Monday, December 11

Fox’s “so You Think You Can Dance” Changes Competition Format: Adding All-Stars From Previous Seasons A Win-Win For Fans

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So You Think You Can Danceis FOX’s uplifting and brilliant dance competition series that highlights incredible young dancers from across the country (and sometimes out of the country – like season three dancer Hok, who notoriously missed the first two seasons because he couldn’t get his green card in time for the show, and this year’s Alex Wong, who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia).

Dancehas also become a springboard for national recognition of its phenomenal group of choreographers, including: Mia Michaels, Sonya Tayeh, Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio, Stacey Tookey, Dmitry Chaplin, Travis Wall, Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo, and Jason Gilkison, among many other terrific choreographers.

Now in its seventh supremely successful season, Dance employs a formula almost identical to American Idol – and no wonder; it benefits from the same producers: Simon Fuller, and primarily Nigel Lythgoe, who stepped down from Idol two years ago to helm Dance full time. There is a competition show on Wednesday nights, and a result show the following Thursday evening which features both already-famous and up-and-coming guest performances (a wild performance on a Dance results show helped launch the career of Lady Gaga).

Though Dance was created by the same folks who engineered the Idol juggernaut, the quality of the contestants, the performances, and the overall mission of the show is quite different. Oftentimes the dancers are already working professionally for various companies, and they have all had years upon years of training – some at institutions as renowned as The Julliard School. That said, Dance is more about putting professionals on a national platform, rather than revealing undiscovered talent (Idol’s focus).

What I love about Dance is that they give twenty gifted professional dancers the opportunity to perform pieces from of the best choreographers in the industry for a national audience. This gives dancers not only a national platform to show off their talent, but a hefty taste of what it’s like to perform at the top of the dance industry and the type of commitment and work ethic required to be successful at that level.

For season seven, however, Dance has retooled its competition format. Instead of bringing over a hundred gifted dancers to an intensive competition week in Las Vegas and narrowing them down to twenty, Dance proceeded to squeeze the number of finalists down to a mere ten (though they couldn’t quite bring themselves to decide between the male dancers, so they kept six – making the final group eleven dancers instead of ten).

The point? To bring back some of the show’s best and most dynamic dancers from seasons past to pair with the competing dancers in the hope that they would help the new dancers up their game more quickly and get an overall higher performance level out of each competing dancer.

I’ll admit – I was pretty skeptical about this at first. And so was Lythgoe, based on a comment he made while critiquing dancer Alex Wong (after a tremendous Sonya Tayeh routine with all-star dancer Allison Holker), which was something along the lines of, “I am so relieved that this new format is successful, and is achieving exactly what we’d hoped by having you guys dance with the all-stars.”

Me, too – I couldn’t have said it better myself, because I had been supremely concerned. Dance is, after all, literally my favorite show on television and has maintained that status with me for the past five years – which is no easy feat since I love TV – and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Isn’t that how the saying goes?

Fortunately, the first week of real competition on Dance showed that this change in format – new dancers paired up with all-stars dancing in their own style – is successful. The dancers who deserve to be on the show elevated themselves to match or come within reach of the masterful skill possessed by their all-star partners, and conversely, dancing with the all-stars illustrated just exactly who shouldn’t be in the competition. I predict that we won’t have as many split decisions from the judges during results shows this year (though, admittedly, they got the first elimination decision of the season wrong in my opinion – but they were unanimous in their choice, thus my assertion stands).

So, let’s hope that the trend continues as the all-star dancers rotate in and out of the competition with their partners. My only thought, because I don’t like that they’ve prevented nine people from having a shot at a national springboard, is this: maybe next year, keep all top twenty dancers. You can still eliminate two dancers each week of competition until you get to the top ten, and you can keep this new format with the all-star dancers, which I really like now that I’ve seen it.

What can I say? That just might be the perfect solution.

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