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So You Think You Can Dance 2011

SYTYCD: Season 8, part 2

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As I dream of grand jetés, head spins, off center turns, and quirky wiggles to the floor, another week has quickly passed and I need to tune in to my favorite show. I realized this last night as I was wrestling my two-year-old Viking Princess to the floor to brush her teeth while simultaneously trying to convince Lady H she needed to put on her pajamas before she lost her privileges for the evening. Thank goodness for DVRs, because by the time I had my elfin spawn nestled into bed I had already missed a half an hour of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). Take a deep breath, detox, sweat it out.

This was another week of preliminary auditions. This time they travelled to Salt Lake City, New York City (my old stomping grounds), and Los Angeles.
But before we get on the televisual airplane we have to chat about today’s dancer. When I was getting my undergraduate degree at the University of N.C. at Greensboro, dancers really became seasoned at the college level. You would enter academia with Dolly Dinkle experience and four years later be fine tuned enough to try and audition for professional work, the operative word being “try.” In most cases, college was a dancer’s first foray into the wonderful world of Modern dance. I was luckier than most; I have vivid memories of Mummenschanz from my Sesame Street days. You remember, those guys dressed in black, pulling toilet paper from their faces and carving expressions out of soft clay masks. I saw my first modern dance company live in Minneapolis when I was ten, complete with my first glimpse of a bare male bottom. I fell in love with the modern genre at age 15 and joined a small local company. I was hooked. So when I got to college my love affair was in full swing. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing education, and I grew leaps and bounds, but I already had base going in.

This is not the case now and I think SYTYCD has played a huge part in this trend. Kids are starting younger, more importantly boys are being allowed to dance earlier. Boys in my day didn’t enter the studio until they had a little distance from their parents at the age of 18 or 19. That’s a very different experience than girls have; most little girls get put into studio dance class (tap, jazz and ballet) at least for a short time. But now all kids in dance are getting exposed to other forms and better technique. In urban areas street dance is flourishing and kids feel like it’s okay to practice their craft. It’s macho and cool. If I could do it again, I’d be a B-girl.

Another big change from my younger dance days is that today the level of technique exhibited at 18 is outstanding. I truly believe it is because for the last eight years America has been exposed to the brilliance of Mia Michaels, Wade Robson and other good choreographers through SYTYCD. In my opinion, we get to see just as much junky work as good, but the range is there for the audience to judge. I must mention Emmy award winning choreographer Michaels is no longer with the show and her presence is truly missed.

Okay, on with this week’s shows. They started off in Salt Lake City at the Capitol Theater where many of the show’s successful contestants came from, including season three’s winner, Sabra Johnson. Mary Murphy and Nigel Lithgow were joined by guest judge Robin Antin, the creator of the Pussy Cat Dolls. She was so impressed with the dancing that she started asking if the dancers could sing, putting her own agenda in play a bit.

Micah Clark and Devon McCullough started the evening with a stepping audition. It was a lot of fun and they were sent to the choreography round. I love it when people come in with partners because about 78% of the show is based around the contestants dancing with each other. Next we had the fiery Chyna Lee Smith followed by the spicy Annie Gratton, whose dad was also a dancer came up on stage to dance with her for the first time ever. He kind of stole the spotlight. Then B-boy artist Tadd Gadduang took it away with stylized break dancing. What I loved about him was that he used accordion and piano music for his piece and had the musical sensibility of a more traditional dancer. For me contrast is an essential element. Of course, all went straight through to Vegas.

The one thing I look forward to in shows like SYTYCD and American Idol is seeing the funny little disasters on stage. The horrible movers who have so much passion they are completely deluded about their actual abilities. I like to see the nervous, the uncomfortable, the sheltered and the just plain bad. The creators aren’t giving us much of this in 2011. All we are being shown are the very talented and the sad, but not the funny. Case in point, Samantha Miller suffered amnesia three weeks before the taping. She did fine, not great, and was sent to the choreography round. Nigel did appear to be aiming for silly fun when he made insensitive jokes about her not remembering things, which she responded to sweetly.

However, we did get to meet Brittany Star, who claimed to be the daughter of the real Ringo Star. The show followed her to her home to meet the kooky old guy and he was decked out in his Sgt. Pepper regalia. Brittany Starr also said that everyone has a twin in the universe and she thinks hers is Lady Gaga. She definitely looked and danced more like Ringo.

Off to New York City, this time Mary and Nigel were joined by the director and choreographer of Burn the Floor, Jason Gilkinson. New York started off with whacking expert Samara “Princess Lockaroo” Cohen. She was one of my favorites this week. Cohen is gorgeous and looks like a Ninja who moonlights as a Dominatrix. She rotated her arms around her body super fast, like a helicopter propeller, to the melody of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Although she wasn’t a technical dancer, she was an amazing performer. I fear for her in Vegas. But you can tell she is tough and if she spends 10 hours a day in a studio doing the Cliff’s Notes of basic dance technique, she might pull through. If she does, she will be exciting to watch. I am keeping my fingers crossed for Princess Lockaroo.

We also had street krumper Brian Henry, who said Brooklyn was taking the dance form back from the main stream. Although he ruffled the judges feathers a bit by being disrespectful of long time contributor ‘Lil C and season six winner Russell Ferguson, the boy could dance.

New York really had it all. We got to see everything from whacking to contemporary to krump to Irish step dancing. Not to mention hip hop and musical theater. New Yorkers are intense, passionate and are willing to fight for what they want. It was no surprise that they were all very good and inspiringly entertaining.

Last stop this week was Los Angeles. Celebrity choreographer Tyce Diorio joined the panel of judges. “Naughty, Naughty, Naughty girl,” said Tyce to the first contestant, Jordan Casanova, who was all good technique, legs and sex.

Derion “D.C.” Chapman was a real treat. At first, he spat out all this street jargon, none of which I understood. Was there something about a wheelchair? I made a note to myself that I needed to watch it again in slow motion to catch what he was saying. Honestly, I have no idea what street styles he was doing, but whatever they were, he knew them inside and out. He used an old fashion song to present his choreography and the performance was real and present. I live for dancers from stage or street who are thoughtful and artful about what they are doing. I get tired of being bombarded with many series of steps, all which I can name. There are so many more layers involved in dance.

Arielle Coher, self proclaimed SYTYCD groupie, confidently walks on stage donning teal hair. Apparently she has auditioned many times before and has gotten to work with some of the show’s finalists. Not only did she move me, but she had a great attitude as well. In a profession where getting disheartened is extremely easy, she vowed she would keep on coming back even if this proved not to be her year. Well… she got a ticket to Vegas.

Hiro McRea popped and locked her way straight to Sin City. Joe “Big C” Doyle disrobed in front of the judges. He was a giant of a man, with his beard and hair painted white referencing Santa, hence the “Big C.” I was sorry that he had to make a joke of himself. Even though he had the body of an average “Joe,” his dancing actually had potential. Alexis Mason, the little sis of season five’s winner, Jeanine Mason, passed the test with flying colors. She was maybe a bit to schmaltzy for my taste.

The next highlight in Los Angeles was androgynous looking drummer dancer Patty Anne Miller. If we didn’t know her name we might not have known she was a girl because she didn’t dance like any of the ladies that auditioned before her, in this or any other season. I loved that she popped and locked like one of the boys, and so did the judges. What really put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae was that she got emotional and cried just a bit when the judges told her they loved her. She is going to have to do it all if she wants to make it through Vegas. I can’t imagine her in a pair of character heels, but I’m looking forward to seeing her do a Viennese waltz.

Sisters Natalia and Sasha Mallory ended the night. They bickered their way through the interview, but their dancing was beautiful and harmonious. They had heart and technique and proved themselves to be contenders in the choreography round. They will be joining the ranks at the final call back.

I’m afraid I’ve gotten a little long winded but my task was to cram in three hours of some pretty decent dance into one article. Next week the dancers who have moved on to the next stage of the competition get to push themselves to the limit physically and mentally. It is going to be rough. Happily, in this case, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there, so tune in Wed. and Thurs. at 8pm and let me know what you think. If I have piqued your interest and made you curious about the show, go ahead and watch it, I won’t tell anyone.

So You Think You Can Dance 2011

SYTYCD season 8, part 11

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It is easy to do steps to music, but performing is a whole other monster.  To really be present on stage you have to realize that the lines between the performing arts are perforated.  Dancers have to be able to learn choreography quickly, interpret, understand music, and act in order to pull off a seamless
performance.  Dancers are actors in disguise.  Unseasoned movers don’t understand this, and it is something that can’t be taught.  Although, I’m sure all the choreographers of the world have been trying since the beginning of time.  I have never seen a cast of characters do this as well as the contestants in this season of So You Think You Can Dance.

On Aug. 8th, 2011 Christina Applegate and Lil’C joined the panel of judges to give the final 6 dancers constructive criticism and lots of praise.  At the end of the show Nigel Lythgoe phrased it very well when he said, “at this point it doesn’t matter who wins because dance is the winner.”  We are now trading pearls and emeralds from the show’s treasure box.

This article just might be another love note to our Atlanta girl Melanie Moore.  On top of the fact that
she is in this piece, I have to admit I love a fairytale gone bad.  Napoleon and Tabitha put their brains
together to re-envision Little Red Riding Hood, or rather Little Red Swaggy  Hood with Melanie and Twitch (season 4).  It just goes to show that there is nothing this young lady can’t do.  She hit everything hard, got down and dirty, and turned the big bad wolf into a little submissive puppy.

I think Tyce Diorio has topped himself this evening.  I’ve been hard on Tyce, behind the scenes, with my friends and loved ones.  I always thought he had more potential, and I was right.  He made his best duet to date on Sasha Mallory and last year’s runner up Kent (season 7).  They were a couple going through a tumultuous relationship and there was a wall.  The wall was quite literally and metaphorically a wall between them.  A prop must be used well, and Tyce nailed it.  They did a split lift where Sasha was upside down with her feet anchored to it.  They ran up and catapulted themselves off of it and the piece ended with her sliding down it.  Sasha is the perfect amalgamation of athleticism and emotion.

I don’t want to spend too much time on their solos but I will give a quick synopsis.  I love that Ricky is dancing with so much power.  At the beginning of the show he was just a bag of good possibilities and he has grown into all that potential.  Caitlynn Lawson is the only person left in the show I feel doesn’t belong there.  She should have gone home weeks ago, and I would trade many of her predecessors for her including last week’s Jordan Casanova and one of my early favorites Ryan Ramirez.  Caitlyn’s
solos don’t do a thing for me.

In my scribble scrabble notes I always, unconsciously, write Tadd Gadduang’s name upper case
letters.  TADD!  That tells you how I feel about him.  I always say, “…modern dancers will inherit
the earth”.  I never thought I would say, “…how nice it is to see a B-boy in the mix”.  Tadd is dancing among the greats, but he is like a cucumber, crisp and refreshing.

Sasha is passionate creative and athletic.  Never boring!   Marko Germar blossomed into a real contender once he started dancing alone; I now know it was all there.  It was just hidden behind his partner Melanie, but maybe that is just how good a partner he is.  Not only was he exceptional, I was happy to see him having a lot of fun.

Melanie…oh Melanie.  She moves with such clean abandon and gets totally absorbed in it.  She is the true artist of the group, and is naturally more mature than the rest.  Melanie is clearly my favorite.  I’ll take it a step further; I would love to experience a day in her shoes.  Well done!

There was a lot to chew on this episode, but let’s us cut to the chase.  On Thursday night everyone
got to do more solos.  They were consistent with the night before.

Last year’s winner and runner up, Lauren Froderman and Kent Boyd respectively performed Collide.  A now Emmy nominated piece by Travis Wall.  What I love about watching the All Stars is that they were children when they competed on SYTYCD, now they are adults and that much more exciting to watch.

Now for the results…the four dancers, piqué turning into the finale, are Melanie Moore, Marko Germar, Sasha Mallory and Tadd Gadduang.  This is a really good line up going into the final week.  Again, Nigel was right when he said, ‘it doesn’t matter who wins because the dance world already has.’

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So You Think You Can Dance 2011

SYTYCD season 8, part 10

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To my friends and family, and hopefully a few others, I have to admit a little something.  These past  10 weeks have been tough.  I thought when I started my newest writing endeavor about, So You Think You Can Dance, It would just be a quickie weekly column.  I have to tell you, it’s been the converse.  I have labored for hours/ days/ almost a week on each article.  I just have so damn much to say.  This show has brought what I know and have loved my whole life into your TV rooms and it is changing the face of dance.  I just hope my prose have been acceptable companion reading.

In a nutshell, this was an amazing episode, purely because one of their guest judges was Pop Icon Lady Gaga.  I woman I respect in all ways, know I would love to create and be friends with, who also leaves me a bit conflicted…but that is another article.

Lady Gaga reinforces things I’ve been saying for years to all the impressionable dancers that have crossed my path.  Things like, “…less presentational, lose yourself in it.” Or, “…really mean it.” Or, “…the interpretation was contrived.”  She gives great perspective from a performers eye.

I have to say, at this point in the competition, I am just as excited to see the All Stars as I am to see this year’s competitors.  One of my all time favorite dancers was Ade.  I’ll never forget when Nigel  Lythgoe said, “What a difference Ade makes.”    He joined Jordan  to perform a Tyce Diorio Jazz piece about a secret rendez-vous.  Her body can do anything and he is just a lot of fun to watch.

The 80’s queen choreographer, Mandy Moore brought Melanie and All Star Neil together.  At the end Lady Gaga said she would hire Melanie in a heartbeat.  Plus, she did a leap that took her halfway across the stage.

Sonya Tayeh made a beautiful dance on Marko and All Star Allison that was one of the best pieces she has ever made and it moved Gaga to tears.  Marko held his own and was an equal partner.    The dancers were serious and mature and matched in technicality and emotional investment.  The most touching part was that Marko’s mother flew in from Guam to see this show, and he was able to dedicate this perfect performance to her.

As the evening rolled on the contestants got to, once again, dance with each other.  The biggest surprise and best twist was that Sasha and Melanie were paired up, and Sonya Tayeh had the unique pleasure of choreographing.  I was sweating and excited before it even began, talk about inspiration.  It was one powerful beastly creation.  They were regal Barbarian Queens in a post-apocalyptic meeting of the minds.  Gaga said, “I don’t know what sex you are, what race you are, where you are from and how much money you have… everyone can go home because that was the performance of the evening.”

Results night opened with a beautiful group piece about the circus setting up, which I would love to see as a full length ballet, by Tyce Diorio.

We had the pleasure of enjoying the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers choreographed by Christopher Scott and Gaylin Hooks.  I love the way they take dancers of all  genres from ballet to breaking, superimpose them on one another to create a cohesive dramatic work.  It always takes
my breath away.

Lady Gaga with her blue ponytail graced the So You Think You Can Dance stage doing what she does best, pop music with a performance artist’s flair. It is always sad to see the dancers go home.  This week it was Jess LeProtto and Jordan Cassanova.

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So You Think You Can Dance 2011

SYTYCD season 8, part 9.

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July 20th was a special day.  It represents a landmark moment in So You Think You Can Dance, where the contestants get to be judged for their own performances and not as a pair.  At this juncture, the show came up with the brilliant plan of introducing the All Stars.  Last year they used the All Stars throughout the whole competition, and idea I thought I was going to hate but ended up really enjoying.  Previous years the contestants danced with each other the whole season.  This way we get the best of both worlds.  July 20th was special for another reason.  It was your favorite dance reviewer’s Birthday.  Another excuse I have for falling behind and keeping all of you hanging.

So here we are at the top ten finalists.  This is the group that will be dancing on tour: Sasha Mallory, Ricky Jaime, Melanie Moore, Tadd Gadduang, Clarice Ordaz, Marko Germar, Jordan Casanova, Jesse LeProtto, Caitlynn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly.  I am still mourning the loss of Ryan Ramirez, if you want my impolite honest opinion I would trade her in for Caitlynn in a heartbeat.

I have to give a little shout out to someone I actually have never mentioned but really is the one that  keeps the ship afloat.  I speak of our lovely MC and Amazonian princess Cat Deeley.  She looked stunning in a short black and silver sequined dress.  She always makes the audience feel welcome and creates a warm and positive atmosphere.

OK, back to the show.  Star of How I Met Your Mother or my generation knows him as Doogie Howser MD, Neal Patrick Harris joined the panel of judges this week.  I really enjoyed what he and to say.  He wasn’t just complimentary of the show he gave really good advice from a performer’s perspective.  He was honest in both directions and  wasn’t shy about calling out a choreographer on their work.  I think if the choreography isn’t up to par, it’s not fair to judge a dancer who is doing the best they can do with what they’ve got.  Granted this is all a subjective grey area.

Not only did the contestants get paired with our favorite finalists from years past, but they also all had the opportunity to show off solos.  Again, I am going to share my favorite moments.

Marko starts off the show dancing with All Star Chelsie Hightower (season 4) in a Jason Gilkinson Cha Cha.  I thought the loss of his regular partner was going to be devastating for him, but he really rose to the challenge.   Chelsea affected me the same way as when she was a contestant,  much better than I though she was going to be.  As a pair they were well matched and dare I say spectacular?  A little note to the audience, if you are actually watching the male partner and he is performing with someone who looks like a disco ball, he is doing a fabulous job.

We had the pleasure of Sasha being the first soloist of the evening.  She has this primal quality that just hits me indescribably at the core.  I think it’s the way she works with the floor and transitions seamlessly into the air like an articulate frog.  I find that in these circumstances the ladies generally all resort to the same old tricks to sell themselves, but Sasha breaks the mold every time.

Jordan and the exquisite Brendon Bryant (season 5) had the extraordinary opportunity to work with one of the best teams in modern dance royalty, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson.  I can’t think of a better couple to be paired with this unstoppable force.   The piece, about the relentlessness of love, didn’t stop. I believe great choreography is in the details.  Anyone can string steps together and use the ballet dictionary to make Dolly Dinkle dance pieces. It’s the gestures, all the little connections and transitions.  For example, Jordan got lifted with both legs extended and flexed in front.  Before she was put down she executed a tiny double ronde de jambe with her left leg that sent a jolt through my heart.  This is what great choreography can do to you.  Jordan is the kind of technician who can handle all that Desmond and Dwight dish out.

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=wduex_8M7LA[/pro-player]

 

Jess dazzled us with a campy yet technically solid Broadway style solo.  He can Pirouette for days and control it to slow down with the tempo of the music.  He’s skilled.

The next highlight was of course my Atlanta girl Melanie.  Decked out in silver, like the moon, she took my breath away with her committed movement prose.  At one point she turned to land in a half
middle split and luxuriously twisted into a roll.

Ricky always reminds me of an elegant flamingo when he dances.  In the interviews he comes across as young and goofy.  But in his solos he becomes this long elegant figure.  He dances well beyond his years.

There isn’t much I can say about some of these dancers technically.  At this point it is a matter of taste.  In my humble opinion, Mitchell’s solo was perfection.  From his turns to how he uses his legs to every curve his body makes.

The next duet that must be mentioned is Sasha and Twitch Boss (season 4) doing a Hip Hop piece by Christopher Scott.  This is a legendary pairing and the chemistry was explosive.  The piece was about
reigniting the passion in an old relationship.  They start at the mundane breakfast table.  Then Sasha character becomes overwhelmed with passion and starts throwing plates, climbing the table and pulling off accessories.  Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to convince Twitch to go along for the ride.  Christopher Scott, whom I love, has disappointed me on a couple of occasions, but I think he has learned his lessons, and I’m excited to see what he produces in the future.

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=8ikZGh62Cvg#t=53s[/pro-player]

Before I talk about Jordan’s solo, I have to discuss a pet peeve of mine.  I absolutely hate what the girls are wearing these days.  I think a bra belongs under a shirt, and from the auditions to the solos, I’m sick of seeing them.  I want the girls to step it up and be classier with their costumes.  Ms. Cassanova has been one of the worst.  After having said this, when she came out in the classic “little black dress”, I felt proud of her.  It matched her great technique, and I was able to take her seriously, really for the first time.  This costuming choice took her from the teenager she is to a professional performer.  This was reinforced by the multiple Fouetté  turns into a Sauté à la Seconde ending in a roll to the floor.

Our little Broadway baby Jess was paired up with Kathryn McCormick (season 6) in a Stacy Tookey contemporary piece about a woman who can’t see the love that is right before her eyes.  There was no eye contact and Kathryn just doesn’t see him and sadly neither did I, which is very uncharacteristic of Jess’s dancing.  The piece was well choreographed and danced but it brings up the question was he great because was such a good support, or not so great because he didn’t draw our attention?

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vTEWW0KpGk[/pro-player]

I still believe Tadd is a serious contender.  His solo had quality, nuance and humor.  I think it is imperative to have interesting music and I always vibe with his choices.  Plus, he walks on his hands like an insect.  Who doesn’t love that.

Melanie and Pasha (season 3) glided across in a Viennese Waltz.  If I would describe this waltz,  it would be the Ballet of Ballroom.  Choreographer Jason Gilkinson had the dancers glide across the floor, the steps floated seamlessly into lifts.  My oldest daughter, Lady H, said Melanie looked like an Angel.

There really isn’t anything better than one of your favorite songs being coupled with excellent movement.  It doesn’t happen often for me, because I’m  a movement inspired person and, no offense, the music is secondary.  Tyce Diorio gave me this connection with his contemporary piece, My Worst Nightmare, with Ricky and Allison Holker (season 2).  Ricky was able to transcend his gazelle like quality and it was a stretch in character.  I happy to say he rose to the challenge.  He tucked his pretty dance style into his pocket meeting Allison at a much more sophisticated level of performing, .

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM8fVlgbIdg[/pro-player]

Realizing there was a lot I liked in this episode, I am going to try and wrap this up.

Marko’s solo was well done.  I think he proved that he hasn’t just been riding on Melanie’s coat tails.  He is spectacular standing alone.  I’m not into tricks, except for the B-boys because that is what they do, but  Marko executed the most flawless and beautiful back flip.

The show ended with a glittery and fast Bollywood number performed by Clarice and Robert (season 7).  Nakul Dev Mahajan created complicated, fast and bouncy choreography that put the dancers on the same playing field.  The dancers were well matched and no one outshone the other.

We can’t just ignore Thurs.  It’s only going to get harder from this point on, folks.  The biggest perk to results, is that we get to see this remarkable group of artists perform together.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, they are a dream company.   This Josh Bergasse piece could have been transplanted right onto Broadway.

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AunbupD5UCY[/pro-player]

We also get the pleasure of watching guest artists.  This week we had Daniil Simkin ,from the American Ballet Theater (ABT), perform Les Bourgeois.  It was truly a professional performance.  So
You Think You Can Dance
is super saturated with modern and jazz dancers this year, which I love, but I have to admit it was refreshing to see a true ballet dancer.  The piece was dramatic, funny, well performed and Daniil told a great story with a couple of wowzer leaps towards the end.

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’353′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwhYfKTIyjA[/pro-player]

OK here is the bad news.  Mitchell, Clarice, Ricky and Jordan were all on the chopping block.  It is interesting that the one person I would have sent home wasn’t in danger at all.  I have to admit Clarice’s solo was a little boring and she resorted to all the same tricks and the dancing in between didn’t move me at all.  Mitchell was solid as always.  He used a scarf that was completely unnecessary. Useless props tend to bug me, but his off-center attitude turns were lovely.  Jordan played with different qualities, and didn’t fall back on her sexy vixen persona.  Stretching her repertoire, she worked with a balance between soft and strong dynamics.  I’m thrilled to say she became a woman this week.  Finally, Ricky experimented with aggressive movement and as hypothesized it was a success.  He became a man this week.

At this point all the dancers will be in the 2011 tour, so they are actually going home winners and employed.  The two dancers sent home were Mitchell and Clarice.  Good job guys and I can wait to see you when you pass through Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

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