So You Think You Can Gobble

Less than a week away from the premier of So You Think You Can Dance Season 8, I cannot keep my feet still…metaphorically speaking. My intention this season will be to post reviews here each week (we’ll see how that works out for me), but to kick things off I wanted to list my Top 10 favorite performances from seasons past. There’s just one problem…well, two actually. First of all, I only started watching the series with Season 4. And second, I’m horrible at making lists. So what would have been a Top 10 of the series will now be my Top 15 from Seasons 4-7.

The criteria I used to pick these performances include: originality and creativity of the choreography; musical inspiration; likability of the dancers; and something I’m just going to call the wow factor, which mostly has to do with how emotionally moved I was by the piece, either to cheer or cry or whatever.

It’s practically impossible to find good quality videos of past seasons for this show, so everything I’m including below carries with it the disclaimer inherent in all YouTube content: some is crystal clear and HD quality; most is average, low-res video; a few are truly crappy, pixelated abortions. Enter at your own risk.

So without further ado…

Paul’s Top 15 So You Think You Can Dance Performances!

15. Billy & Lauren (Jazz) – “Boogie Shoes”
Season 7, Week 5 (July 14, 2010)
Choreo: Mandy Moore
This one is just good, clean fun! Both Billy and Lauren are exciting to watch, and fantastic dancers. I mean obviously, Lauren goes on to win Season 7. But beyond the dizzying speed of the footwork, this makes the list primarily because I just can’t watch it without smiling and snapping my fingers and tapping my toes.

14. Alex & Allison (Contemporary) – “Hallelujah”
Season 7, Week 1 (June 16, 2010)
Choreo: Sonya Tayeh
I’ll say much more about the incomparable Alex Wong later, but for now I’ll just include this first competition performance by him, along with all-star Allison. The judges’ praise seems just a tad hyperbolic removed from the experience of the performance live. But knowing what follows in next few weeks of this season, seeing Alex come out of the gate with this still chokes me up.

13. Kent & Neil (Contemporary) – “How It Ends”
Season 7, Week 8 (August 4, 2010)
Choreo: Travis Wall
I swear I’ll be getting to routines from other seasons eventually, but apparently I enjoyed S7 more than perhaps I credited at the time. With the loss of Alex from the competition, Kent was my second favorite to win. He was young, and sometimes allowed his teen exuberance to show through too much. But he noticeably improved as the season moved along, so that by the end he was able to give the emotional, painful performance you see here without grinning like a little boy. And it didn’t hurt that he was preternaturally talented.

12. Robert & Allison (Contemporary) – “Fix You”
Season 7, Week 5 (July 14, 2010)
Choreo: Travis Wall
The first of the “cancer dances” to make my list (but not the last), and one of the most emotionally powerful. An homage by the choreographer Travis Wall to his mother, danced with gut-wrenching conviction by Robert (himself an avowed “momma’s boy” that year), it’s impossible for me to watch this without weeping. In particular, the closing steps, with Robert using his own feet to lift the feet of his partner and walk FOR her…  :*(

11. Kayla & Jason (Hip Hop) – “They’re Everywhere”
Season 5, Week 7 (July 22, 2009)
Choreo: Shane Sparks
Another bloody fun routine. Points I particularly like about this one include the way Kayla smears the makeup down her face to mark moment she is “zombified” by Jason, and how loose, fluid, one might even say putrified Jason’s movements are. In my opinion this was the best Jason ever did in terms of acting within the dance.

10. Melissa & Ade (Contemporary) – “This Woman’s Work”
Season 5, Week 7 (July 22, 2009)
Choreo: Tyce Diorio
The second “cancer dance,” and while I don’t personally think the dance itself is quite as emotionally powerful as the Robert & Allison dance up above, this is one of the routines that earns it’s place on the list almost as much for the experience of watching it AND the judges reactions afterwards as for the performance itself. Watch the comments after the dance and just TRY not to bawl your eyes out.

9. Janette & Ade (Hip Hop) – “Love Sex Magic”
Season 5, Week 6 (July 15, 2009)
Choreo: Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo
I’m beyond frustrated that the only video of this performance comes not from the show itself but from the tour afterwards. Consequently the sound and picture are pretty crappy, and most of the cheeky fun of the original broadcast performance are missing. Still, you get an idea of goofy both dancers were here. The premise, since it doesn’t really come through here, is that Ade uses his magic hair pick to hypnotize the uptight, bookish Janette and releases her inner funk.

8. Kent & Adechike (Contemporary) – “You Only Disappear”
Season 7, Week 5 (July 14, 2010)
Choreo: Dee Caspary
I can’t quite explain why this piece is so moving to me. I don’t recall what the story of the dance is. Regardless, there’s something here that plucks at some heartstring or another that I haven’t been able to identify yet. But of course there’s the effortless grace of Kent, and that stunning leap by Adechike. And we’re starting to get into the portion of my list that favors props. Above it was a hair pick, here it’s chairs. I’m fascinated by the use of props in some of these choreographies.

7. Jason & Jeanine (Contemporary) – “If It Kills Me”
Season 5, Week 6 (July 15, 2009)
Chore: Travis Wall
Jeanine Mason sort of came out of nowhere for me. She started off as the quite, perhaps overshadowed partner of Phillip Chbeeb. But it was here in Week 6, when the partners first began swapping and she was paired with Jason for this Travis Wall ode to unrequited love, that she truly began to shine. And of course she would ultimately go on to win the season. No matter how many times I watch this routine I can’t get over that backhand punch she gives Jason at the 28-second mark. I have no idea how she never broke his nose during the hundreds of times they had to perform this on the show and on tour.

6. Katee & Joshua (Hip Hop) – “No Air”
Season 4, Week 1 (June 8, 2008)
Choreo: Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo
The first competition performance that ever truly blew my mind and showed me what this show was actually about. The partnership of Katee (who almost didn’t make the cut from the Las Vegas audition process) and Joshua (who goes on to win Season 4) would pretty much dominate this season. And Joshua was particularly inspiring to watch because he had no formal dance training when he entered the competition. On the list of moves that stand out in my mind from all the performances I’ve watched on this series (like Jeanine punching Jason and Robert “walking for” Allison), Joshua’s rising to his feet from a facedown prone position (:53 seconds) is near the top.

5. Mark & Courtney (Jazz) – “The Garden”
Season 4, Week 8 (July 30, 2008)
Choreo: Sonya Tayeh
Oh god, this routine combined three of my favorite things: the adorableness of Courtney Galiano turned dark; the madness of Mark Kanemura; the insane brilliance of choreographer Sonya Tayeh. Add to that an amazing song choice and we finally break into my Top 5 SYTYCD performances.

4. Katee & Twitch (Contemporary) – “Mercy”
Season 4, Week 7 (July 23, 2008)
Choreo: Mia Michaels
TWITCH! Stephen “Twitch” Boss was probably my favorite S4 dancer (I pretty much adored every single one of them), and when the competition reached the partner swap phase and we got to see him pair with former Joshua partner Katee, we got this glorious, sexy, hip-shaking number. And helloooooooo prop!

3. Kayla & Kupono (Contemporary) – “Gravity”
Season 5, Week 5 (July 8, 2009)
Choreo: Mia Michaels
This one guts me every time. Not really sure why, though it could have something to do with knowing from the intro package that Kupono has such an intense emotional reaction to the role he has to play in the dance. Both dancers do a remarkable job of acting their “characters” here. Pay attention to the 2:09 mark. Ever since seeing this performance I have never been able to hear “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles without choking up.

2. Mark & Chelsie (Hip Hop) – “Bleeding Love”
Season 4, Week 3 (June 25, 2008)
Choreo: Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo
There is so much heart and power in this performance. Not the most technically difficult, or the most expansive in terms of steps and lifts and exchanges… but damn, there’s just something about the connection between the two dancers. Both of them really commit here, particularly Chelsie who, though the video cuts off too soon for you to see it, is in tears at the very end as Mark walks off.

1. Alex & Twitch (Hip Hop) – “Outta Your Mind”
Season 7, Week 3 (June 30, 2010)
Choreo: Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo
If you’ve never watched So You Think You Can Dance before and the video clip here is the only time you’re seeing this performance, it may require some explanation. I promised earlier that I’d talk more about Alex Wong. Alex was a classically trained ballet dancer who almost made the cut for Season 6, but his ballet company would not let him out of his contract early and so he was forced to give up his place on the show. When he came back for S7 he was even more passionate about getting his chance to compete. Burning his way through the auditions and eliminations he earned his place in the Top 10 (actually Top 11, but that’s another story). The most amazing thing about this particular performance is not that it’s the most challenging hip hop routine on the series (it’s not), or that he is the greatest hip hop dancer that’s ever been on the show (he’s not). What sells this is the EXPERIENCE of it. It’s one of those, “You had to be there,” kinds of things. The video doesn’t do it justice. I, and Pam, and I think just about everyone that watched it live, got chills when it was over. And of course the triumph of him proving he could do more than ballet is followed by the tragedy of his injury the following week. Do to a severe hamstring injury he was forced to drop from the competition. It still breaks my heart to think about it.

So that’s it. It’s been a painful process, trying to choose between my children like this. I didn’t get to include any Brandon, or Kherington, or Russell. It’s just not fair. But there will be plenty of time to talk about them while I’m reviewing this new season. I know that the all-star format is coming back again this year, and there are rumors that Alex will play a role somehow, so I’m very excited for that.

Fellow SYTYCD fans, let me hear from you. Do you agree or disagree with any of my picks? What are some of your favorites dancers and routines? Hit me up here in the comments or drop us a line at

One thought on “So You Think You Can Gobble

  1. Wonderful choices and it was lovely to see some of the earlier seasons. I only came to the show in the middle of last season after I read an article in a local paper about Alex being injured (him being a local boy and all). I saw the routine with Twitch and was impressed – and then even more so when I realised he was a classically trained ballet dancer! @Harmalicious and I were watching recorded shows with @saltygoodness and @just_inluck during San Diego Comic-Con and they loved that piece and so did everyone else we showed it to. Then we had to watch them find out about Alex’s injury (which was a torn Achilles, I believe).

    The other ones you chose from S7 are also ones I have saved as favourites on YouTube. “Fix Me” never ceases to send shivers down my back – partly the song, partly the fact that both Travis and Robert had had to deal with their mother’s breast cancer, although Robert’s mother was recovering, and partly the dance itself – just beautiful.

    I am looking forward to this week’s debut of Season 8 – I have it marked on my calendar. It just better not be on at the same time as a Canucks game! 🙂

    Thanks for posting this, Paul. I look forward to your comments on Twitter (but no spoilers until I’ve watched!). 🙂

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