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So You Think You Can Dance 2011

SYTYCD: Season 8, part 3

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Running, jumping, falling, crying and spinning again, we are going to embark in So You Think You Can Dance part 3. Some of you might know that your favorite dance reviewer was in Seattle last week, trying to hone her skills at the Dance Critics Associations annual conference. It was eye opening and little bit of a blood bath but I learned a lot. I’m a little behind, so here we go…

Speaking of blood bath, Vegas week was upon us. The judges had the daunting task of whittling down the contestants from 114 to 20. We lost many of my favorites like Hiro, the cute little B-girl from Japan, the Irish step dancing champion and my favorite street dancing diva “Princess Lockaroo”. My heart is with you “Lockaroo”, I hope to see you sometime soon.

A negative trait indicative of the younger dancer emerged in the Vegas footage. The healthy young dancer is a stew of hot yummy goodness. They are beautiful, their bodies are in tip top shape, their technique has the potential of being flawless and there is endless amounts energy. The flaw lies in their focus. Many of these young dancers are still children and have to play. This was certainly the case with Chyna Smith. While she was waiting for the hip hop round she romped around, chatted, let off steam and was being a beautiful social butterfly. When it was time to dance, she froze and forgot the choreography. The judges were merciful and allowed her to come back and redo the hip hop round.

The broadway round was conducted by Tyce Diorio. The female role was sizzling hot and required them to trust their new partners 100%, which is scary when you don’t know the person you are dancing with. Fourteen more finalists were sent home, including the very talented street krumper Brian Henry. Good luck Brian! If you have developed the taste for this dance thing, take some modern classes and come back next year.

The jive choreography, directed by Jason Gilkinson, was a rough round. The sisters Natalia and Sasha Mallory were split up temporarily. Sasha moved on and Natalia, who is a larger dancer, was asked to partner up with a stronger man and perform again. She made it through. It also became clear, to me, that Alexis Mason, baby sister to season five’s winner Jeanine, needs a couple more years before she can follow in her sister’s footsteps.

I have to climb up on my soap box again and illustrate what a consummate professional dancer looks like. One of my personal favorites, Ryan Ramirez, was hobbling around because her character shoes were hurting her feet. When a dancer is present, all that junk goes away. In the moment, you don’t feel the aches and pains, you just dance. You dance with your heart as a whole, not as a bunch splintered pieces. Ryan showed America what a true dancer is all about. She is a great point of reference.

There isn’t much to say about the group round. This is where the dancers have to cooperate as an ensemble and create their own choreography. Already exhausted, they have to dance through the night in order to present their work the next day. On our side of the screen, once again, we were presented with just the good, none of the bad.

In the contemporary round, we got to follow a couple of our favorites again. Ryan is still dealing with some serious pain, this time in her tailbone. Worried she might have to go home, she goes to the hospital. Reassured, and with very little rehearsal, she returned to the stage to perform Travis Wall’s choreography. She danced as though the whole world had melted away and it was just the two partners in an intimate moment. I felt the same way about Sasha and Bryce “Professor Lock”. Natalia, Sasha’s sister, started to feel lightheaded and sick and was whisked away by an ambulance. Later we found out she’s diabetic. Worried, Sasha was still able to put it all aside and give a stunning performance that gave me chills.

A couple of my early favorites left the competition at this point. The good natured, teal haired beauty, Arielle, was stunned (as was I) when they sent her home. The street dancer DC Chapman, was sent back with a scholarship towards dance classes from the famous Debbie Allan.

55 dancers were left to perform their final solos for the judges. 24 went home, including the wild California Tinkerbell, Amber Wells. She was featured earlier on, but we didn’t get to see enough of her through Vegas week. I wish I could have experienced her audition to know why she was sent packing. All the producers let us see were two seconds of tears.

Thursday night SYTYCD changed their format a bit. In previous years they used a whole episode to reveal who the finalists were. Last year they added a show where they introduced all the contestants performing in their own styles. This year we get the best of both worlds in one episode. We found out that 20 finalists get to compete and when ten have been eliminated, the All-Stars (former favorite contestants) will be introduced to partner them. So we really get the best of all worlds.

First up were Ricky Jaime, Miranda Maleski, Melanie Moore and Sasha Mallory doing a Stacey Tookey contemporary piece. The dancers looked like they were slowly swimming through the clouds. It was full of emotion, the technique was impeccable and it set the stage for this summer’s celebration of dance.

Choreographer Dave Scott orchestrated Chris Koehl, Wadi Jones, Tadd Gadduang and Robert Taylor Jr. in a fun hip hop routine. He was able to showcase each of their diverse personalities. America got a good feel for who these artists are. I don’t think SYTYCD has ever had this many street dancers.

The biggest surprise was Iveta Lukosiute, she was the sole ballroom dancer to make it through Vegas week. Usually ballroom is represented better, but what we lose in numbers we gain in quality. Iveta is a world champion in all the forms in her genre. She placed every step perfectly in a paso doble with All Star Pasha Kovalev.

Sonya Tayeh led her dancers Clarice Ordaz, Marko Germar, Jordan Casanova and Missy Morelli in a quirky jazz/modern piece. Sonya is known for being a jazz choreographer with a dark, rock ‘n roll, macabre edge. I think she tries too hard at times to fit the bill, but I always look forward to what she is going to do next. There isn’t much more to say about our contestants, they fit the bill perfectly, as though they were born to do Sonya’s work.

The real stand out performance of the evening was Jesse LeProtto and Nick Young battling it out in an old broadway versus street tap dance-off created by the amazing Christopher Scott. The name of the song, Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Twitter”, tells it all. The two styles worked amazingly well together, and were performed with the professional quality and precision of a real broadway show.

The whole evening was a modern dance sandwich. It started and ended with a contemporary piece. This gives us nine contemporary competitors. I’m astonished that the producers let this happen, but as I always say, “The modern dancer can do it all and will inherit the earth.” Caitlynn Lawson, Ashley Rich, Ryan Ramirez, Mitchell Kelly and Alexander Frost did not disappoint as they joyously moved through fall leaves, exquisitely executing Travis Wall’s choreography.

As though all of this wasn’t treat enough, the evening ended with three group pieces. The ten men did a CIA/Secret agent inspired work by Christopher Scott. Five giant red doors were the vehicles for entrances and exits. The dancers were dapper in “Mr. Anderson” suits (you know…The Matrix) and red ties. All the styles were blended beautifully to create a complete cohesive work with its own vocabulary. By the way, hip hop + fouetté turn = manly and hot.

I need to take a moment, and welcome Chris Scott to the show. SYTYCD brought his company, League of Extraordinary Dancers, in a couple of years ago. Their gravity defying, time splitting, hip hop movement vocabulary blew the hats right off the American audience. ‘Lil C said, “Chris Scott is the master of ceremony when it comes to mixing styles.” I know it changed me at the molecular level. You can find LXD on you tube, to see what I’m trying to describe. I cannot wait to see what Chris Scott is bringing to the table this season. SYTYCD has been able to bring in great artists to show America what the dance world is all about, today. I, for one, am grateful. Let’s get back to the show, shall we…

The women did a Sonya Tayeh piece. The ladies were painted as geishas, with short, punk rock, kimono dresses. Before the performances the audience gets a glimpse of the rehearsal process, and it was hard and brutal. It paid off because the woman of the competition were kick-ass, creepy, geisha dolls. They were quirkily prim and proper on the outside and a little bit dirty at the center. As I mentioned before, I am not always Sonya’s biggest fan but I think, throughout the years, we have been watching her come into her own as a choreographer. I couldn’t help wishing I was a decade and a half younger. Nigel described it perfectly, “…the girls this year are Beasts.”

The finale was the entire cast doing a Tyce Diorio dance. Tyce has been a steadfast contributor and choreographer since the show began. This piece, to the Annie Lennox song “Little Bird”, was reminiscent of the movie Black Swan and a dramatic way to end the night.

I believe Nigel is right when he says, “The creative process needs great dancers.” This year they have just that; a cast with incredible ability, professionalism and passion, they have choreographers who work on a high art level (even though they are limited on time) and they have a devoted audience who tune in every week and vote. This is the recipe for a mind-boggling and incredibly exciting season. Tune in and let me know what you think.

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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