The big concern lingering over the first eight episodes of So You Think You Can Dance season 12 was what will happen when the proper competition starts and the members of Team Street are forced to dance in different styles. Because the contestants of Team Stage have formal training (likely in a variety of dance styles to prepare for this show), there wasn’t that doubt regarding whether or not they would be able to adapt; there are always at least 10 stage dancers on any given season, and they tend to do solid work when asked to dance in different styles. The dancers of Team Street are the wild cards, but last week’s episode showed that most of them have what it takes to excel in this competition.
Team Street hasn’t just pulled through, it’s pulled ahead. Their underdog status makes it all the more inspiring when they triumph, they bring a lot of personality and energy to the dance floor, and there’s a strong bond between the members that makes them feel more like a team while the stage dancers feel more like an ensemble. When Team Street hollers, “Team Street! Whatcha say?”, at the end of their Marty Kudelka group number, those bonds get tighter and they come together as a squad. It’s a very different dynamic than what you get from Team Stage’s dancing in its Jaci Royal routine, which is very pretty and powerful and supportive. The street dancers are relaxed and playful, inviting the audience into the performance in a way the stage dancers don’t because they’re so concerned with precision, and that generally cool attitude is a big reason for Team Street’s success.
Not everyone on Team Street is thriving, though. Asaf is oh so very pretty, but he is a pitifully bad dancer when he’s not breaking, and even then he’s nowhere near the level of someone like Legacy or Hok. His Jean-Marc Généreux club cha-cha (code for “easier cha-cha”) with Marissa is difficult to watch, and even though he’s working hard, he just doesn’t have the skills needed to perform adequately outside of his comfort zone. The camera never focuses on him in group routines unless he’s breaking, and the choreographers keep him in the back because they know he’s going to fumble his way through the steps. The judges applaud Asaf for his hard work, but they also unanimously agree that his performance isn’t any good, which makes it very frustrating when the judges keep him instead of Burim at the end of the episode.
Struggle can be intriguing, but only when dancers overcome it. Burim’s performance in his Sean Cheeseman African jazz routine with Ariana and Gaby isn’t remarkable, but it’s also not horrible, and he picks up steps a lot better than Asaf does. Burim gets points for not standing out, but fading into the background is probably what gets Burim sent home by the judges. Asaf may not be a great dancer, but he has a natural charm that comes from his dreamy looks and silly personality. He has a character and a story that the show’s producers can work with, so the judges keep him around even though he gives this week’s worst performance.
Because one dancer from each team is eliminated rather than one boy and one girl, the proportion of male to female dancers has shifted dramatically from seasons past. (The one exception is season 7, which eliminated one dancer a week to leave Lauren as the only woman, ultimately taking down five male opponents to win the competition.) This week sees two male dancers leave the competition, meaning there are now five women and three men on each team, and it will be very interesting to see how this changes the choreography moving forward. Because of the uneven ratio, this season features dance trios and quartets in addition to duets, which allows choreographers to do some new things but also gets rid of the personal chemistry that builds up when dancers perform with the same partner for five weeks.
The strongest dance this week is Hailee and Virgil’s duet, a Pharside and Phoenix hip-hop routine that casts them as goofy dancing robots. Their cartoonish expressions work with their incredibly sharp movements to give them fuller characters than anyone else this episode, and every single beat of the choreography is presented with crystal clarity. There are so many fun bits in this dance—Virgil chopping Hailee’s arm, Hailee balancing on Virgil’s arm, Hailee controlling Virgil with an invisible joystick, the jaw choreography—and the two dancers are enjoying the hell out of themselves up there. It’s the first must-see dance of the season, and I wish Hailee and Virgil could keep dancing together because I want to see their chemistry become even stronger.
Neptune and Kate have a very different challenge with their Justin Giles contemporary routine, but they create a strong emotional connection that makes the viewer feel the longing and the pain in this marriage. Neptune has done really strong work outside of his style, and his commitment to the storytelling pulls Kate out of her shell to finally give the judges the heightened performance they want to see. The camerawork for this number is very strong, particular the long shot at the start that builds intimacy by keeping a single camera on the couple, and that intimacy only intensifies as the two dancers move within a confined space. Kate ends up in the bottom, but she’s saved by Twitter users along with Ariana, who is the highlight of the Cheeseman Afro-jazz routine.
With the exception of Derrick, Alexa, and Jaja’s Stacey Tookey contemporary routine, the trios in tonight’s episode could use much more energy and connection from the dancers. The storytelling in the Tookey routine is muddy and the roles aren’t easily discernable—if she didn’t say they were a veteran, abused girlfriend, and single mother, I would have thought this was a dance about two women and the dead soldier they both loved—but the movement is full and expressive so it’s still a touching piece. Jason Derulo is exaggerating when he says this is the piece America really needs right now, but it’s definitely the best trio of the night.
Megz dominates her Jaquel Knight hip-hop routine with Moises and Jim, two street dancers that have a lot of trouble pinning down the street swag that Megz has in spades. She’s delightful in this routine, and she carries her partners, who look more like her back-up dancers. It’s not a very difficult routine, so they really need to sell the attitude to make it work, but Jim and Moises have very soft personalities that don’t adjust very well to the change. Moises ends up as one of the stage dancers in the bottom and is sent home by the judges, who decide to keep the two men that get the most cheers from the teenage girls in the studio audience.
One of those men is Edson, who performs a Tovaris Wilson jazz routine with Yorelis and JJ that is strangely hollow. Part of that is due to the music, which sounds quieter for some reason, as if it’s only being played on half of the speakers. Music issues are no excuse for a tepid performance, though, and Edson has trouble creating chemistry with his two partners. Derulo points out that Edson should feel free to flirt more, because even if everyone is hitting the steps perfectly, that attraction needs to be underneath everything or the choreography won’t pop.
Last week, So You Think You Can Dance celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a tribute special that looked at the show’s legacy of bringing remarkable dancers and choreography to living rooms across America, and Nigel mentions in tonight’s episode that people will be talking about Virgil and Hailee’s performance at the 20-year anniversary. I don’t know if Nigel legitimately believes that the show will still be on the air in 10 years, but it’s a valiant dream. Watching this show reveals just how many young dancers have been inspired by it, and season 12 has gained a lot of entertainment value by taking a chance on performers that normally wouldn’t make it to the Top 20. While the risk was detrimental for the audition portion of the season, it’s made the competition especially thrilling, and if the show can continue to find ways to reinvent itself, maybe it will find a way to survive and keep advocating the art of dance.
- The producers of So You Think You Can Dance really want viewers to think that this season is Team Stage vs. Team Street, but these two camps aren’t competing against each other at all. Because one dancer from each camp goes home each week, they’re actually in competition with their fellow teammates, so the rivalry comes across as especially forced.
- This week’s opening group number by Reina Hidalgo and Asiel Hardison suffers from the dancers not pushing their energy over the top when they’re working with choreography that isn’t especially difficult. If they made it look like it was one big Miami party, it could have been a lot of fun, but instead the dancers are just going through the motions and it falls flat.
- I understand why the judges wanted Marissa to give Asaf more attention, but I don’t think that would help their chemistry when he’s such a weak partner.
- I adore the moment in Hailee and Virgil’s package when Pharside hugs Virgil. There’s a lot of love in that room.
- Did you see Paula Abdul recreate the “Opposites Attract” video with James Corden as DJ Skat Kat on The Late Late Show? It’s adorable and Paula looks amazing.
- “I don’t know which one’s a diggy and which one’s a ka.”
- “Burim, I love watching your package.” Oh, Paula.
- “Virgil’s energy is a big ball of Arnold Schwarzenegger mixed with a little bit of Richard Pryor, all wrapped into this little nugget of a person.”