From ballet to belly: "Dance" adds variety

We're getting to the good part of "So You Think You Can Dance." The 20 finalists have had their first chances to impress viewers; next Wednesday (July 18), two will be sent home. Here's the story I sent to papers.



In some years, “So You Think You Can
Dance” has moved along like a disciplined chorus line.

There were performances one day,
eliminations the next. One person was dumped each week, until only a
few finalists – mostly short, slender kids specializing in
contemporary dance – remained.

And this year? “Hold your breath and
hang on tight, because it's going to be a very fast ride, and pretty
bumpy, too,” said Nigel Lythgoe, the show's creator and judge.
That's due to:

– Fox trimming the show to
Wednesdays-only. Lythgoe wants to stuff all the usual elements –
including group numbers and guest-star performances – into a
tighter space.

– Format changes. This is the first
year with two winners, male and female; each week will oust
one of each.

– And more variety among the

The show is sometimes dominated by
heavily trained contemporary dancers. They “are a little bit more
well-rounded physically and technically,” said choreographer Mia

Still, she said, they also can have a
common drawback. “They're so reliant on … the perfection of
technique and not really about the personalities.”

At times, Lythgoe said, it all seems
too precise. “There's something about formally trained dancers that
beats them around (and takes out) a little bit of heart and passion.”

For the show, one solution is to have
more variety. Only half this year's 20 finalists list contemporary, jazz or modern dance as
their main specialty. There are three ballet dancers and three
ballroom dancers; there's a belly dancer, a step-dancer and guys who
lean to “robotics” and “martial arts fusion.”

After choreographing all 20 for a
number, Michaels singled out two of the ballet people for praise. One
is Daniel Baker, 24, an Australian; the other is Eliana Girard, 21,
from Florida. “She's emotional and she's powerful and her work
ethic is amazing.”

Any variety is helpful, in a field
leaning toward sameness. Michaels found that in her dance days:

For starters, she's 5-foot-11. Many
female dancers have barely topped 5-foot; men haven't been a lot

“It takes much more power to move a
taller body around,” Michaels said. “But when a taller dancer
gets it together, it's so gorgeous …. Tommy Tune (6-foot-6) and a
few people were so massively gorgeous in length.”

She also didn't fit the mode in another
way: “I was always a thicker girl; I've always dealt with a weight
issue (so) I never really got the chance to dance professionally.

“I remember the key moment: It was
one of those auditions where they were like, 'You know, you'll never
dance, because of your body.' And I remember just at that point
going, 'OK, then fine. I will make my own world of dance.' And that's
kind of what I did.”

It's what “Dance” tries. People
with mismatched specialties are thrown together as instant partners.
Choreographers adapt routines for their varied skills; dancers try to
learn quickly. “You have to click into the speed and the
intensity,” Michaels said.

It can be dazzling; it can also be a
fast and bumpy ride.

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox

– Viewers had their first vote July
11, after the 20 finalists perform as duos.

– On July 18, dancers will perform
again. Then the bottom three men and bottom three women from the
previous week will be announced. They'll solo for the judges, who
will eliminate one of each