After years of creative drift and listless meandering—which took the show up Pointless Twist Peak, across Pander Land, and even deep into Kids Will Solve Everything Cove—So You Think You Can Dance has returned from the wilderness and found its way back home.
Fox’s show is broadcast television’s best talent competition: the show with the greatest density of talent on any of the big four networks between the contestants, their returning all-star mentors/partners, and the choreographers—never mind the show’s technical crew—all doing spectacular work week after week.
They produce mesmerizing routines that make me momentarily forget that these are humans executing fluid motions, but SYTYCD is also a show that never allows its audience to forget the individual work that went into not just the dance, but its choreography, too.
Neither spectacle nor story get in the way of highlighting brilliant dance, and that’s what So You Think You Can Dance is best at delivering.
Just watch these two routines: One simple, one bolder, both combining synchronized motion with opportunities for individuals to shine.
I’ve been rooting for So You Think You Can Dance since the beginning, because it was long the best example of class-act, talent-driven reality TV on broadcast, but I eventually gave up on it, grasping onto an occasional fleeting sign of life to convince myself that there was more there than just a stubborn refusal to evolve and/or a show that’d lost its way.
Even when it was producing strong dances, it fell into a rut.
There was a hint of that rut in the audition episodes this season, which were fine but forgettable. But the start of the academy episodes and this incredible group routine signaled a change, a return to the core: dance and joy.
What’s worked is not a new twist or a new formula, but the lack of that.
The all-stars—a strong group this year—are simply paired with contestants they chose during the Academy round (which replaced Las Vegas callbacks last season), and that allows for more of a through line. We get to see them grow and evolve together more than in previous formats, when partners would change.
Both new judge Vanessa Hudgens and returning judge Mary Murphy are excellent at connecting with the work, critiquing it, and highlighting what made a dance special. The absence of Mary’s passion hurt SYTYCD over the past few years, and I’m thrilled she’s back. And Vanessa quickly proved that she is not stunt casting to pander to younger viewers.
As Buzzfeed’s Jarett Wieselman tweeted in a thread that discussed this season’s strengths and highlighted excellent dances: “In a day and age when arts funding is sadly being hacked and slashed, the mass inspiration #SYTYCD provides millions is beyond essential.”
Yes, absolutely. It’s also pure, absorbing entertainment.
Dance is one of the few works of art that viewers at home can experience just the way that the judges do, and So You Think You Can Dance is back to doing what it does best: showing some of the best that dance can be.