By Mark Adams
The art of dance was definitely alive and kicking during the recent callback auditions here for So You Think You Can Dance. The hit Fox reality TV competition has been traveling the country to find contestants for Season 8 set to debut next month. The series’ goal? As host Cat Deeley says every week, it’s to find “America’s favorite dancer,” and one of those auditioning at Planet Hollywood could be that person.
The serious atmosphere at Planet Hollywood’s Theater for the Performing Arts conveys that this is no ordinary contest. These movers and groovers have a real shot at dance fame. Lacey Schwimmer segued to ABC’s Dancing With the Stars after competing in SYTYCD’s third season and joined her brother Benji Schwimmer, the show’s Season 2 champion, on the set of Christina Aguilera’s video for “Candyman.”
Also on DWTS post-SYTYCD: Las Vegas’ Chelsie Hightower and Dmitry Chaplin, while past-season contestants, including Travis Wall, have returned as sought-after and well-respected choreographers. This past Season 7, many returned to the series to be paired with contestants as all-star dancers, among them Twitch, Neil Haskell and Courtney Galiano.
“It made dancers almost know that they can become famous or become stars through dancing, which is really incredible,” judge and Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin said. “That hasn’t really happened in many years.”
SYTYCD co-creator and lead judge Nigel Lythgoe is hopeful of this season’s talent. “This morning, we’ve seen some fabulous dancers. You’re never sure if you put them through to Vegas if they’re going to make the mark. And they have done so far, so I’m really happy.”
Veteran judge Mary Murphy agrees with the level of skill here. “So far, we’ve only seen about 45 dancers, but absolutely I have several marked already in my Top 20. I will be very interested to watch them throughout the next four days to see if they can transfer what they do brilliantly in their solo into other styles.”
“It’s just special being in Vegas. There’s some unbelievable talent here,” Antin said. “I’m so inspired. I love seeing this caliber of talent.”
“I think the most refreshing talent is coming in the form of the 18- and 19-year-olds. … It’s like So You Think You Can Dance seeds were thrown into the soil, and these new super-dancers have popped up,” judge and director Adam Shankman said. “They’ve been watching the show now for all these years, and they’ve grown up with it. And they’re competing against past seasons.” (Last season’s two finalists, winner Lauren Froderman and runner-up Kent Boyd, were in their teens, the youngest Top 2 in the show’s history.)
Since the show’s inception in 2005, dance’s popularity has exploded in the U.S. Other dance-based reality TV series have aired, and fellow Fox hit Glee is a reminder of song-and-dance’s wide-reaching presence.
“So You Think You Can Dance has really brought dance to the forefront and ... made everyone want to know and learn how to dance, which is so amazing and so inspiring,” Antin said.
Lythgoe believes this is all happening now because dance wasn’t given the opportunity to catch on as a popular interest. The show has “allowed for dance to gain in integrity in this country, for male dancers to be able to dance now without fear of people laughing at them ... and to give choreographers a voice that they didn’t have before.”
While a lot of pop culture dancing is through music videos, Lythgoe said that the show lets choreographers tell a story -- about breast cancer, addiction and other topics -- instead of composing movements for a singer’s backup dancers. So what are the judges looking for?
Antin said she’s looking for something sexier. “We’re looking for lightning in a bottle, we’re looking for that ‘wow’ factor and that ‘it’ factor. … I’m looking for a little more sex appeal. I want to see technique, I want to see all the tricks, but I want to see some type of sex appeal added in there. Because that’s where I come from, and I can’t deny that.”
Lythgoe said he’s pleased with the routine of things after seven seasons, saying with each new crop of dancers, the talent improves. “I’m being wowed all the time. ...The dancers come, they know what’s expected of them, there are new styles involving. Hip-hop dancers are going to formal training, formally trained dancers are going to the street to learn a bit more, so it’s evolving. It’s always stronger year on year.”
Season 8 of SYTYCD premieres May 26.
Mark Adams is the listings coordinator for Las Vegas Weekly.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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