Generation NEXT: SYTYCD Season 13

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So You Think You Can Dance has returned to the small screen for a 13th season, and this year the kids get their turn in the spotlight.

The show has revamped its entire look and contestant base, auditioning dancers between the ages of 8 to 13 and mirroring every popular social network platform with its graphics, peppy music and bright colors. They’ve even extended the youth appeal by adding a new judge to join Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason DeRulo–15 year old dancer Maddie Ziegler, made famous by her appearances on Dance Moms and countless Sia videos and performances.  Limiting their audition cities to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the core trio of judges mines through the hundreds of pint-sized hopefuls to select a few hundred to attend The Academy, the kids’ version of the Vegas intensive. The selection has a twist, though–only ten young dancers are selected for the stage shows, and not by the three judges.  Ten All-Stars–former contestants from the previous 12 seasons–are judging at The Academy to select one dancer each to take to the Hollywood stage that they feel they best connect with and has the skills to win.

Los Angeles had a good number of surprising talents: hip-hop dancers Merrick and Kida, ballerina Avery, contemporary dancers Jordan, Sage, Ava (tallest in the auditions at 5’9″ at only 11 years old) and Sophia, tap dancer Ava (complete with embarrassing tap dad), and ballroom dancers Lev, Ivan and Camilla. One particular standout audition involved dancers Stella and Geramy, who initially got a pass from the judges before Stella pleaded their case and asked to show something different. The two did a more dramatic paso doble and Stella was passed through, though Geramy was still rejected.  However, Nigel–presumably impressed by both his performance demeanor and the 25 pound weight loss he accomplished in practicing for the auditions–convinced his fellow judges to give him the opportunity to go through to The Academy to get a feel for the amount of hard work it would take to pursue the show.  Chicago brought us the ubercuteness that was 10 year old J.T. Church, and the extremely excited Tahani, whose happiness bubbled right out of her….and onto Paula Abdul’s jacket.  Poor baby–I have never seen anyone throw up after getting a positive nod, and particularly not all over a judge.  But she and Paula took it in stride.  Other Chicago standouts included lightning-fast tapper Emma, ballerina Tia (who got to dance in front of Fabrice Chamels of the Joffrey Ballet), hip-hop dancer Alex, contemporary dancers Diana, Quinn and Enoch, jazz dancer Ainslee (who though completely adorable and energetic with her pocket-sized 8 year old self was turned down), and ballroom dancers Leana and Daniela.  11 year old Daniela had a bit of an ace up her sleeve: her mom, who teaches her, is a Latin ballroom champion.  She even got to show Nigel and Jason a few moves.  New York seemed to host the largest and most diversely interesting auditioners on the tour, from Latin dance junior champion Ruby to Kinky Boots swing Dougie, amazingly mature contemporary dancers Tate and Olivia, mini “Magic Mike” hip-hoppers R.J and Jake (who reminded me so much of Nick and Rudy from Season 11), 12 year old breaker Kai who’s so badass he rocks with an ADULT crew, ballroom dancers Valeriya, Alex, Liza and Joshua (all but Liza moved on, but I thought her personality would at least get her in the door), and 13 year old tapper Lucas, who caused a bit of discussion with the judges but was eventually sent ahead to the next round.

After arriving at The Academy, the young dancers performed their solos for the All-Star judges who would evaluate them.  The All-Stars roster for Season 13 is a pretty fair balance of all of the available genres: ballroom is represented by Paul Kamiryan, Jonathan Platero and Jenna Johnson; hip-hop is covered by Comfort Fedoke and champions Joshua Allen and DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagel; contemporary is represented by Robert Roldan, and first runners-up Kathryn McCormick and Sasha Mallory; and rounding out the numbers is reigning champion, Season 12’s tap mistress Gaby Diaz.  Each dancer gets to pick their five favorite dancers from the Academy soloists, with at least three that are not necessarily of their specific genre.  Things get interesting a few times as some of the dancers are selected by more than one All-Star, which gives the dancer the option of which team he or she wants to be on.  By the end of the rounds the five dancers are cut to two, with those two being in contention to go to the live shows.

Contemporary dancer Tate gave such a technically and emotionally compelling performance she literally propelled half of the judges from their seats, even though they were supposed to restrain their reactions. She wound up being sought after by both Kathryn and Sasha, and after hearing their say, she chose Kathryn’s team. Two other dancers, Kida and Ruby, would also be doubly selected, with Kida choosing Fik-Shun over Joshua and Ruby selecting Paul in favor of Jonathan, respectively. All of the dancers gave their absolute best, but with the choices limited to 5 dancers per team, the selected pool of about 100 hopefuls was immediately cut down to 50.  After that, three rounds of choreography–Broadway with Warren Carlyle, Hip-Hop with Nappytabs, and Contemporary with Travis Wall–honed each team of five down to two dancers, of which the given All-Star had to select one to take with them to the live shows.  The final choices came down to gut decisions, as each of the kids displayed varying degrees of technique, personality, determination and heart throughout the whole process. The 10 dancers selected are:

  • Tate McRae – Team Kathryn
  • Leon “Kida” Burns – Team Fik-Shun
  • Ruby Castro – Team Paul
  • J. T. Church – Team Robert
  • Jordan Wandick – Team Sasha
  • Jake Monreal – Team Jenna
  • Daniela Avanzini – Team Jonathan
  • Sheaden Gabriel – Team Joshua
  • Emma Hellenkamp – Team Gaby
  • Tahani Anderson – Team Comfort

Overall, I like the concept, as today’s young dancers are doing feats I couldn’t master TODAY, never mind when I was their age.  I’m trying very hard not to let my disdain for Dance Moms and my intense dislike for Abby Lee Miller to color my judgment on Maddie Ziegler’s role in the proceedings; I feel she’s overhyped and overexposed but it’s a very shrewd move to include her as the kids will definitely know HER pedigree as opposed to the adult pioneers…not to mention they’ll have the benefit of her expertise in competing in the public eye and professionalism as a child in the entertainment business.  The one outstanding fact is that these kids are phenomenally talented and have larger than life personalities–and this, above all of the other gimmicks and enticements, will make this season shine.

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Champion On Tap: SYTYCD Season 12 Finale

It’s nearly two weeks later and I’ve come up for air from the whirlwind of new premieres (Dancing With The Stars, The Voice, the HAMILTON soundtrack). With well-meant intentions this was scheduled to drop on time the week after….but this in itself left me with so many feels I needed to take a moment with this as well.

Tap wins.

Tap. Wins. (By now y’all have to have seen the finale, so this spoiler shouldn’t mean anything.) Out of 10 years, 12 seasons and 12 tap dancers, one stands at the the top, and her name is Gaby Diaz.  Team Stage takes the final victory in this season’s So You Think You Can Dance as Gaby beats out fellow Stage finalist Hailee Payne and Street finalists Jana “JaJa” Jankova and Virgil Gadson for the title of America’s Favorite Dancer.

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But before this historic decision is delivered, we celebrate the entire season with reprises and a collaboration with all of the Top 10 dancers and the All-Stars.

Top 10 + 10 – Contemporary
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores (Two Steps From Hell, Archangel)

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Cat introduced it as “celestial,” so either the dancers were the gods and titans having an intergalactic battle or their namesake constellations dancing around the cosmos. Either way the costuming obscured any chance of picking out all of the dancers successfully.

Emmy result announcements are made–lighting and costume got theirs; choreographer Tessandra Chavez got one (the Alzheimer’s themed piece with JaJa and Alex was one of hers), as well as this up and coming fellow named Travis Wall, who snagged his first win after five nominations….and Cat got to present it to him. He and Tessandra Chavez shared their win with Dancing With The Stars choreographers Derek and Julianne Hough.

The reprises come from the judges’, coaches’, and Final Four’s picks….and you know Cat’s gonna get a pick, too. There are also a few highlight moments from the audition tour.

Judges’ choice – Jason
Virgil (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: Let’s Go, Trick Daddy featuring Twista and Lil Jon)

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Run The World aside, given the crazed reaction Nigel and Jason had, a second night reprise was pretty much expected.

Audition Hero moment
Ladia Yates

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Ladia Yates, the Memphis jooker with the bubbly personality and the youth dance team that got to perform for and with Jason Derulo at the Memphis auditions. She got to Green Mile this year so hopefully we’ll see her on next season.

Judges’ choice – Paula
Edson and Megz – Contemporary
Choreographer Talia Favia (Song, You There, Aquilo)

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Paula’s first choice, fondly known as the “t-shirt dance.” I’m surprised by its choice only in that the intricate timing and placement required to work with those shirts could be an issue, but Edson and Megz both danced effortlessly through the choreography again.

JaJa (with All-Star Ricky Ubeda) – Broadway
Choreographer Al Blackstone (Song: Let’s Face The Music And Dance, Nat King Cole)

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Another of Paula’s choices, it features JaJa in full Hollywood glam getting her Ginger Rogers on with Ricky Ubeda as gangster and moll. One of her more stellar acting jobs and a really fun routine.

Cat’s pick
Team Street – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo (Song: Ready Or Not Here I Come, District 78 featuring Cheesa)

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The first time in the season Team Street threw down the gauntlet at Team Stage and said, in the manner of Sandman Sims, “CHALLANGE!!!!!!” More than likely it was a playback made to look live, but a repeat was definitely in order.

Captain’s pick – tWitch
Neptune and Gaby – Contemporary Choreographer Stacey Tookey (Song : Take My Hand, Precious Lord, Ledisi [from the Selma soundtrack])

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An emotionally moving piece that gave Neptune and Gaby breakout performances, this was well received and due an encore.

Nigel announces a Dizzyfeet Gala special….a young lady named Lil Phoenix gets to do some animation with Cyrus. This little girl can’t be more than 9 or 10 years old–we might as well call this baby Lil JaJa, because she is KILLING it! (Song: Emergency, District 78)

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Ugh! All of these extras–the season’s sexy moments hosted by a swim trunk wearing, shirtless Asaf. After he finishes stunting and Kate pushes him into the pool, we segue to Hailee describing the sexiness of her jazz duet with Robert Roldan, so Hailee’s “contestant pick” is Haunted, Beyoncé, by choreographer Ray Leeper. (We know that’s not the one she picked in last week’s interview but she and Virgil couldn’t very well pick the same dance.)

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Audition Hero moment
Cody Carlson

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The freestyle hip-hop dancer who just happens to have Down syndrome was one of the more entertaining and inspirational auditions of the season. His appearance impressed his idol, Jason DeRulo, and garnered Cody a spot on the Special Olympics dance team.

Coaches’ pick – Travis
Gaby (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: I’m Really Hot, Missy Elliott)

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Gaby slayed this dance AND Joshua, both figuratively and literally. Was there any doubt?

Interesting to note that even though the pieces featured one of their team members, each coach picked a piece that was the other’s discipline.

Another special guest, Herman Cornell from the American Ballet Theater, performs a solo (Song: Le Corsaire: Act II: “4. Grand Pas., Var. Ali., Evergreen Symphony Orchestra), giving this new age audience some cultural exposure and some quality ballet appreciation time.

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Judges’ pick – Jason
Team Stage – Contemporary Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Beautiful Friends, Helen Money)

The ghostlight routine, which I’m surprised got picked for this particular show but I’m getting the feeling more and more playbacks are being employed, as I can’t see how those kids can change in and out of such specific makeup that fast. Still, it was a really good routine and on my personal favorites list.

Audition Hero moment
Thomas “Mr. Hollywood” Condello

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*eye roll* At least he amused the judges….

Contestants’ pick – Virgil
Virgil and Hailee – Hip-Hop Choreographer Dave Scott (Song : Runnin’, Noahplause)

Like we didn’t see THAT choice coming…..

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Apparently forfeiting his reprise choices this season, Nigel now introduces a dream match-up…..Asian ballet boys Alex Wong and Jim Nowakowsi perform a Travis Wall contemporary ballet piece to the song November, by Max Richter and Alexander Balanescu. The piece, about an estranged father and son who meet for the first time years into the young man’s life, gets the expected rousing cheers and fulfills the many fan wishes and requests.

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Now for an elimination–Team Stage is brought out and narrowed to one team finalist…..and it’s Gaby. Hailee is praised and applauded for her journey and her performances.

Audition Hero moment
Eliazer Chapman

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This young Bronx freestyler who danced his way through his struggles while living in a homeless shelter with his dad providing the season’s most shining example of tenacity and perseverance.

Judges’ pick – Nigel
JaJa (with All-Star Alex Wong) – Contemporary
Choreographer Tessandra Chavez (Song: Youth, Daughter)

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OK, so apparently Nigel made ONE choice tonight–JaJa’s acting and dancing tour de force, she portrays the confusion of an Alzheimer’s patient poignantly and displays some strong contemporary dance skills, to boot.

We get a special performance from the whole of Academy of Villains, including this season’s shining star choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde. (Song: Crunk, Noahplause)

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The last guest performance of the night is a duet with Travis Wall and Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Choreographer Travis Wall, Song: Gimme All Your Love, Alabama Snakes) from the Dizzyfeet Gala. While I would have rather seen more of the contestants, I at least now see that Jenna’s credentials as a judge for this show were valid.

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Eliminations for Team Street are up, and it is revealed that JaJa is tops on that team, so we’re now saying goodbye to Virgil.

Contestants’ pick – JaJa
JaJa and Jim – Hip-Hop Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song : No Woman, No Cry (Live Version), Bob Marley and the Wailers)

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JaJa’s most empowering dance, in her opinion….and one of the better laid-back offerings from Christopher Scott.

There’s a video reprise of the Top 20 season opener (I know full well those children weren’t on the stage that night), but it was a perfect selection. Both the intro video and the stage mashup were excellently done, and almost ties with the Season 10 “Puttin’ On The Ritz” one take. Choreographers Christopher Scott and Jessica (Song: Revolt, Nathan Lanier)

More filler…Team Stage and Team Street have a rooftop showdown reading Twitter snaps against each other. It’s really amusing watching some of the Stage dancers try to be tough, especially the really button-nose cute ones.

Contestants’ pick – Gaby
Gaby (with All-Star Robert Roldan) – Contemporary
Choreographer Mandy Moore (Song: Angel, Sarah McLachlan)

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Gaby’s most personally groundbreaking routine–it’s the one that she says made her realize the strength and power she had within her.

And now, after dragging it out with even more montages….we finally, after 12 seasons and only 12 contestants in the specialty, have a tap champion. One of my readers said this was Gaby’s contest to lose, and given her tenacity from being REJECTED at her first audition, then shining and thriving in everyone else’s disciplines, it was pretty much written in the stars. Add that incredible, mind-boggling tap duet Anthony Morigerato gave her for the finale and I think that was a lock.  One of the best balances of technique and popularity in a contestant yet–and that it lies in a tap specialist gives a much-needed spotlight to the dancers in this discipline who struggle for respect and acknowledgment as a “real” dancer in this industry.  A rousing reveillie for Gaby–and for tap!

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Everybody Hurts Sometimes: SYTYCD Season 12, Week 8 Hollywood

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The semifinals are here–and two dancers are going to fall just short of their opportunity to claim the coveted title of America’s favorite dancer.

Top 6 Comtemporary
Choreographer Mandy Moore (Song: Everybody Hurts, Jasmine Thompson)

Each dancers is putting their hearts and souls on the floor tonight, showing their inner selves to the viewing audience to convey the anguish in this piece.

55% of the vote goes to Team Stage, so Coach tWavis is back on top this week.

Two duets tonight–one with an All-Star and one with one of their fellow competitors–as well as their solos. AND the votes from this week roll into the next week and count toward the championship vote.

Gabi (with All-Star Marko Germar) – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: Emergency, Icona Pop)

Sexy, steamy jazz….with a lot of “booty-ography”

Thank the LORD it’s not a Beyoncé tune…and there’s a good bit of technicality in this piece. The “booty-ography” is actually minimal–what’s impressive is Gaby hanging on to that choreography in those high heeled boots.

Nigel agrees with me, and thought the number and Gaby were marvelous. He even goes so far to say she’s one of the best dancers of not only this season, but across the seasons. Paula said it was absolutely “bootyful,” calling it lighthearted and fun, and has managed to make the most difficult choreography look as easy as breathing. Jason enjoyed it, but thought the star quality she usually carries diminished a little bit….which prompted a vehement argument from Paula in disagreement, and a short joke from Nigel at her expense.

The solos tonight honor the contestants’ mentors and feature a meaningful piece of music.

Virgil – Rock The Bells, LL Cool J
Clyde Evans, Artistic Director of the Chosen Dance Company is Virgil’s inspiration–and his solo is inspired by the summer block parties and backyard barbecues where they would freestyle and just generally have fun. Virgil eloquently channels that feeling and a shade of LL swagger into this solo.

JaJa (with All-Star Alex Wong) – Contemporary
Choreography Tessandra Chavez (Song: Youth, Daughter)

JaJa and Alex team up again, with JaJa portraying a woman dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Tessandra is determined that JaJa dance up to the challenging choreography and embody the character, and JaJa seems to be embracing it.

JaJa has a very expressive face, and whatever thoughts and emotions she was channeling conveyed the complex mental and emotional struggle that was supposed to be happening in her head. The confusion, elation and fear that flitted back and forth was tangible and believable, and the reassuring assist from Alex was a beautiful complement.

The standing ovation probably says it all, but let’s go to the judges’ table anyway….Paula applauds choreographer and performer, giving JaJa praise for her imaginative performances. Jason appreciates JaJa’s commitment and intensity, and was moved to sentimentality by the number. Nigel compounds on Jason and Cat’s mention of The Notebook and notes her ability to relay the emotions through her face and movements, and congratulates her for taking full advantage of all of the experiences afforded to her through the competition and adding to her growth.

Hailee – Elastic Heart, Sia
Mandy Shaw, Hailee’s dance teacher who helped her develop her dance abilities and stepped in as a “second mom”, is Hailee’s honoree. Her solo is an homage to all the people at home supporting her that she misses dearly.

The Hough siblings pretty much laid claim to this song in last season’s Dancing With The Stars, so of course my view of this solo is going to be tinged. The power Travis wanted to see in this number? A little subdued, in my opinion. But well put together and emoted.

Megz (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song: Freedom, Pharell Williams)

Chris is trying to show the full range and freedom of hip-hop dance, and Megz is struggling for yet another week. That it’s her own genre is a bit alarming, but Coact tWitch is hopeful that she’ll settle into the moves and do well.

The last time I saw power and swagger this well matched was back in Season 6 with Dominic and Jose’s Excalibur themed routine. Megz can hit as hard as any dude in the business, yet can still bank her feminine mystique at the same time….and to hang tough with Season 4’s champion is a huge accomplishment.

Jason applauds Megz–and the rest of the contestants as well–for being able to maximize the very limited amount of time given to learn and rehearse the dances onstage. He also thinks that while Megz was really good this week, with it being down to the Top 6 it’ll be a tough battle for her. Nigel dubbed it a “jazz hip-hop,” and thought the mix allows Megz to prove herself an all-around dancer, stating that he could easily see her cast in West Side Story…as anybody. ANYBODY. Not Maria, not Anita, not third girl at the dance–ANYBODY. Pretty high praise. Paula agreed and feels that Megz was in her element with this number, adding that if she continues to dance with that same energy and dangerously that she’ll discover more and more layers of identity in her dancing.

Gaby – It’s Your Thing, Christian McBride featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater
Gaby’s passion for dance is fueled by her love of family, and one family in particular–her late great-uncle Renaldo “Titi” Silva–was a successful dancer in Cuba and persevered in continuing that career in a move to the States. And this certainly is her thing–lots of funk, noise, sass and syncopation.

Jim (with All-Star Anya Garis) – Samba
Choreographer Dmitry Chaplin (Song: Chillando Goma, Fulanito)

A ballet dancer pulls his first Latin dance–and the hardest one, at that. But he’s apparently nailing the choreography; he just needs to grasp the flavor of it.

It reminds me a lot of “My First Kiss” from Season 7. It’s very technically sound, and he’s really keeping up the energy…he just needs a little more WD-40 for those hips.

Nigel recognized the fun Jim was having in that routine and that he largely captured the samba, with the exception of the looseness being more in his shoulders than his back. Paula thought Jim was a strong partner and struck a nice balance between partner/audience connection, but also commented on the lack of hip swivel. Jason was shocked at how much Jim actually did open up and get loose, and congratulated him on that.

JaJa – Laundry, edIT
JaJa was actually mentored BY Ceasare “Tighteyez” Willis, krump originator and legend. Enough said. Iron sharpens iron, greatness begets greatness.

OK, this is telling my age….you know that short-lived sitcom Small Wonder, with the little robot girl Vicki? Imagine she grew up and learned how to dance. That’s what JaJa just did, and it’s very impressive. That “chameleon of dance” tag Nigel put on her last week is no bullshit.

Virgil (with All-Star Melanie Moore) – Contemporary
Choreographer Justin Giles (Song: All Is Now Harmed, Ben Howard)

An emotional routine portraying what happens when a soldier comes home from the war. It’s already gut punching Virgil in rehearsals, so it ought to be really striking once it hits the competition stage.

That got me. That almost Turn To Stone got me. Virgil might not be able to manifest sinister but he nailed complex and tortured. He wallowed in this piece, and held strong with the choreography and partnering while doing it. This is a breakout moment for him. Good job, man.

Paula thought Virgil gave a beautifully executed, mature performance and matched Melanie step for step. She also called it unbearably vulnerable and had to dig for an actual critique in having him improve the lift in his jumps. Jason said the humble and honest persona Virgil brought to the stage is what gave it that extra level of connection. Nigel marveled about the high performance level Virgil gave and how it covered any lack of technique.

Jim – Ra, Nathan Lanier
Timothy Draper, founder of the Rochester City Ballet, introduced Jim to the world of ballet at age 11 and helped to groom his technique. Judging from the depth of emotions Jim is dealing with just trying to talk about his late mentor speaks volumes. Reminiscent of the harsh winters in his upstate New York, Coach Travis calls it impeccable, stunning and gorgeous in rehearsal….let’s see what it looks like on stage.

It certainly moved fast and was way too short….but it displayed every facet of Jim’s technique. Beautiful piece.

Hailee (with All-Star Robert Roldan) – Jazz
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores (Song: Haunted, Beyoncé)

Hailee is the angel of death reincarnated as a crow, sent to deliver Robert his last fatal kiss. Lots of tricks and character…..and Hailee is a ball of giggles trying to rehearse those kiss moments. She says she’s getting it together though…..

Hailee was most certainly fierce, technically sound and deep in character. But Jordan Casanova did it better a couple of seasons back. Not my favorite.

Jason enjoyed it thoroughly, and thought she had the character and strength required for this piece. Nigel thought Hailee was on point technically but seemed to have difficulty accepting her characterization given her usual outgoing personality. Paula called the performance a perfect mixture of finesse and fury and found her wickedly seductive, but cautioned her to smooth out her transitions.

Megz – Let It Go, James Bay
Cynthia Geffon, Megz’s dance teacher, seems to give as much credit to Megz for shaping her as a teacher as Megz gives her for helping mold her dance persona. There seems to be a running theme with Megz’s musical selections tonight…..

Wow. And I said that BEFORE that last hinge pose. It wasn’t elaborate or throat-grabbing but the freedom of it is what made it so compelling to watch. This contemporary/hip-hop mesh that Megz does suits her beautifully. Best solo I’ve seen from her.

Jim and Gaby – Broadway
Choreographer Josh Bergasse (Fever, Michael Bublé)

“Gaby is lovesick and stuck in bed…and Jim is the hunky, fedora-wearing man of her feverish dreams.” Hey, that’s what they said, y’all…. Action packed with lots of character development.

Gaby’s got character in spades, and the dance acumen to back it up. Jim is opening up a lot better with his dance persona but still needs a little more push with it. I think he’s fairly introverted as a person–going big with the personality is challenging for people like us, especially when we are called to be performers. He’ll get it, though.

Nigel thought it felt more nightclub than Broadway–that the transitions felt corny and their chemistry wasn’t right. Josh isn’t the only one who’s gonna club you for saying that….. *eye roll* Paula dubbed them the perfect technical partnership, but agreed with Nigel that something was a bit off with the feeling of the piece. Jason also missed the chemistry with the pair, and thought Jim lacked the strength expected of a leading man persona. However, he thought Gaby “oozed with greatness” in this performance, as opposed to his opinion of her earlier duet.

Megz and Hailee – Contemporary
Choreographer Stacey Tookey (Song: Sarajevo, Max Richter & Sara Leonard)

Two inseparable sisters being torn apart and forced to say their final goodbyes. Both coaches and choreographer are stressing the importance of balancing strength and elegance in both ladies.

These are two of the most physically powerful female dancers in this season’s cast, so it’s interesting to see them temper that power with the fragility asked of them. It’s a very delicate balancing act, especially considering the number of partnering moves that require said strength. For the most part, they balance it well, but there were some parts of their characterizations I wasn’t quite certain of their intent.

Paula thought they did a very nice job and that Stacey played well to both of their strengths. Jason said it was a beautiful and solid performance, and was particularly impressed with Megz as he could clearly see her intention as she moved. Nigel was also impressed with both girls, marveled at Hailee’s final emotive collapse at the end and at Megz’s overall growth, giving her solo high praise. Almost made that girl all verklempt, Nigel….

Virgil and JaJa – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: If You Crump Stand Up, edIT)

These two come straight out of the storybooks…”through the hip-hop looking glass” in Cat’s words. So basically JaJa in Wonderland…..you’ve got the right two for that.

I had to mentally reset the minute the song came on, because if I remember correctly that was Fik-shun’s audition piece. As it is, Virgil reminds me so much of him in personality, so I had to force myself to focus on the story in front of me. Fortunately, in The Amazing Tales of JaJa and Virgil, that was not a difficult task. I hope there’s room on that tour truck for this big ass book….

Jason thought they did a great job but not “through the roof” good. Nigel was reminded of Paula’s “Opposites Attract” dance duet with MC Skat Kat. Paula called them a jolt of electricity and the most affable performers on the stage, but did advise them to be mindful of embracing the musicality.

I did a Periscope before last week’s show in which I predicted the final four to all two members of my audience. And I made the right call. Based on tonight’s performances–and the solos in particular–Jim and Megz should still be in the running. But looking at the overall picture based on the entire season’s performances and the contestants the audience tends to gravitate toward, they were the only logical choices to go. The greatest thing is that we’ll not only get to see them on Tour, but I believe their development as dancers is going to be astronomical and very fruitful.

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So it’s down to easily the four biggest personalities in the competition–Virgil, JaJa, Hailee and Gaby. This is going to be one high energy finale!

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Clash of the Titans: SYTYCD Season 12, Week 7 Hollywood

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The cream is rising to the top–we’re getting down to the big decision about who is America’s favorite dancer, and the kids are dancing at levels of epic proportion.

Top 8 Group – Contemporary
Choreographer Tyce Diorio (Song: Lilies Of The Valley, Piña soundtrack)

I saw this and said it was Sonya weird but they’d never do her two weeks in a row, so that left Tyce. And I was right. Addams Family meets Matilda, and it felt like that Chaplin number from Season 9.

Team Street is at 53% in the votes and beats Team Street for the third week in a row.

Virgil (with All-Star Jasmine Harper) – African Jazz
Choreographer Sean Cheesman (Song: Kintamani (Hanoman’s Forest Mix), Transglobal Underground)

Virgil is trying to pull Jasmine to the dark side. And he has to lift her….where is Evan Kasprzak when you need him?

There’s a definite Vodou feel to this piece. But that child couldn’t be evil if he tried….and boy did he try. Those moves were on point, though.

Nigel said–after apologizing to both Jasmine and Sasha for the Misty Blue gaffe last week–that Virgil hadn’t had a bad week yet on the show, and this week is no exception. Paula barely sidestepped another ribbing from her cohorts when she told Virgil that “size doesn’t matter,” gracefully continuing that he’s mastered the art of fun and it’s evident in how he dances with so much joy. Jason agrees, but gives the note that Virgil’s sinister comes off more comedic.

Cat got tired of Virgil peeking behind him and just handed him the card this week to open himself….good thing he was safe.

Dance recital videos! First up is Jim in a pink tuxedo, handing out roses to the girls. Awww!

Solo: The Four Seasons: Summer, Antonio Vivaldi

Jim channels his inner Nijinsky and adds a little Chehon flair. A lot more aggression from him this week….and that side of him works as well.

Derek (with All-Star Jaimie Goodwin) – Contemporary
Choreographer Tyce Diorio (Song: Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, Stevie Wonder)

Two broken souls who have lost that magical thing that they had….a dance Travis is hoping that Tyce will continue to bring out Derek’s emotional side.

I didn’t feel much until the very end. I don’t think it had anything to do with Derek as much as it didn’t read through the choreography. It was a little too pretty, with small moments of feeling. Well danced, mind you, but not a breathtaking heart-tugging piece.

Paula is proud and impressed, though, and apparently saw things I didn’t. Jason thought he did a good job AND saw the improvement but didn’t believe the feeling. Nigel sides with Jason, asking Derek to give in to his vulnerability a lot more.

Derek is in the bottom again, the first of Team Stage tonight.

JaJa’s first recital was more like a living room performance for the family, but we see her here in her very first competition…which she won. Such an underachiever, our JaJa…..

Solo: Hype City, Tighteyez

Oh we’re krumping AND doing music too, Tighteyez? OK then….and a wildly appropriate tune for her. She seriously danced for her life right there, rivaling her predecessors Mariah Spears and Russell Ferguson.

Hailee (with All-Star DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagal) – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Luther Brown (Song: Let It Go, Chronique Sneed)

All about flavor….not swag, flavor. Luther’s exact words.

Boo swung her around afterwards, so Hailee clearly did a little something here. Whatever bits of swag or flavor she missed she covered with showmanship and confidence, and that made it work for her. She actually pulled focus from Fik-Shun a few times…and that’s hard to do.

Jason thought the routine was incredible, and thought the flavor Hailee brought was chicken and waffles variety–some sweet, some hot sauce and all “party in my mouth.” (That could’ve gone sideways.) Nigel loved the flavor and the chemistry, and praises Hailee for her stellar ability every week. Paula calls her a dynamic performer and predicts a long-lasting and fruitful career.

I’m utterly shocked that Hailee is the second dancer in the bottom for Team Stage, but I seriously doubt even with the Web popularity that she’s leaving before Derek.

Gaby was a crier. Awww! Though in my experience as a dancer teacher, the criers turned out to be the most dedicated dancers later on.

Solo: Oye Como Va, Santana

¡CALIENTE! Honestly, with the tenacity shown from the first audition rejection through the versatility she’s displayed on the stage, I’d be hard-pressed to say she’s not going to be one of the Final Two.

Megz (with All-Star Paul Karmiryan) – Paso Doble
Choreographer Jean-Marc Genereux (Song: Blade of Blood, Tom Player)

“Now this should be interesting.” -Cat Deeley

Indeed. And I’ve been waiting for it. Checking her bio on the show’s website, Megz’s parents are skilled ballroom dancers. Her dance concentration went a little left of that, but genes usually foster some surprises, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Megz has in her back pocket for this one. Jean-Marc wants a “passion doble– passionate like the Argentine tango and quick like flamenco, but with modern and contemporary movement. And it’s currently kicking Megz’s fanny in this rehearsal footage.

And it’s still kicking her fanny. The family business did not pass into her, or she was trying too hard. The slump in her shoulders distracted me, and it looked like an underrehearsed pro-am routine. This dance led her around the floor instead of the other way around.

The tentative smile and sigh from Jean-Marc says everything…..

Nigel recognized that she gave her 100% but it wasn’t strong enough and spotlighted her lack of formal training. Paula agrees but appreciates her unparalleled intensity and fire, and advises her to improve her core strength. Jason concurs and says her intensity morphed into tension and pulled the audience away from the total performance.

Megz is in danger for Team Street again this week.

Young Derek was a last-minute addition into a cheerleading/tumbling type number. Moms was impressed but Derek thought he was horrible. That boss straddle split says otherwise, mayn….

Solo: Two Men In Love, The Irrepressibles

Now THAT was letting go and throwing your emotions into a piece! If solos could save, Derek would have a strong chance.

Neptune (with All-Star Kayla Radomsky) – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: Infinity, The xx)

Ray displays a couple reuniting after having been broken up for a long time.

Um….Fik-Shun and Amy, anyone? The identical overall look aside, Neptune displayed the same level of excellence in performing the technique his coach was so worried about him grasping, and his emotional growth has skyrocketed.

Paula also sees the exponential growth and is pleased, but does warn his that his lack of technical prowess is showing. Jason thought Neptune struggled a bit and also pointed out the technical weaknesses. Nigel is more encouraging, telling Neptune that if he seeks out more training that he has the potential to be a well sought-after professional dancer.

And like Megz before him, he’s also in the bottom two. Same tough choice, different week.

OH MY GOD, THREE YEAR OLD VIRGIL DANCING ON THE BACK STAIRS AT THE FAMILY BARBECUE IS TOO FREAKING ADORABLE! This could definitely be a vote clincher right here.

Solo: i, Kendrick Lamar

Bigger stoop, same attitude. Can you stand all this cute?!?

Jim (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke) – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde (Song: Hey Mama, David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha & Afrojack)

Brush off your Greek mythology–we have the tale of Medusa and Perseus in a hip-hop. Jim has his previous hip-hop with Megz and Moises and his comments about lack of connection to overcome.

Not “Get Outta Your Mind” electric but Jim had a better connection, especially considering he couldn’t look at her. The end was a touch weak….I mean, if you’re gonna chop off a Gorgon’s head, put some oomph into it. But good overall.

Jason applauds Jim for going for the energy but says he’s still not quite embodying hip-hop yet. Nigel agrees to a degree, as he loved the routine and the concept, but felt a little uncomfortable with the swag, as it were. Paula thinks the routine was so loaded that it didn’t allow Jim to breathe in it, and that added to the forced lack of connection caused a complete separation for her.

Fortunately for Jim, the two Stage dancers in jeopardy have already been announced, so he’s on to the Top 6.

Poor little Hailee got Chumbawumba’ed….got in the crosshairs of the older group of dancers and they knocked her down hard. Hurting and crying, she valiantly did her solo part, though…what a trooper. Good job matey! (I HAD to….)

Solo: Vanguardian, Steed Lord

Looking like Madonna and throwing in tricks like Blake McGrath, this was really frenetic, and not a complement to the duet she did earlier. But the votes are already in, so we’ll see….

Gaby (with All-Star Robert Roldan) – Contemporary
Choreographer Mandy Moore (Song: Angel, Sarah McLachlan)

Mandy’s back! This piece is about anxiety one can feel in the unknown….Gaby’s the anxiety and Robert is the comforting force.

Alright, exactly WHO is the All-Star again?!? It’s going to take a serious online vote campaign to keep Gaby from being the first tapper to win this show. That first busted audition has fired her up into the dance stratosphere, where every performance is a dance for her life. That was, dare I say, Alison Holker worthy.

And judging from the standing ovation on the panel, I’m about to hear a lot more of the same.

Nigel: “To say that that is in a class of its own tonight is not actually telling you how absolutely brilliant you were….Outstanding.”

Paula: “….You were world class–completely, unequivocally, one million percent.”

Jason:  “You’re not missing anything, you just get it. And stars get it….you’re going to become something that surpassed what I thought.”

If we didn’t already know she was in, this would have done it….and if she hadn’t been the backlash would have been EPIC. At least from around these parts.

Our young Megz was NOT feeling that pink tutu over the bike shorts….but she and her brother did their thing.

Solo: Delirious (Boneless), Steve Aoki, Chris Lake & Tujamo featuring Kid Ink

A little stronger this week, save the backwards worm attempts. Fascinating there was a pink sports bra under all that black……

JaJa (with All-Star Ricky Ubeda) – Broadway
Choreographer Al Blackstone (Song: Let’s Face The Music And Dance, Nat King Cole)

Somebody is either on vacation or at the end of his run in On The Town, because our reigning champ is here to trip the light fantastic with our ever-surprising JaJa.

“This is what happens when a smooth-talking mobster and his feisty wife get arrested and thrown into a holding cell.” -Al Blackstone

Oh dear…..I believe JaJa can do feisty but little Baby Face Ricky a gangster? Hmmm…..

If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear Finding Neverland let Melanie Moore have the night off, too…..I see you JaJa! That was so smooth and suave and fun I’m not even going to mention the unnecessary tutting y’all threw in there.

The judges are standing again….Paula says JaJa embodies character more than any other contestant. Jason agreed and is just as surprised as Paula at her transformation into an all-around, consummate dancer. Nigel thought JaJa reminded him of Amy Adams (and I can see that) and said that she has done remarkably well no matter what style of dance she’s been given.

Is she safe? Ja, Ja! (Again, I HAD to….)

No video, but Neptune got his first spotlight at his dad’s wedding reception. Judging from the photos, he was a real cutie.

Solo: Get Big, Dorrough

Started off Fik-Shun and Cyrus and closed out Russell. Dancewise, that’s a potent combination, but a hard thing to transition in the face. The Virgil charm would have suited him well here.

Team Street group dance Choreographer Dave Scott (Song: Finna Get Loose, Puff Daddy and The Family featuring Pharrell Williams)

On the block on the hottest day of the summer….seems appropriate.

That’s why they’re the Top 4 on Team Street. Best of the best.

Team Stage group dance – Contemporary
Choreographer Tessandra Chavez (Give Me Love, Ed Sheeran)

A story about two couples in an addictive and desperate relationship.

Jim was really feeling it, but you couldn’t see as much until the last close-up. Derek threw everything he had into this one, and might have borrowed some of Jim’s, because this is the freest he’s ever been on stage. The girls were a draw–each had their moments.

I got spoilers, so I knew Neptune was going. But I didn’t expect Derek to come to the end of his run. I figured pitted against Hailee she’d be the victor, but Derek did manage some incredible growth tonight.  The Megz/Neptune decision was a tough emotional call. Neptune’s skill had really come up, and Megz had a couple of rough weeks, so I am actually surprised Megz got the pass this week.

One more week before the Final Four face off for the ultimate title!

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Js up! SYTYCD Season 12, Week 6 Hollywood

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It’s Top 10 week, which means the All-Stars are coming out to play now! It’s also a week for triple J news: JJ is injured, J-Lo is offering a dance spot in her Vegas show as part of the prize pot, and J. Smollett and company (AKA the cast of Empire) are the soundtrack for tonight’s contestant solos. Js up, yo!

More in-depth bios on the contestants this week.

Virgil – Conqueror (from the Empire soundtrack)
Pulled out his full bag of tricks, but it looked a little incohesive.

Hailee (with All-Star Brandon Bryant) – Broadway
Choreographer Warren Carlyle  (Song: It Don’t Mean A Thing  (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga)

Quirky, jazzy and fast–a tap dance without the shoes…at least according to Warren.

This isn’t Hailee’s style. Don’t get me wrong, she danced the hell out of it…I’m just not fond of the way it sits on her. This uptempo, classic style doesn’t seem to fit her personality, but she kept up well with both the music and her partner.

“Liza Gaga” as a nickname, Nigel? I can half see that. Makes the music selection that much more ironic. He thought it was a great routine and that Hailee is an exquisite individual in her own right. Paula said she was throwback Liza and radiated from every angle, taking her breath away. Jason recognized her combination of ability and energy and also dubbed her star material.

Hailee is SO safe. The bar is set high tonight.

Neptune – Power of the Empire (from the Empire soundtrack)
Song bodied and embodied. I like.

Derek (with All-Star Kayla Radomsky) – Jazz
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores  (Song: Got It, Marian Hill)

Sexy vibe is required tonight from Derek.

I got the power and male aggression from Derek but I can’t say sexy came across for certain. He was definitely exerting control in that number but no thoughts were made impure in the dancing of this piece. Again, though, the technique was razor sharp.

Paula said Derek’s strength prevailed and his technique is triumphant, with her only note being to better finesse a balance between his partner and the audience in getting his passion across. Jason noted that Derek fed off Kayla’s energy and produced a different side to his personality tonight, but needs to channel it when not in the partner moments as well. Nigel thought Derek was great support and started to come through from the background, holding his own with Kayla as the dance progressed.

Derek is the first of Team Stage in the bottom. (two from each team tonight, and it looks like no Twitter saves are in play.)

Gaby – Can’t Truss Em (from the Empire soundtrack)
Nice blend of rhythm and tricks, and glad to finally see her in her own style.

JJ gets her bio aired even though she can’t dance tonight. She’s in the bottom this week, and should she survive gets to do it all again next week, being automatically sent to the bottom.

Virgil (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke) – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song: Just My Imagination  (Running Away With Me), The Temptations)

“Two very serious dancers.” Christopher, how you even THOUGHT that with a straight face boggles the mind. The two are a couple spending their first night together in their new apartment. Coach tWitch is trying to pull big brother rank but I’m wondering if he’s having bed flashbacks from his season….. Well, at least Comfort is unpacking this time, and under happier circumstances.

They are just too daggone cute.

Jason said the dance was a cool breeze on a hot summer day in Hollywood, and cold Virgil the one to beat. (Pause… Is that Whoopi Goldberg in the audience? Well damn.) Nigel thinks Virgil came out of the womb born to dance and born to entertain, and handled the difficult moves with great ease. Paula calls Virgil enjoyable to watch and wants to know what size batteries he runs on. AA, in case you were wondering.

This Energizer bunny is going to keep going and going….he’s safe.

OK, Cat…Virgil’s happy dance? THAT you’re allowed to do.

JaJa – Keep It Movin’ (from the Empire soundtrack)
I’m still salty you didn’t make Season 11, JaJa. But I do agree that the year wait was better for you.  Clever choice of lyrics and moves for this song.

Megz (with All-Star Marko Germar) – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: Canned Heat, Jamiroquai)

A “That’s my jam!” jazz dance….this is gonna be fun.

The last jazz to Canned Heat (and that might have been Ray’s, too) did not go over well. This one was a lot more fun but I sensed less energy in Megz’s performance than in the rehearsal footage. I think she played it cool a little too long, and some of her transitions were bumpy because of it. Plus the usual palpable energy was not as strong tonight. I hope this piece does enough for her.

Nigel loved it and loves that Megz owns her personality and stands out with it. He does give her a note on increasing her flexibility, but states that the performance cannot be faulted. Paula says the number was fun and Megz was magnificent, with infectious energy. Jason thinks Megz has catapulted herself into a top contender on the show.

Megz is the second Team Street dancer in danger. Things will be thrown if I don’t see her next week.

Jim – You’re So Beautiful (from the Empire soundtrack)
Light and fun, with all that gorgeous technique thrown in for good measure.

Edson (with All-Star Jaimie Goodwin) – Contemporary
Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Your Day Will Come, Son Lux)

Edson is the force trying to keep Jaimie from losing all hope and drifting toward the light. This is Coach Travis’s attempt to push Edson’s boundaries and performance personality even further.

GODDAMMIT TRAVIS! Lord, those lines were beautiful….and Edson really pulled something from deep within to connect with that piece. Standing ovation well deserved.

After a bit of fluttering and stuttering, Nigel lauds Edson for the best work he has done on the show thus far, calling the routine very strong. Paula agrees, calling tonight’s performance a game changer for him, and marveling at his strong presence, his effortless transitions, and his exquisite lifts. She hails the duet as magical. Jason agrees that today was Edson’s breakout this evening, and other than noting a small bobble on one left, agrees with his fellow judges wholeheartedly.

Even with this stellar performance, Edson joins Derek in the bottom two for Team Stage. If all is aligned properly in the heavens, this performance should save him for next week. However, Derek has a very strong Internet following, so I’m very worried about this one.

Hailee – Nothing To Lose  (from the Empire soundtrack)
Lots of desperation in that solo–it’s a good thing her All-Star duet was first. Or maybe that’s why I’m not knocked out by it. I don’t know…..

Young Hailee and young JaJa look eerily similar. I’m just saying.

Neptune (with All-Star Jasmine Harper) – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde (Song: Milk Was A Bad Choice, Yultron)

I see furniture. The last time I saw furniture and hip-hop was involved was tWitch and Sasha Mallory in Misty Blue. A lot to live up to already. Uh-oh….Frankenstein and his bride are spatting this time. Curiouser and curiouser……

Good pairing. Off-the-wall choreography and bananas energy. So many previous numbers I can compare this to… the aforementioned Misty Blue and a duet done by Jasmine Mason featuring a regal couple. There were a couple of bumpy transitions between the pair, but it was really fun to watch and they hit all their points.

Jason said it was crazy–when you’re speechless to the point of trying not to work the censors overtime on live TV, you know he thought it was good. He thought the pair danced at the highest level and that Neptune is also one to beat in the competition. Nigel loves the theatricality and the “buckness.” I swear Nigel is so cute when he tries to talk street…. Paula marvels at how Neptune improves every week, and was equally yoked in his partnership with Jasmine tonight. She dubbed it “a marriage made in Transylvania.” (Nope, nope, NOPE. Nice Misty Blue mention, Nigel, but that was NOT Jasmine. Give Sasha her props.)

We already know the two in the bottom for this week, so the rest of the contestants are just dancing for next week’s glory. Neptune moves on.

Derek – Drip Drop (from the Empire soundtrack)
That solo was BOSS. I enjoyed it. The end wasn’t designed for a fully lit stage, so it looked a little incomplete, but it was very well crafted. This might just balance the scales with Edson if it has any effect on the outcome.

Jim (with All-Star Jessica Richens) – Contemporary
Choreographer Dee Caspary (Song: Heal, Tom Odell)

A young man dealing with internal conflict, and a young woman who doesn’t want him to have to deal with it alone. One of the first times we have seen Jim out of his comfort zone, probably partially because of last week’s injury as well as the movement of this piece being foreign to what he is used to.

I’m really starting to like and understand Dee’s work a lot better now. He has still put out some oddball pieces, but I really like this one, and Jim seemed to get a grasp on the movement much better than he did in rehearsal. He certainly internalized the character very well, and matched Jessica’s movements well.

Nigel thought it was a beautiful routine and again tells Jim that his technique is flawless but he needs to release it a little in order to fully immerse himself into characterization and connection. Paula agrees and advises Jim to trust his gut  instincts. Jason made it unanimous, remarking that the weakness in connection kept him from enjoying the routine as much as he felt he should have.

Jim has another week to work on it, and hopefully have a breakthrough in that area.

Megz – No Apologies (from the Empire soundtrack)
I would not have recognized Megz from any Season 5 clips. She needed time and seasoning as well.

The solo was fierce but really heavy. Her personality sat way back for the first time this season, and it’s probably largely due to the pressure and the nerves. I hope she has another week.

JaJa (with All-Star Alex Wong) – Bollywood
Choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan (Song: Naacho Re, Jai Ho soundtrack)

JaJa is a princess who escapes her palace and bumps into the palace guard in her excursion out. Another week of bringing out the girlie within.

Well damn, JaJa….somebody had their sassy juice this morning. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with 70s musician and personality Charo, but JaJa was channeling her in spades. I didn’t know she had that much flirty in her. Not to mention they gave her knee spins–not a typically female move, but she breezed right through them. I loved it! (And yay for Alex getting through yet another Bollywood routine unscathed!)

Paula’s quotable of the day: “[Jaja] you’re a firecracker and a sweet dream all at the same time.” She believed JaJa nailed the character and has proven her versatility among dance styles. Jason called her a chameleon and thought she more than matched up to her All-Star partner’s level. Nigel confirms my eyesight and makes a joke/reference to Ms. Whoop in the audience….who is evidently a huge JaJa fan. Go figure. Nigel calls her a princess of dance and is amazed how she transforms herself for every single routine.

Edson – I Just Wanna Love You (from the Empire soundtrack)

Hey now….that was kinda sexy suave right there. And just enough razzle dazzle to show you off. The solos are a draw for him and Derek.

Gaby (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde (Song: I’m Really Hot, Missy Elliott)

Geisha and ninja doing hip-hop….don’t judge a book by its cover, Mr. Man. Underestimating the beautiful can be deadly.

TOUR!!!!!!!!!!!! (Neptune, get ready to learn this, boo….) Gaby took on the Season 4 champion and knocked him out. It was like Mulan from the ‘Hood, with a dash of Kill Bill thrown in. Some of the twerk moves need a little more looseness, but everything that was sharp and precise was hit with as much deadly accuracy as those imaginary throwing stars. Travis said in the package that this was the kind of routine that could walk her through the finale. I wouldn’t doubt it.

Cat tells Gaby that she couldn’t love her any more with every fiber of her being, and Jason fully agreed….and also appreciated the twerk moments as well. Nigel pronounces this his favorite episode of the season and says the caliber of dancing from everyone is going to make it difficult to separate the pack. However, he does qualify with his “favorites” being JaJa and Gaby, so I guess it’s safe to say he loved it. Paula is slayed as well, and enjoys Gaby’s ability to master all the styles given to her while maintaining her feminine power and old-school swagger.

This routine may well carry her a couple of weeks. She definitely gets the next one.

Now on to the grizzly business of sending someone home…..*pauses TiVo*

All of them have their pluses dancewise, but if the vote goes the way I think it will based on Internet presence, the two I really want to stay are leaving this week. *unpause*

Hmmmm…..it’s a split vote. Megz stays but Edson goes, giving Derek a pass and sending the injured JJ out without a chance for redemption. I’m sad that she goes out like that but she’d have been my bottom choice of the Street team anyway. I think Edson gave everything and then some these last two weeks and should have stayed. Derek’s fans are helping to carry him, but he’s got to find a breakthrough quickly.

Three weeks left to discover America’s favorite dancer, and the race is the closest it’s ever been.

Three shows closer to a champion now….the field is closer than ever and the outcome more up in the air. Who’s gonna take it all?

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Ladies’ Night Out: SYTYCD Season 12, Week 5 Hollywood

Double eliminations this week as we shape up who’s moving into the Top 10!

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Top 14 group
Choreographer Brian Friedman (Song: 100% Pure Love, Crystal Waters)

A Vogue from the VMAs look. I like it. I had to look up Brian’s bio to double check–if he was in that, he was the tallest, most mature-looking 13 year old EVER. I can’t believe that performance is 25 years old! Love what the kids did with it.

Team Street get 53% tonight!

This week is the 20 second question round! Let the hilarity ensue!

Jim and Yorelis – Contemporary
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh (Song: Asht, Nebulo)

Jim was injured during rehearsal (and wasn’t in that group dance), but was cleared to perform his duet with Yorelis. Because I was TOTES confused when he came out during intros…..the theme is a power play.

Strong work. It’s like Sonya just painted this work onto their bodies. Jim actually reminded me of Cole Horibe in given moments. Yorelis proves that though she might have moved her focus to street styles, her technique is well-rounded and in full force.

Nigel appreciates that Yorelis was given the chance to shine and display her versatility in this piece, and praises Jim as one of the best technical dancers in the show’s history….but cautions him to hone his personality, performance and connection, as the best technical dancers have not always been the people’s champions. Paula lauds their ability to handle the strength, power and intensity of the piece and thought the pair complemented each other. Jason appreciated the synergy and technical prowess from both dancers.

Jim is safe, Yorelis is in danger.

Edson and JaJa – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Misha Gabriel (Song: She Came To Give It To You, Usher featuring Nicki Minaj)

Edson wins for sneaking an IaMmE reference into the 20 second round.

The pair are funky, edgy models taking the fashion world by storm….a runway show with a remix to it.

Stuck-up, sexy JaJa…..even JaJa’s not seeing that. Edson’s confidence in his swag is flagging, too.

This season’s Blurred Lines. Not quite the attitude from Sexyback (maybe Edson should have consulted Coach Travis?), but well performed and lots of energy.

Paula thought it was a fun routine and made an intricate routine look breezy,  found Edson’s swag and thought JaJa blended the fierce technique and flirty ‘tude perfectly. Jason thought the routine was a little basic, particularly for this stage of the competition, cool but no standout “wow” moments. (Hope he had someone check his car before he left.) Nigel agrees with Jason and thought it was too big for his taste, as opposed to the contained cool the style usually displays.

America voted the pair into the Top 10.

Hailee and Virgil – Contemporary
Choreographer Tyce Diorio (Song: Cellophane, Sia)

Hailee as crazy, obsessed girlfriend who won’t let go. She’s channeling her dance crush on Virgil to tap into the dark, reckless feel of this piece. Virgil is also going to have to internalize the usual megawatt charm to pull off his part.

I’m seeing part Joshua and part Fik-Shun in Virgil’s performance. The intense energy is definitely subdued, but it fits the piece. I can easily see Sia or even Pink calling Hailee in the future for one of their videos. That last drag across the stage said everything.

Jason felt the recklessness in the piece and appreciated the 180 degree turn from Virgil in the persona portrayed. Nigel loves the material and the characters, and enjoyed Hailee’s transformation. Nigel thought Virgil’s character was terrific but it exposed his lack of technique. Paula countered, saying it was more that Virgil’s dramatic turnaround in the face of Hailee’s intensity and draw dimmed his usual magnetic exuberance.

Y’all in the Top 10, too. We already knew.

Alexia and Ariana – Burlesque Jazz
Choreographers Tracy Phillips and Dominic Carbone (Song: Circus Fish, Vermilion Lies)

Sexy fish….alrighty then.

It was weird. It was definitely weird. Weird’s not necessarily a bad thing, though…I thought they nailed what they were given, give or take a few missed connections. Burlesque is such a varied and misunderstood art form it’s going to be hard for the audience to grasp. And now that I know they were literally supposed to be fish, I think it was hard for them to embrace and, well, swim in the character with the complex, unfamiliar movements.

Nigel thought it missed the mark a little, starting off in a Liza Minelli/Bob Fosse vein but losing its dark feel with all the smiles. Paula is slightly less brutal (and great gut check on Nigel, girlie!) and recognizes the campy concept, suggesting to the girls that they emulate a performer that embodies what they’re going for, and act as if until you can become. (I’m stealing that mantra, Paula.) Jason opined that it was a little rough, saying that the uncertainty and negative feelings about the piece showed out through the movement and transferred into his perception and enjoyment of it.

Both girls are in danger, and this piece is going to be hard-pressed to win them any votes.

Megz/Derek – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Dave Scott (Song: Worth It, Fifth Harmony featuring Kid Ink)

Female artist in a jazz club is intrigued by an audience member and pulls him onstage. Sooooo……Megz was just gonna keep that trumpet playing card in her back pocket, huh? I tell you what–in addition to some killer dance moves across the board, she is making for some really fascinating TV, and that’s the type of thing that boosts ratings….and votes. They have to loosen Derek up some, though.

They got him looser, though he still needs work on hitting the hip-hop moves. But I felt like I was at a concert witnessing an impromptu on-stage collaboration between artist and fan. I can see Pink calling up Megz, too. That sassy-sexy came out of left field….Megz could easily and strategically maneuver her way into Top 4 with all these surprises she keeps revealing.

Paula says it wasn’t her favorite–though she appreciated the effort–because it wasn’t Derek’s comfort zone (which showed) and Megz did more face-pulling than she would have liked. The nit-picking about the mismatched horn was unnecessary…..we can suspend disbelief, dammit! Jason thought Megz was pretty good, not her worst but OK (can y’all give it a rest about the sax/trumpet conundrum?), and that Derek needs to immerse himself in some research to improve his hip-hop vocabulary and swag. Nigel doesn’t think the routine helped Derek’s standing in the votes, already being in the bottom from last week’s injury. However, he thought Megz was terrific.

So did America….helloooooo, Top 10, Megz.

Gaby/Neptune – Contemporary
Choreographer Stacey Tookey  (Song: Take My Hand, Precious Lord, Ledisi [from the Selma soundtrack])

Neptune, did you REALLY shade that girl’s nose ring as a booger?!? Sir, you’re fired. SMH

Humanity and prejudice….”chasing each other’s trust.” (Neptune, that quote was inspired.)

Timing is everything. Particularly with this show and the placement of the pieces. I think given the current climate in this country with racial tensions and current interactions, this routine could easily be described as this season’s “Woman’s Work.” Both dancers moved in concert with each other, but more importantly fully lived this piece. It’s clearly visible once we see their faces after the performance. Props to the director and the camera operator for the decision to shoot this with one camera and in one take. That made the number that much more powerful.

The judges are standing. Jason is STILL standing as he gives his commentary, calling it unreal and a grade A performance. Nigel calls Gaby his favorite stage dancer this year, and says that she has shined every week. Neptune, in his eyes, has simply transcended to a dancer, with no limitations. Given that Neptune basically poured his life out on the stage and into that performance, I think the rest of us can say the same. Paula is short on time, but also short on words, calling it stunning.

Gaby sails into the Top 10, but Neptune surprisingly is back in the bottom after a few safe weeks. If America wants him to stay, this would be the routine to move them.

JJ/Kate – Jazz
Choreographer Brian Friedman (Song: A Different Beat, Little Mix)

Pin-up jazz….Brian sure loves this sexy/flirty stuff when he gets all girls to work with. I’m here for it, though. Uh-oh….Kate has some twerk in here. Both are struggling with parts, though.

This needed to channel On The Town and any given Katy Perry video, and for the most part JJ got the flirty sass down. Kate was working at it but it looked like it–it didn’t come across as natural. But I think they both did well and conquered their personal weak areas.

(Brian, I sincerely hope none of those pins on your hat are remotely military–I still remember the backlash Mia Michaels got for wearing the upside-down Marine patch on her blouse in Season 3…..)

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Nigel thought their personalities definitely came out but didn’t showcase their abilities as much. Paula suggested not performing so on-the-nose in order to make it look mature and sassy as opposed to leaning toward the adolescent. Jason agreed, but thought the performance was pretty good.

Kate is in danger, but JJ moves on to the Top 10.

I’d honestly forgotten about the double eliminations…..so the Twitter votes are all important tonight, as it solidifies the Top 10. The futures of Alexia, Derek, Kate, Yorelis, Ariana and Neptune hang in the balance….and the judges have no say.

Team Stage group dance – Contemporary
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh (Song: Lift Me, The Bengsons)

Based on all the emotions that happen within the first few moments you receive tragic news, each of the dancers should have some experience they can tap into. (All-Star Robert Roldan steps into the group number for the injured Jim.)

This had a very Alvin Ailey “I’ve Been ‘Buked” feeling to it…the feeling of despair and desperation is palpable. The sincerity Sonya was looking for definitely came through.

Team Street group dance – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: Dragula, Rob Zombie)

Welcome to the Freakshow Carnival…..cue Ryan Murphy, as this one number covers all the bases of his two latest successful ventures.

Freaky as hell. Virgil was way too cute a clown for the dark nature of this piece (as cute as clowns can go). But folks definitely latched onto their characters while slapping the life out of that choreography. (I had a slightly saltier version but I try to use my cuss words judiciously.)

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Twitter saves allow Derek and Neptune to round out the Top 10, leaving Kate, Ariana, Alexia and Yorelis out in the cold…but hopefully the swing realm. Personally the Team Street vote was an impossible choice–Yorelis, Ariana and Neptune are three of the strongest dancers PERIOD. The emotional pull from Neptune’s turn on tonight’s stage may have elevated him this time. As for the Stage crew, each had their flubs, so I’m guessing Derek had the strongest Internet presence to pull him out of the fire. Not at all pleased with the Street result but that’s who was up for the vote this week. I didn’t have any strong attachments to the Stage dancers in jeopardy, but logistically Derek was probably the best choice of the three given their existing body of work on the show.

Next week brings in the All-Stars….and turns up the heat. Now the competition really kicks in as they fight for the title.

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Thinning The Herd: SYTYCD Season 12, Week 4 Hollywood

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This is the last week for contestants to still make the Tour.

Top 16 group

Choreographers Nick Flores and RJ Durell stage a Goth fashion show…..Enough said.
(Song: Love Is Free, Robyn & La Bagatello Magique featuring Maluca)

Intro had 15 dancers–where’s Derek? He was injured in rehearsal and is on mandatory medical rest. He will automatically be in the bottom for next week’s show–if he’s not voted out.

Team Street is coming up–49.5% to Team Stage’s 50.5%. tWitch and tWavis do a lovely pas de deux.

Oh goody…..we’re now into the dancer interview question phase….

JaJa and Hailee – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: Endangered Species, Dianne Reeves)

[JaJa’s engaged and Hailee is not a natural blonde…kind of a hair chameleon like Lacey Schwimmer.]

Ray is choreographing the two female powerhouses in a female empowerment piece.

Hail-Ja….they’ve dubbed themselves Hail-Ja. And they’re dancing to Dianne Reeves. Did they kill it? HAIL-JA! JaJa is looking more Stage every week, and Hailee clearly has the ability to adapt seamlessly to all styles.

Nigel agrees with the powerhouse label, and says Hailee is pulling the majority of the focus. He says JaJa is the most interesting street dancer, and her technique is growing exponentially. Paula said is brilliant to watch JaJa’s growth from her first audition, and remarks on Hailee’s radiance. Jason says it’s a great opener to the show, and praises JaJa for her progress. However, he does caution her about lengthening her extensions. Hailee he dubs a star.

If they hadn’t already been voted safe by the audience, this dance certainly would have secured it.

Neptune and Alexia – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Dave Scott (Song: Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh), Rich Homie Quan)

Neptune’s a daddy and Alexia has a blind toy poodle. Reminds me of a friend’s dearly departed pup Ginger.

Dave crafts a crazy love story, and Alexia has to come up to Neptune’s level here. They must literally mean crazy, because they’ve also incorporated a padded wall into the routine. Didn’t Travis use the wall a few seasons back with Sasha? Let’s see how it works for hip-hop.

OK, they are seriously flying over the cuckoo’s nest with this one. Immediately I get vibes of Beautiful, Mia Michaels’ quirky wedding piece performed by Mark and Chelsea from Season 4. Alexia almost has Witney Carson level swag in this, while Neptune is clearly swimming with the sharks and thriving. I could see this going on tour.

Paula was impressed with their commitment to the insanity of the characters, and thought it was quirky and  weird and loved it.  Jason believe Neptune is very important to Team Street’s success, and thanks Alexia is improving as well. He thought Dave Scott’s concept for the dance was brilliant. Nigel agrees with the commentary on the kids’ performances.

After such an amazing performance, the pair is relieved to both be safe.

JJ is solo going into the break, so I gather she was to dance with Derek in a Miriam and Leonardo Argentine tango….

JJ and Derek – Argentine Tango
Choreographers Miriam Larici and Leonardo Buenonuevos (Song: Duo De Amor, Astor Piazzelle)

Derek is adopted; JJ LOVES her topknot.

Portraying a couple being alone for the first time, this promises to be steamy. However, as we see in the Day 2 footage, Derek has sprained his back from all the lifts….the muscle next to his spine, to be specific. So naturally, Leonardo is stepping in tonight.

JJ did well, especially with the emotional side of the performance. No Mary to zero in on the intricacies of the technique, but she looked like she was working very hard at hitting all the lines and foot placements.

Jason said she brought sexy back, and that she held her own given the circumstances. Nigel said she was a credit to her team, and had Mary been in attendance, she would have been on the Hot Tamale train. Paula said it was a beautiful routine and she had an incredible transformation this week.

As we know, Derek will be in danger next week if he comes back, but as it stands this week both of them are in danger anyway.

Jim and Ariana – Contemporary
Choreographer Sean Cheesman (Song: Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Lorde)

Ariana loves special effects makeup and Jim loves therapeutic bubble baths. I’m not mad at him.

Sean is displayed a battle with depression, with Ariana as the depression and Jim as the person battling it. Given my family experiences recently, this should cut pretty close.

Lorde, I like you, but I don’t know if I want you fooling with this particular song. However, the tone of your version went very well with this piece, combined with the costuming and the lighting. Arianna and Jim we’re in great sync the entire time, and carried the emotional weight of this piece elegantly. Reminiscent of the wild horses piece from season 8 And the rigid and Emilio piece from last season.

Judging from the standing ovation from this judges panel, these reviews are to be pretty good. Nigel thought they connected to the message very well and put rated brilliantly, and is at a loss as to why Ariana has not connected with the audience. (Me too.) He also tells Jim that his work was effortless in his portrayal. Paula thinks the piece showcases the breadth of their development as dancers, and is very pleased with both of their growth. Jason is equally blown away by Ariana and her ability to match her partner’s stage technique, well giving high praise to Jim’s technical prowess.

Again, again, Jim is safe but Ariana is in danger. I’m really getting sick of America on this one.

Gaby and Virgil – Broadway
Choreographer Al Blackstone (Where Or When, Sammy Davis, Jr.)

Virgil has a jazz band and Gaby has Food Network Star aspirations….she just can’t cook.

Two New Yorkers who literally bump into each other on the streets and feel like they’ve met before. “Character Olympics” is the new phrase of the day. Let’s see how much radiates from these two hams.

And Gabi gets to tap….awesome.

Virgil has some pretty good moves there, channeling Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, and even a little bit of their singing namesake. Clearly those years on stage have helped his performance a lot. He and Gaby took the Character Olympics to an entirely different level. Dynamic number from the two of them.

Paula is ecstatic and calls them both a great day at Disneyland. She actually tells Virgil he looks like Sammy Davis Jr., and says that Gabi is well rounded and well versed in the competition. Jason says Virgil breathes life into every performance, and that both of them did an amazing job. He also agrees that both have a wide breadth of ability, but cautions the taller Gabi to “act larger” when dancing next to Virgil’s megawatts personality. Nigel disagrees with Jason, saying that the two were a powerhouse couple in that regard, and matched each other perfectly.

Both are safe, though we pretty much knew that on Virgil side. But Gaby was pretty much a shoe-in.

Kate and Asaf – Jazz
Choreographer Sean Cheesman (Song: Braveheart, Neon Jungle)

Asaf? Doughnuts and peanut butter? At the same time?!? Kate, on the other hand, was the target of an attempted kidnapping as a four year old by a serial killer. The phrase, “you just can’t make this stuff up” just seems inadequate…..

The couple at the club that IS the “in” club…. this week we are struggling with Asaf’s ability to lift Kate. Both coaches step in to try to help him build his skills so that the piece looks good and Kate doesn’t get hurt.

Eh. He tried. She was going gangbusters, too. I just wasn’t feeling it. Kate’s technique is insane, though.

Jason called it a good performance, which doesn’t bode well. He thought Kate was awesome, and that Asaf has improved but still has a good way to go. Nigel thought that Kate did a great job with connecting as well as with her technique, and Nigel throws in the name pun, saying he danced his “ass off.” Paula thought they both worked very well together, and also agrees that he improved significantly from last week.

Both are in the bottom again, so we’ll see what happens.

Marissa and Yorelis – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song: Let Go, Kezwik featuring Mimi Page)

Marissa was a power tumbler, and Yorelis is a club go-go dancer.

Yorelis hypnotizes Marissa to bring her to the Street side….

Marissa is still a little too precise for me, but I believe Yorelis mentioned something in the package about her style being less fluid. So I could be wrong about that. Both are definitely hitting the choreography, I’m just not sure how much of the vibe they caught. Christopher is smiling, though….

Nigel but Marissa was terrific, but cautioned her about matching flow.  He thought Yorelis’s flow was excellent, and that the peer did well together. Paula also thought they did well as a team, and thought Yorelis nailed the entire performance. Jason thought it was a really good performance, but given the scope of the competition, he thought the routine could have used a little more intensity.

Yorelis is safe and Marissa is the final Stage dancer in the bottom 6.

So Megz and Edson get to perform with no pressure.

Megz and Edson – Contemporary
Choreographer Talia Favia (Song: You There, Aquilo)

Edson has been a cheerleader since age 10 and even coaches teams. His team spirit has even led him to create a Team Stage cheer. How cute! Megz has a shoe fetish–378 pairs that she obsesses over.

This routine is about temptation and being extremely intrigued buy it. Megz is reaching for it and Edson is pulling her back from it.

Don’t sleep on Megz, y’all….I really believe Sonya Tayeh sent her secret little sister into this contest to mess with us. Edson is really developing emotionally, and if ever a piece of choreography earned the Best Use of Costuming in Movement award, this was it.

Cat called it a mix between the Scream painting and the Calvin Klein ad campaign. I can buy that.

Paula looks like she’s about to cry. She has goosebumps and is nearly speechless. She says she’s very taken by the piece, calls Megz truly amazing, and praises the partnership. Jason says it’s easily the best performance of the night. Nigel praises Megz’s transformation, as well as Edson’s emotional breakthrough.

Safe, as we said before….but it’s nice to hear it confirmed.

Team Street group dance – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Luam (Song: Commas, Future)

The New York “hustler spirit.”

The girls are really carrying this team. Asaf is good in his own right but the weakest link of the bunch.

Team Stage group dance – Contemporary
Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Beautiful Friends, Helen Money)

Ghosts of Theaters Past….the ghosts come out at night. Oh wait, wrong song. Sorry, Whodini…..

Again, the costuming and lighting really sell this piece. The choreography is amazing as well, but the entire ghostlight concept is what puts this over the top.

So now, who goes home? Twitter saves JJ and Derek, so Derek at least gets a chance to dance his way to another save. The judges make the tough decision to save Kate and Ariana, and Marissa and Asaf leave the show. Asaf was growing but not fast enough or any brighter than the rest of his team, and Marissa, though good, was expendable compared to her female teammates.

So now we have the Tour dancers in place…who will be the featured Top 10 and who will be the alternates? With all of the dancers performing at higher and higher levels, it should be interesting to watch.

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