SYTYCD choreographers’ and dancers’ insane schedule

So You Think You Can Dance‘s contestants and choreographers put together their routines in about six hours, which is incredible considering the Emmy-nominated and -winning work that ends up on stage every Tuesday night.

The show is in the final weeks of its 10th season, and earlier this month, it hosted a Q&A for TV critics on its set, which is stage 36 at CBS Television City. The soundstage is also home to American Idol; the adjacent stage 46 hosts Dancing with the Stars and most recent winter Survivor finales. (The X Factor has moved between the two soundstages.)

During the Q&A, Nigel Lythgoe said that “the behind-the-scenes, the training, the actual choreography part of it, I would love” that to be televised. “You give me the station that’ll buy that, and I’ll go there tomorrow.”

I asked about that–basically, what happens behind the scenes over a typical week–and later got details from choreographer Travis Wall. As you can see below, it’s pretty crazy, considering how little time the choreographers have to work with the contestants, especially when you consider that some even create their routines during that time.

Choreographer Mandy Moore pointed out during the Q&A on shows such as American Idol, contestants are “given something that has already been done,” and you have some sort of parameter to judge it by.” But on So You Think You Can Dance, “we’re creating original work every week.” She added, “that’s difficult when you’re creating that week after week, with still trying to make sure that your dancers are competitive.”

  • Tuesday, post-show. Producer Jeff Thacker has dancers select their partners and genres.
  • Thursday, 1.5 hours, with cameras. This is when choreographers first work with the dancers, and this is where all footage featured on the show comes from–even though the routine may not even come together until the next day.
  • Friday, 4 hours, no cameras. The dancers work with their choreographer. Travis Wall told me, “The real routine truly comes together Friday without the cameras.” That’s because he’ll sometimes wait until the time on Thursday to flesh out his idea and incorporate “go-to moves,” but then goes home to “really plan out how this is going to work out.” Crazy.
  • Saturday and Sunday. The finalists learn and rehearse group routine(s), and also practice their individual routines on their own.
  • Monday, 1 hour. Contestants rehearse with their choreographer for a half hour on stage, then continue working for another 30 minutes upstairs. Later, they do a “dry block” of their routine, which is observed by everyone.
  • Tuesday. The dancers get two or three run-throughs on stage, depending upon the stage in the competition (it’s two now). Then the choreographers watch footage and try to give notes to their dancers between their visits to hair and makeup. Meanwhile, lighting designer Bob Barnhart creates the lighting based on the routines he saw that day. Later, there’s a dress rehearsal.
  • Tuesday, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. The live show starts.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.