’So You Think You Can Dance’ Hits 10-Year Milestone
It's hard to believe FOX's So You Think You Can Dance is already entering its tenth season. Because of the show, America's dance vocabulary has expanded, with viewers learning basic genre structures and how much physical work goes into becoming a viable dancer. Unlike the myriad of singing competition shows, "So You Think You Can Dance" contestants can't hope to rest on their personality to get through. This show requires a dedication to personal fitness and musicality that is master-class.
EDGE got the chance to catch up with three of the show's regular judges. First up, the lovable and jovial Adam Shankman. Shankman is otherwise best known as the director of "Hairspray" and producer of the juggernaut "Step Up" franchise.
Harder and harder
Adam discussed the escalating challenge of the show, telling EDGE, "It just gets harder and harder for the dancers. They’re competing with nine other season’s worth of dancers." For him, it’s a personal experience. "I still self-identify primarily as a dancer. It’s less about what I do than who I am," he explained. "I love doing the show. These kids remind me of myself when I was young, except they’re more talented."
When asked about life as a gay dancer in the dance community, Shankman was extremely optimistic, "I don’t think there’s any prejudice towards the LGBT community in the dance community." He believes queerness to be an intrinsic part of the community: "The dance field has always been an area where it’s easier...I think they expect me to be gay and are relieved."
In his usual candid style, he admitted to being a little out-of-the-loop on what’s in store for Season Ten, ribbing his fellow judge and executive producer, "In terms of format, I have no idea. Nigel Lythgoe tells us nothing." Although Adam wasn’t short on kind words for Lythgoe, "Nigel is actually very generous, remarkably generous both financially and with his time. It was his idea that we start the Dizzy Feet Foundation." He also had a secret to share, "Nigel’s actually a woman. That’s off the record."
Producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe appeared shortly after. His conscientiously take-charge personality showed as he flagged down and politely scolded a staffer for carelessly walking into one of our photographer’s shots. "Excuse me, that’s a camera you just walked in front of."
After correcting the situation, Nigel was ready for our questions. Of particular interest was his involvement with the Dizzy Feet Foundation, a charitable dance organization that exists to educate and empower youth. "Every year we do a gala in LA. That money goes toward scholarships for young kids and to a lot of community project. We’ve just given a lot of money to the DEA, which sounds strange. But they have a dance program to help people get out of drugs. Instead of taking drugs, take dance lessons!
Nigel’s hands-on involved with the organization was apparent by his ability to quote figures off the top of his head, "We took 200 pairs of tap shoes to a school down in New Orleans. It was great. If that just encourages one or two to take up dance, we’ve succeeded."
Audiences are encouraged to participate in the Dizzy Feet Foundation, particularly by taking part in International Dance Day. "National Dance Day is always the final Saturday in July. You can go to the Dizzy Feet Foundation or ’So You Think You Can Dance’ website and learn the routines online. It’s really set up for people to take advantage for themselves."
When asked what’s new to look forward to this season on the show, Lythgoe was quick to compliment the growing talent, "The dancers. That’s every season. We don’t know what we’re going to get. We’ve just seen a Japanese kid who came on and was taught by (choreographer) Nagahama. He was so interesting.
Each year, the competition gets stiffer. "When you’ve got people like Anya and Pasha, they set a high standard. Last year we had Whitney and Lindsay. They’ve just been picked up by ’Dancing with the Stars.’"
Lythgoe has affection for his fellow judges, in spite of Adam’s ribbing, "He makes me smile. Having someone like Adam in front of you makes you smile, and hopefully relaxes the dancers." On judging talent, he referenced fellow judge Mary Murphy, "If Mary doesn’t scream anymore, I don’t send anyone to Vegas."
Mary chatted with us in Boston, where she was thrilled to have just discovered some ballroom talent. "Oh, thank god. I was getting nervous. We’ve been to two different audition cities and we didn’t have one ballroom dancer make it through. Not only are they good, they’re great ballroom dancers."
The ballroom expert known for her signature "Whoo-hoo!" had her own perspective on "So You Think You Can Dance." For Murphy, the show’s success comes in the human element, "Every season, it’s really about the people. It’s about the stories. It’s about the dancers. They’re going to do it whether they make money or not." Dance is an integral part of identity, or as Mary puts it, "We feel like we have to do it or we won’t breathe anymore."
She still wishes the dancers would cut it out with the goofy faces, a trademark critique, "The bar has been raised. It’s typical in the ballroom industry by the way for dancers to pull their faces. I don’t think it should be that way in the ballroom industry. I’m like, ’Why are you doing that? Why are you making that fish face all the time, sucking in air?’"
Mary was on a roll as she highlighted another past ballroom issue: "It was about ten years ago that ballroom dancers were actually making all these noises when they danced. ’AH! OOH!’ It became almost caricature."
But the always smiling Murphy thinks the show has helped guide ballroom culture, "The sounds have gone away, and the facial expressions have died down because of the show." Her number one tip to dancers: "Keep it honest."
Before she left, I had to ask if I could have a ticket to ride the Hot Tamale Train, the metaphorical locomotive forever linked with Mary Murphy to all the show’s devoted fans. "I’m afraid you can’t, I’m so sorry. If you’d like to dance for me... (Maybe) I’ll put you on that train."
After a hearty laugh, she laid down the law, "You have to earn it, brother!"
So You Think You Can Dance premieres Tuesday, May 14th at 8/7c on FOX.