SYTYCD—Why Cyrus Matters


(This is a piece I started last September for the tour and lost some steam on. I think the shape of this current season compels me to finish it.)

So You Think You Can Dance has been extremely important in establishing the importance of dance as an entertainment form and a viable career vehicle for those lucky talented dreamers able to cross their stages. In evolving over the seasons, the producers have been creating more of a welcoming atmosphere for the general love of dance and began taking some risks with who they spotlight and select in the auditions. One of the most important game-changing decisions they made was casting Cyrus Spencer last year as part of Season 9’s Top 20 dancers.

Casting hip-hop dancers is nothing new for the show: Jamile McGee and Alan Frias began the trend in the inaugural season, and many other recognizable dancers such as Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Hokuto “Hok” Konishi and Dominic Sandoval have established themselves as audience favorites and carved out some great careers in the professional world. And even other alumni such as Ivan Koumaev, Cedric Gardner, Gev Manoukian, Comfort Fedoke, Phillip Chbeeb, Jonathan “Legacy” Perez and José Ruiz have demonstrated great progress. The amazing thing with Cyrus’s inclusion in the show is that compared to the other dancers preceding him, his level of formal training was zero. Most of the other dancers (with the possible exceptions of Phillip, Legacy and José), despite beginning their dance journey through self-education, had at least some exposure to traditional dance training or an enrollment in arts education. Cyrus’s subgenres of animation and dubstep differ from the larger, more well-known areas of hip-hop, so even doing the choreographers’ routines means starting from scratch for him.

There are, however, two big factors that not only carried him through the competition with relative ease but made him a huge fan favorite are his incredible work ethic and his larger-than-life personality.

Early in the Vegas Week process Cyrus, along with his two Dragon House buddies, were given a complicated hip-hop routine. Unaccustomed to choreographed hip-hop, the trio was at a loss to get a good feel for it. Andre immediately dropped out before his turn on stage, and Boris, despite giving it a try, seemed to have a defeatist mindset in his subconscious because he was dismissed after his turn. Cyrus, however, kept up his energy and positive attitude throughout the dance and the judgment and was sent to the next round. His energy and enthusiasm carried him over the next set of rounds, even when asked to dance for his life. He made this memorable quote: “Apparently, there’s a level of hard I’m not working, and I need to get there.” This was evidence of his shoulder-to-the-wheel, no excuses, take no prisoners approach to learning any and everything thrown at him and doing it to the best of his ability.

As he threw himself bodily into every dance style, Cyrus also turned on his thousand-watt personality and stage presence. With every style–even with less than stellar technical form–he was able to engage the judges and his fellow competitors just by the sheer passion displayed. Cyrus made sure to be receptive in the learning process and carried the same level of confidence and positivity into every round, which allowed a palpable connection with the audience. This spirit helped carry him through the competition with each new dance style, trumping whatever he lacked in technique and training….and eventually carrying him to second place overall with the male dancers.

As mentioned, many other hip-hop dancers with limited training have crossed the SYTYCD stage–lots of them having breakthrough moments in traditional styles unfamiliar to them (Ivan Koumaev and Dominic Sandoval‘s turns at contemporary as prime examples). What makes Cyrus’s run on the show stand out as significant is how much of an impact it had on changing the reception of alternative dance styles and almost the legitimization of those who dance them. Even amidst his critics, Cyrus was a force that could not be ignored. His genuine passion for and love of dance shone through every moment on stage, and serves as a shining example for future hopefuls. One only has to look at the present season with Jade, Fik-Shun and Cyrus’s Dragon House pal BluPrint to recognize this. Cyrus Spencer has helped to reshape the way audiences look at and classify freestyle dancers…and inspired countless people who think they can dance to move with abandon.


This TVLine interview with Cyrus is required reading…it really gives you a glimpse into everything I’ve been saying about him.

Other related articles:
Tasmin Silver: I. AM. IN. AWE…of Cyrus Spencer…
HitFix: Interview: Cyrus of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ talks plugs, critics


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