SO YOU CAN DANCE season 14 has been a rollercoaster ride. The season premiere was a true return to form, complete with Mary Murphy’s reclaiming of her rightful seat at the judges’ table (and as conductor of the famed hot tamale train). The dancers auditioning in Los Angeles were amazing, indicating that SYTYCD fans were in for a treat this year. But then the second half of those very same Los Angeles auditions were lackluster at best.
Cue SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE’s “New York Auditions #1.”
The episode got off to a great start, prompting a plan to title this week’s recap something along the lines of “everybody’s back on the train, and everything is beautiful.” Unfortunately, by the end of the episode, that was impossible — things had taken a distinct turn for the worst. The sharp move from promising auditions to a waste of time, focusing on the cheesy and bizarre, was even more jarring than a failed first attempt at doing multiple pirouettes on a wooden floor in socks. (Trust me. One wrong move in that situation, and your life will flash before your eyes.)
Why an episode of any television show, much less one that has educated the general couch potato on dance before spending a couple of seasons spinning its wheels, would want to end on such an odd note is impossible to explain. But here we are.
And so it began.
Much like in Los Angeles, Team SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE made a grand entrance in New York. The first episode highlighting this season’s New York auditions featured voiceovers from several contestants, talking about the series’ impact on their lives as dancers. Many had been watching since the beginning, and quite a few had been just waiting for a chance to audition. One dancer even said SYTYCD was the reason she was still dancing.
A television show is probably a bad reason to dance, to be honest, but the sentiment is greatly appreciated.
At any rate, it was time for SYTYCD to influence more dancers — but not before Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe got to take cell phone videos of themselves “just moments before going out.” (Uh…huh. Tell me more sometime.)
New York’s first dancer was Impavido, formerly known as Kaylee Mills.
The name is Italian for “to fear less,” and this blue-haired dancer probably had plenty to fear after her parents forced her to pay for her own dancing. If she wanted to be the family jock and participate in allllll the sportsballs, that was cool with Mom and Dad; but dancing full-time? They’d support it…just not financially.
Impavido turned a negative into a massive positive, though: “Since my parents weren’t going to hand me anything, that gave me a very large push to get myself out there.” And get herself out there she did. This dancer’s style was unique. Her performance was loaded with personality and quirks; but she just as technically strong as any contemporary dancer we’ve seen on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Her control was excellent — if a pirouette looked like it was kind of leaning, it was intentional.
If one thing needed cleaning up, it was probably Impavido’s feet. The choreography had plenty of purposely flexed positions; but then there were some other places where there was no definition either way. Were they supposed to be flexed again, stretched, just hanging out? A mystery. Was that small detail enough to ruin an otherwise impressive audition? Obviously not. But details are kind of a thing.
Judges’ comments: In a classic Nasty Nigel fake-out, Nigel opened his commentary by bemoaning the difficulty of judging so many great female contemporary dancers. They’re all so technically strong! None of them stand out! All of those dancers might be “brilliant,” but they’re “not necessarily individual.” But — and if you didn’t see the ”but” coming from a mile away, this was probably your first SYTYCD episode — Impavido was a true individual. Nigel finished up by telling her, “you’ve got a great style about you.”
Mary Murphy said Impavido “oooooooooooooozed confidence” and had the audience in the palm of her hand. (Did I put enough Os in that ooze? Probably not.) Vanessa Hudgens also loved the performance, saying the dancer had “so much confidence [and] so much grace.” Impavido’s audition was so good, in fact, that it was the only one to really drag coherent commentary from Vanessa all night.
The next contestant was Colombian salsa dancer, Ana Sanchez.
Ana had heard about the “hot tamale…train…thing” and wanted to take a ride on it. (Don’t we all?) She was also 4’11” but felt like she was six feet tall on stage, which meant that both myself and Vanessa Hudgens were happy to be “taller than someone for once.”
The second Ana explained her style of salsa had more flavor and passion than others, this SYTYCD viewer knew she had the potential to get that coveted hot tamale train ticket. And her opening pose just screamed sass. Oddly enough, despite amazing tricks and insanely fast footwork, it felt like Ana’s partner’s legs and feet were just a wee bit cleaner than hers. Later, when asked why he wasn’t auditioning, Mr. Partner Man admitted that he was too old. (Boo.)
Judges’ comments: Nigel and Mary gave each other a “look” in the middle of the audition, so that signaled good things for Ana (as well as several moments of me, wondering how I managed to live without that look for two years).
Indeed, Mary Murphy was full of high-pitched screams and laughter over Nigel’s forgotten ear plugs (R.I.P, Nigel’s hearing). More importantly, our resident ballroom expert complimented Ana’s stamina, as well as her “phenomenal tricks that take a lot of amazing timing and strength in the right places when you need it.” Proving that she’s here to make dreams come true, Mary even dubbed the dancer “a little hot tamale.” Glory, amen.
Vanessa followed that up with some giggles and talk about fun. Oh, and “good things do come in small packages!” (Same.)
Finally, Nigel complimented Ana’s partner and admitted that there were some lifts in their piece that he’d never even seen. He couldn’t wait to practice the choreography with Vanessa…which meant Queen Mary couldn’t wait to slap him. (I. Have. Missed. This. Thing. Of. Theirs.)
Verdict: Academy. It’s not like hot tamales can be left home, after all.
After Ana’s audition, it was back to contemporary (or, if you’re yours truly, cracktemporary) with Koine Iwasaki.
Koine was born in Japan and moved to America when she was only two years old. Between her family being very traditional and just, you know, being a tiny child trying to learn a second language when she had barely started to learn her first, Iwasaki turned to dance: “It’s definitely helped me communicate in a way that language can’t.”
In true SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE form, Koine was yet another in a long line of talented contemporary dancers. While she didn’t quite have the uniqueness of Impavido, there was still something special about Koine’s piece. Maybe it was the massive amount of emotion she conveyed; or maybe it was just her great technique.
Maybe watch that grand plié in second so it doesn’t get too squatty — which is kind of hard to avoid when the plié is that, well, grand. And just to keep nitpicking the details, this was another audition that didn’t exactly scream “great feet.” Otherwise, though, this was a lovely performance.
Judges’ comments: Nigel Lythgoe himself said the dancing was very professional. He loved everything from Koine’s strength, to her power (ok kind of the same), to her technique. Vanessa Hudgens…said “awww,” apparently. And Mary Murphy loved the performance, as she has done very frequently this season. (Remember season one, when she hated Allan Frias? Iconic.) After Koine had left the stage, Mary even turned to her best-worst frenemy, Nigel, and was like, “she was a nice surprise, huh?”