The debut of “So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)” in 2005 was the beginning of an interesting social experiment. It began with an open casting call for individuals who believed themselves to be the best dancer in America. This was an intriguing concept because the potential competitors didn’t need to be formally trained or an expert in a particular dance genre/style. The primary requirements for competitors were to have a passion to dance and be willing to learn styles outside of their specialty.
The first season’s competitors had diverse dancing backgrounds and life experiences, which made SYTYCD alluring. Also, there were a variety of experienced choreographers who needed to use patience and creativity to push some of these dancers to move beyond their technical limitations. It was a potpourri of natural skill, developed talent, passion, desire, personal drive, and a willingness of experienced professionals to be responsive to leverage a dancer’s abilities to develop their potential.
It’s this type of willingness to provide individuals with non-traditional opportunities to demonstrate their talents – regardless of their training background – that makes this show a great career developmental example.
There are numerous individuals who can/will excel if given a chance in a supportive and nurturing environment to develop their skills. Unfortunately, too many talented individuals aren’t given a bona fide opportunity to demonstrate their abilities or capabilities. Oftentimes, it’s unnecessary and shortsighted judgments that prevent individuals who aren’t trained a certain way or have a specific background from being given a chance, as if their potential contributions might somehow be diminished or not as valuable.
SYTYCD has proven over its fourteen seasons that individuals with a desire to learn, grow, and push themselves can and do experience significant growth in a short amount of time. This doesn’t mean that ongoing training isn’t required to continue their development, but it does demonstrate the strength of desire and commitment to achieve greater success.
Examples of drive toward personal excellence are:
- Stephen “tWitch” Boss who was the season four runner-up that was featured in several Step Up movies, Magic Mike XXL, and more; additionally, he provides music and comedy relief on The Ellen DeGeneres Show;
- Comfort Fedoke who is a self-trained hip-hop dancer that appeared on season four; Comfort is the only contestant to be eliminated twice in the show’s history. Notwithstanding, she’s a preeminent, recurring all-star who has developed into a masterful all-around and beautiful dancer;
- Chelsie Hightower who is a trained ballroom dancer and was a top six contestant on season four; Chelsie made her moves on several sessions of Dancing with the Stars as a dance partner and choreographer;
- Cyrus Spencer who is a self-trained popper/animator; Cyrus defied the odds by becoming the season nine best male contestant runner-up;
- Travis Wall who is a trained contemporary dancer; Travis wasn’t allowed to audition for the judges during his first attempt to make the show due to being cut by an executive producer; notwithstanding, Travis fought to become the season two runner-up, along with later winning two Emmy Awards for his choreography in 2015 and 2017.
This show’s continued evolution makes it unpredictable. The changes have involved the judges (number and type), format (from two days a week to one), competitor’s age (adult to child and back to adult competitors), and introduction of all-stars as mentors.
The latest change that partners SYTYCD veterans with current competitors is a brilliant addition. It clearly demonstrates the exponential growth opportunities that can occur by partnering an experienced dancer with someone who has a desire to learn. This type of relationship can expedite individual and team growth, as the mentor and the mentee both benefit by working together. It’s a model that should be implemented in various training programs. By being willing to continuously introduce new ideas, SYTYCD has transformed itself from solely a dance competition to emerge as a highly-respected apprenticeship program.
On a recent episode while commenting to season fourteen winner Lex Ishimoto after a performance with his all-star partner Gaby Diaz, one of the show’s creators and judges Nigel Lythgoe said, “When I first envisioned this “So You Think You Can Dance,” I wanted people to respect every single genre of dance and I wanted dancers to be capable of doing every genre of dance. You proved that that is possible and that makes me so very very happy” --- and Mr. Lythgoe it surely makes many others very happy, too.
As for SYTYCD’s future, the next steps will certainly be an ongoing development to create masterful productions, but for now this show continues to demonstrate and prove that it teaches more than just dance moves.
This post originally appeared on S. L. Young’s blog on his website at: www.slyoung.com
Note: This article was updated after the SYTYCD finale to add that Lex Ishimoto is the season fourteen winner.