SYTYCD: Season 11 Premiere



For 10 years now, So You Think You Can Dance has brought the talents of thousands into our living rooms during the hot summer months. With the exception of one or two less than exciting seasons a few years back, every season has been better than the last. SYTYCD’s 10th anniversary brought with it the first year where the influence of the show on dancing across the country was plain as day, as many of the contestants specifically attributed their love and passion for dance directly to watching early seasons when they were younger. I imagine that trend will continue this season as more of the first generation that grew up watching the show put their talents to work.

I will be recapping the dancing throughout the summer, hopefully mostly consistently from week to week, but looking ahead I already know some week’s I will have to sit out writing if not watching as well (next week I’m already missing a night as I will be in Texas for the 3rd annual ATX Television Festival). Throughout the auditions that take up the first few weeks, it will mostly be rundowns of the standout performers and the music they choose for their first impressions (although the show has moved away from this for the better in recent years, I will be avoiding any recaps of the purposely terrible auditions). Once the live shows begin, these write-ups will take a turn towards more analysis of whether the music makes or breaks the routine, especially as new choreographers and old favorites make appearances throughout the season. I already have some examples in mind as to which choreographers are surely going to make missteps week in and week out as far as music decisions go, and I’m sure you do as well.

Without further ado…Week One of Auditions kicks off in New Orleans and Chicago!


Shelby Rase: A strong, if not show stopping, start to the season. I would have liked her to dance to the Avicii version of “Wake Me Up” in order to facilitate more explosiveness in her routine, but the Madilyn Bailey cover she chose didn’t harm her routine so much as leave it flat. As with many covers Bailey performs (which you can see on her YouTube channel if you are so inclined) she doesn’t bring anything to the composition that any amateur wouldn’t be able to come up with. Her voice is pretty but there’s nothing behind it, which is more or less how I feel about Shelby’s routine. I agree with Mary that she has great stage presence, but thought the use of that presence could have been more well employed. Annalise’s routine also brought with it the first “awkward family member” called to the stage from the audience, in which her dad did some NSFW things with a water bottle while “Blurred Lines” played. Let us never speak of that portion again.

Tanisha Belnap: Tanisha is one of 12 siblings, so while her story was the first feel good clip show of the night, all it did was bring to mind the kind of musical theater stagings this family of dancers could and should have done at home (7 Brides for 7 Brothers complete with almost full stable of understudies!). Although I appreciate Tanisha’s willingness to work her ass off to get herself studio time, something about this routine still left me wanting. Her technical ability was present but didn’t blow me away, and although I don’t necessarily agree with Nigel that she should have danced with a partner, an additional facet to the performance would have been nice. Staging ballroom steps to “Take it Slow” by Odny (feat. Reija Lee & Kito) was nothing groundbreaking but I liked her willingness to take a risk and pair her style with dubstep. Even as dubstep slowly takes over the entire country taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors, most times when it pops up it is exclusively paired with anything besides classic ballroom routines, so that was a nice difference to see.

Megan Marcano: The skills of a classically trained dancer with the expressiveness and stage presence of a Browadway veteran. Megan is such a clear Top 20-worthy dancer I almost don’t want to talk too much about her here so I can save all of the adjectives needed to describe how great she is for down the road. The song she used was “Oh Heart” by Tank and the Bangas. I had never heard of this artist before finding this song, so I guess I can also thank Megan for introducing me to a new talent in that regard as well. The music matched up well to her dancing, but more importantly it felt like the song matched up with the attitude she puts out into the world. An under the radar choice that paid dividends during her performance. For now, her back story is the classic reality show tragedy-turned-triumph cliche (not in a bad way) and her talent is undeniable. All I keep repeating over and over in my head is “Don’t fall apart during Vegas week, don’t fall apart during Vegas week”. Fingers crossed!

Trevor Bryce: THIS ladies and gentleman is how you incorporate multiple styles into one routine. If he had come out and just done the hip-hop aspects of this piece I would have been tempted to send him to choreography (tempted, but not completely convinced to do so), but because he worked in so many other ballet and theatre facets he was able to blow everyone away from the beginning. From what I can tell, the music choice he went with was a remix of “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty, combined with a techno track that utilized Windows 98 start up sounds and ticking clock effects. I enjoyed what he did with the music, and the way that the beat contrasted with his more balletic movements. The only thing I’m worried about with him going forward is his ability to work well with a partner or as a group. It’s a small quibble, but the only thing that may sink him as the rounds go on.

Courtney Barnes: This was a Bring It On blooper brought to life, tracked by “Turn Down For What” which I definitely did not need to hear any more than I already have. The judges have made it clear in the past that flipping and tumbling to music does not a routine make, and that reasoning stands here. A Wendy Williams impression (even an hilarious one) should not give someone a ticket and I’m happy to see Nigel stood his ground here while Mary and Wayne could not and unreasonably sent Courtney on to choreography.

Novien Yarber: Sam Smith alert! Sam Smith alert! There was an 150% chance that someone would use a Sam Smith song during the auditions this year and I am seriously overjoyed it came this early in the season.  I cannot make this clear enough: if you have not heard In The Lonely Hour, call up your closest mental hospital and kindly admit yourself until you have done so. Pleading insanity is the only option for not having at the very least watched his breakout performance during the Louis CK episode of Saturday Night Live.  “Lay Me Down” is one of my personal favorites from his flawless debut album and it makes for an appropriately emotional pairing for this routine. As far as the routine itself, it isn’t likely to be remembered seasons from now, but it was technically very well done and I look forward to seeing what Novien brings to the table when paired up with other dancers.

Caleb Brauner: I really, really wanted Caleb to come back this year much improved over his audition last year. The heartbreaking story about his dad’s unexpected passing after they danced together on the SYTYCD stage was truly gut wrenching like not many contestant clips are (as hard as the producers may try) and his earnestness was endearing. Unfortunately, his skill remained at the level it was last year at this time with no signs of any additional training or aspects of his dancing. Jason Mraz has also been so overused on this show both in auditions and during live shows (especially “Words”) that unless the routine is flawless and emotionally affecting it isn’t worth it to try and force a connection using any of Mraz’s songs. As sad as it was to see him break down after getting cut during Choreography (which, c’mon cameramen, don’t follow contestants in emotional states such as this for that long please) it was the right choice and we can only hope he takes the judges advice to heart and does more partner work before next year, giving him a much better chance at getting to at least Vegas before falling short.

Marqoet Hill & Brooklyn Fullmer: Why couldn’t they have danced to anything else in the world besides “Blurred Lines”? A lot of talent on display here between these two and it was all brought crashing down for me by the presence of Robin Thicke being all rape-y and skeezy in the background. Stop choosing this to dance to, everyone. It isn’t trendy anymore and it does you no favors with the audience in house or watching at home. Other than that unfortunate song choice, Brooklyn and Marqoet had chemistry for days and the execution that everyone knows makes Mary shed tears of joy. Their toe flicks stood out for me, but their spins and symmetrical sections were was just as impressive. They promised sexy and delivered more, which at this early point in the competition is really all we can hope for from ballroom duos.

Not sure about everyone else, but all I saw during the time when they said Justin Bieber was on screen was this:


Come on, SYTYCDyou can do better than him as a ratings draw for this season’s shameless promotional stunt. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to adding in a dance crew competition, but involving Bieber in any way is just plain dumb. It is plainly below the quality of entertainment that this show subscribes to and whoever is behind this decision should be sent back to America’s Got Talent where they belong.


Nick Garcia: Even with a few slip-ups as far as sharpness in his steps, Nick came to impress and accomplished just that. He was fiery, energetic, and has ridiculous control over his core which is a must for any ballroom dancer. Many ballroom contestants rely on their partners to control their upper body and arms, thereby hiding any structural weaknesses they may have. As much as I would have liked to see him dance with his sister due to what I’m sure is a great connection between them on stage, something tells me the opportunity for him to audition solo that stemmed from his sister’s ankle surgery was a blessing in disguise that allowed him to show off just how strong a dancer he is. His song choice, “Begging You” by Madcon, brought just the right balance of energy and sexiness to his performance as well. The whole thing screamed “Miami” so loudly I forgot for a minute he was auditioning in frigid Chicago. A performance that makes you forget where you are? Sign me up for that any night of the week.

Rudy Abreu: “Stabat Mater” by Woodkid is a song of epic proportions, and Rudy danced to match that sentiment. His presence on stage is nothing short of magnetic, and the way he used his strength to complement his skill as a dancer instead of using it to compensate and falsely impress is something that few people are able to do (or realize they need to do) when they first appear on the show, which makes Rudy one to watch. The strength he had on display here means he will probably acquit himself well with a partner when the time comes for him to pair up with someone. Is it wrong that I’m already wishing for a Megan/Rudy duet choreographed by Mia when we aren’t even close to the Top 20 yet? I can’t possibly be the only one thinking about it.

Caleb Brauner Part 2: Oh Caleb…Caleb, Caleb, Caleb. I can’t recall if a dancer has ever showed up twice in the same round of auditions but in different cities. Regardless, I was skeptical of what he could have possibly changed in such a short time. I won’t say he proved me wrong completely as his skills were basically in the same range as they were a mere days/weeks beforehand, but he was very smart to frame it the way he did for the judges. By showing up and being honest about the fact that he was coming at this routine with a different strategy and a different mindset, while also admitting it was still going to be his style of dance, he didn’t set their expectations too high and was able to prove himself. The fact that he used yet another Jason Mraz song, this time “Details in the Fabric” (a personal favorite), doesn’t give me much hope when it comes to his originality, nor does his match-matchyness of the song and the theme of the dance. However, Caleb was able to step it up during the partner portion in order to push through to callbacks. I admire his perseverance, even as I don’t think he’ll make it much farther than the next round.

(Side note: I am so happy – sans sarcasm – that the choreography song this year is “Story of My Life” by One Direction. It’s one of my guilty pleasure songs this year and am not against hearing snippets of it two or three times an episode for the next month.)

All in all, an impressive first week back with the SYTCYD crew and this crop of new dancers. Next week Chicago auditions continue, and I will be back with a recap of the episode the following week.

What did everyone else think? Who was your favorite dancer to have made it through tonight? Any instances where you adamantly disagreed with Nigel/Mary/Wayne/Jenna? Let me know in the comments!

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