Deep in the throes of "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 16, the euphoria of summertime and live shows is causing us to reflect on seasons past. While much has undergone change since the show's inception—movement trends, choreographers, dancers, judges and fashion—the positive impact it has on the trajectory of the winner's future remains as significant as ever. "This show has changed my life—it's changed me as a person," says Hannahlei Cabanilla, winner of Season 15.
Nigel Lythgoe makes it clear that he is not a dance teacher. The one time he was invited as a student to teach little kids, he scared the hell out of them. He was impersonating a jack-in-the-box, and when the kids approached, he jumped up and shrieked. "Three of the little girls ran off," says Lythgoe. "Two of them peed themselves, and I was never allowed to go near little kids or teach them again. That was my one experience as a dance teacher. And now they're giving me an award!"
But Lythgoe has done as much as anyone to draw America's consciousness to the art of dance. And that is, in a very pervasive, influential way, teaching.
In 2015, Houston Ballet demi-soloist Jim Nowakowski made a shocking career about-face when he soared into the heart of pop culture and made Top 6 on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance." The commercial world was taken by his flawless technique and perfect lines, while at the same time classical dancers were surprised by his choice to leave a coveted position with Houston Ballet. He was an enigma—and now he's done it again. He has recently returned to ballet company life and is well into his second season with BalletMet.
Last night marked—finally!—the first live show of Season 15. We made it! And so did the Top 10. Now, it's up to the viewers (that's you!) to determine which contestants end up in the Top 4 and, eventually, which one will snag the sweet prizes up for grabs: $1 million, the cover of Dance Spirit (that's us!), and a role in FOX's live production of RENT, which will air January 27. Also awesome: tWitch is officially on the judging panel for the long haul, alongside Nigel, Mary, and Vanessa. Dreams do come true!
So how'd the two-hour event play out? Each contestant couple performed twice: once in the girl's style and once in the guy's. Here's what went down.
At the start of last night's episode of "So You Think You Can Dance," 41 dancers remained. An hour later, we had a Top 20. And then there was a BIG FAT TWIST. (We'll get to that.)
The 41 still-standing Academy dancers showed up at the Dolby Theater in L.A. ready to tackle three rounds: contemporary choreography with seven-time Emmy nominee and one-time "SYTYCD" contestant Travis Wall; an "epic group routine" with jazz choreographer and La La Land she-ro Mandy Moore; and a last-chance solo showdown. Here's what happened.
The Contemporary Competition
"I'm not looking for robots," SuperTrav immediately explained. He gave the dancers shapes, but from there, each was expected to make the choreography his or her own. Everyone got sweaty and exhausted, and after 90 minutes, it was time to perform in groups of three for Nigel, Mary, Vanessa, and Travis.
The ballroom babe struggled during hip hop last week, but (naturally) crushed the ballroom choreography. This time around, the judges still couldn't resist Allen's charm, and he got to stay—though, Nigel said, "We need more."
Cole has stood out during each round of choreography thus far, and not just because of his full-back tattoo. Travis called him absolutely beautiful. "I don't know where you came from or where you've trained, but I am very excited for you," TWall said. And he made it through.
The pressure was on for this early favorite—and the judges weren't feeling her contemporary performance. Vanessa was expecting more, Travis didn't think she commanded the space with her energy, and Nigel said she needed to step up. But they weren't ready to give up on her, so she stayed for jazz.
She stood out, Nigel said, simply. She got to stick around, too.
All the judges agreed that they couldn't take their eyes off her. Hannahlei made it on to jazz as well.
The ballet dancer didn't totally crush Travis's choreography, so the judges decided to send him home. "I hate this part," Travis said through gritted teach. (We hate it, too.)
The judges needed to make cuts, and despite Eddie's awesome personality, the tapper's "SYT" journey ended here. Tear!
The other tapping standout in the competition killed this choreo. Vanessa said he rose to the occasion, and he made it to the jazz round.
Nigel told Bridget she lost him today, and Mary didn't connect with the performance. Bridget was sent home—but Nigel hopes to see her again. (Season 16, girl! Be ready to crush it!)
Genessy seemed to lose confidence halfway through the performance, but the judges still adored her, so she made it through.
Emily was totally captivating in this round. Her jumps were the highest, her expression the fullest, her performance the boldest. Travis thought the competition was hers to lose: "Girl, I can't wait for you to get on the show so I can work with you," he said. Holy ultimate compliment, TravMan!
The Group Production Number
With 33 dancers left, it was time to bring in Mandy Moore for the final round of choreography. Her jazzy group routine featured all the dancers shining in their individual styles, plus a grand finale where everyone came together. "If they can't hang in the group routine, then it is cutsville, buh bye," Mandy said. STONE. COLD.
This routine looked so fun. (Was anyone else standing up, trying to learn it at home? No? Just us? OK.) The high-energy choreography was fairly simple, but there was a LOT of it. Each group got just an hour to perfect their portion of the routine—and to choreograph two eight-counts of the performance themselves. Intense much?
There were so many wonderful moments during the enthusiastic performance. Emily Carr was a standout again. The tappers looked awesome, and Jensen Arnold had undeniable presence. (The entire ballroom group is looking super strong this year, TBH.) The exhausting routine earned a standing O from the four judges, whom we were not envying at that point.
But cuts had to be made, and Tessa Dalke, sadly, was one of them. Other favorites—Alexis Gilbert, Jay Jackson, Gaevin Bernales—were sent home, too.
The Last-Chance Solo Round
The remaining 27 dancers got to perform one final solo before the judges chose the Top 20. Jay Jay Dixonbey's number was powerful, precise, and pretty darn perfect. Chelsea Hough rocked heels for hers. Hannahlei Cabanilla earned a "love. her." from Mary. And Allen Genkin wrapped things up with a booty wiggle, a big smile, and a Magic Mike-esque shirt toss that Nigel called "a little desperate." (AGREE TO DISAGREE, NIGEL.)
Without further ado...
The "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 15 Top 20
Jay Jay Dixonbey
Kyle Bennett, Jr.
BUT WAIT. After the reveal, there was another reveal: Turns out only 10 dancers will continue on to the live shows. What is happening?!
Next week, each of the Top 20 dancers will be paired with an All Star and a choreographer. See you then for more madness!