoping to get half of Mia’s vision,” says Dan, “I think you got the whole thing.” He believes that Kameron did his job (as a prop) well with his partner, but that the moments he was on his own could have been better. “He’s a lot more than a prop to me,” says Mary Murphy. Geebus, did she just say that? “Lacey, you absolutely surrendered yourself into this routine… It made us feel something… It sparks an emotion with us, sitting here…” Nigel agrees: “Lacey, you were the star of the routine. Your commitment to the jumps, to the leaps, to throwing yourself, and that’s where Kameron comes in. He was there for you every single time…” Nigel was only disappointed by one thing: the fact that it wasn’t longer. “I wanted more of the story. For me, it was a bit like seeing ‘The Sopranos’ and missing out on the end.” Aww…. Look at Nigel trying to stay hip and up-to-date on American pop culture. How… bleh.
Sabra Johnson is a 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Roy, UT, who was discovered at the auditions in New York City, where she’s been living for the past six months, pursuing her dance career. Unlike many of her fellow competitors, she’s only been dancing a relatively short time (four years) but has still managed to make a lasting impression on the judges. Dominic Sandoval, a 21-year-old b-boy/hip-hop dancer from Roseville, CA, made his debut at the Los Angeles auditions. Mia didn’t care for his cocky attitude at the time, but Dominic tried to explain that that attitude was just part of b-boy performance and that he didn’t plan on carrying that attitude to any other genre. The first test for this couple will be choreographer Doriana Sanchez’s disco. “Disco is a really fun dance; it’s a celebration dance. It was done a lot in the ‘70s,” she explains, as if we really need an explanation. I mean, I realize that most of the show’s viewers have probably never heard of an “LP,” but I’m pretty sure they’ve at least heard of disco. Sabra and Dominic are having difficulties learning the routine, which seems to be a running theme for these couple intros.
The stage is set with a rendition of No More Tears (Enough is Enough) by Donna Summer and Westlife. The couple is certainly dressed for the part. Sabra is in a cool, purple fringe number, while Dominic looks exactly like Fes from ‘That 70’s Show.’ And while the routine is fun, Dominic looks so… stiff. No, not stiff. His moves just don’t flow very well from one to the other. Dancing is supposed to look effortless, like one jump just moves into a twist shifts to a spin. But each of Dominic’s moves looked completely separate from the one before it. At one point, some of his hip-hop handstand-spin moves are incorporated into the dance. I don’t know why they did that because it looks completely out of place. However, I will give him credit for the “Dirty Dancing” lift he managed to pull near the end. Um, kids, go ask your folks about Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.
Dan Karaty loves their outfits but isn’t big on their dancing. Of course, the audience viciously attacks his criticism. Mary pays Dominic a few compliments but tells Sabra that she is terrific. Hm… finally seeing Dominic without that dang bandana around his head, I can’t help but think—well, Nigel says it for me, “Do you know, Dominic, you look like John Leguizamo?” Laughter ensues, but in all honesty, he really, really does look like him.
Ashlee Langas is a 19-year-old contemporary/jazz dancer from Tyler, TX and auditioned in Chicago. She breezed through every Vegas round, and Mia at one point even told her, “If there is a heaven, that’s how they dance there.” Ricky Palomino, a 25-year-old contemporary dancer from Phoenix, AZ who auditioned in Atlanta, explained his unique dance philosophy that applied a mathematical approach. Comparing dancing to a graph’s parabola is about as oddball as it sounds, but what could have easily come off as pompous emerges as a rather sincere explanation. His elegant movements in Vegas made him a favorite of Mia’s.
Alex da Silva will be taking the two contemporary dancers out of their comfort zone and into the Argentine tango. A worry about this dance that has carried over from last season is the female’s “ganchos,” i.e., high, fast kicks between the male’s legs. Honestly, I really don’t want to hear about Ricky’s concerns about his personal parts. “If you kick in the wrong spot, man, something’s gonna go…”
The couple is dancing to Sentimiento Tanguiero by the Trio Federico-Berlingieri, a song which I’m just not feeling is right for this dance. Ricky’s sharply dressed in a suit, while Ashlee towers over him in a shimmering, barely-there dress. It’s an unfortunate pairing because Ashlee is so much taller than him, making it difficult for him to take charge and lead her through the dance appropriately. They manage to get through the privates-endangering kicks just fine, but they seem so cold with each other. There’s just no connection.
Dan tells them that their dance was not nearly as sexy as it should have been. Jeering follows, of course. The crowd will boo anyone who says that ANYone is less than fabulous. “I didn’t feel like you guys were really connecting at all,” he says. Mary Murphy feels bad that she has to agree with him. Although they looked great and did their moves well, there just wasn’t any chemistry. “I think physically, Ashlee looks so much bigger, and I think that could be the problem of getting the chemistry right,” Nigel observes. But that’s not THEIR fault really. After all, THEY didn’t choose their partners.