SYTYCD—Team Ballet’s Road to Reign

Nine seasons and a format change is what it took to boost not one but two ballet dancers to the top spot on So You Think You Can Dance. Eliana Girard and Chehon Wespi-Tchopp were crowned America’s Favorite Dancers, the first ballet dancers of a very small field to reach such broad appeal. Here’s my take on how they pulled it off:

–Versatility of technical foundation
It’s frequently said that in dance, all roads lead to ballet. While there are many fabulous dancers who have had little formal training or have specialized in other forms, the dancers who seem to have the easiest time moving between dance forms have some ballet training in their background. It’s a lot easier to break form from years of regimented posture, isolated movements and perfected turnouts and positions than it is to intensively train muscles in a few days. The posture taught at the ballet barre translates well into many of the ballroom styles, and the musculature developed is very helpful toward the precision and stamina of Bollywood. Even though there are definite style differences that must be learned, the muscle memory from ballet training seems to speed the adaptation process. Eliana brought the added experience of the aerial arts with her, having spent about three years in the Cirque du Soleil Viva Elvis show doing pole work (and aerial silks). Her flexibility—which was already veering into “freak of nature” territory—is off the charts, and coupled with her ballet foundation made every movement look effortless. Chehon demonstrated a similar degree of facility, particularly in the jumps that seemed to launch into the stratosphere and hang in mid-air. Both were billed as contemporary ballet dancers, meaning that their strict formal training translated into a less rigid performance repertoire than that of a classical dancer. Contemporary ballet tends to include shapes and movements from modern dance, so while the strict posture and placement is still in place, the dancers have a little more fluidity of movement so as to not come across as stiff, and that translated well for both dancers.

–Performance energy
All dancers radiate a certain energy when they dance in order to connect with their audiences, but there’s something extra in the wattage of Eliana and Chehon’s smiles that seem to extend through their whole bodies. Eliana in particular had a captivating personality—the self-proclaimed goofball brought joy and vitality to every performance. She jumped straight into every style with enthusiastic glee and seldom looked like she was struggling. While Chehon has a bit more of a struggle with effectively translating the technique and the underlying emotional themes of his dances, there was something in his manner that carried across to the judges as worth keeping on the show. His later triumphs in the Argentine tango and subsequent contemporary numbers proved the save as a wise decision.

–Social media
Since the advent of the network-driven Facebook page, the dancers who are especially social-network savvy have used them to their full advantage. Many of the contestants add their own personal posts on these pages and welcome fan questions, and such was the case with Eliana and Chehon. Chehon was especially interactive, sharing articles (including this really good one), offering thanks after getting through to the next show and even asking advice on potential themes and music for future solos. Eliana, in turn, was open to answering fans’ inboxed questions, posting candid photos and making the occasional totally random comment.

We can only expect greater things to come from this pair. I absolutely cannot wait to watch them happen.

Viva Team Ballet! Photo by Joe Toreno

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Ballet- for kings entertainment. « Had NO Clue!

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