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'So You Think You Can Dance': A visit to the 20

June 9, 2007 |  1:40 am


Guest So You Think You Can Dance tracker Richard Rushfield stepped in for a visit with the Top 20.

On a Sunset Strip rooftop of the Hyatt Hotel, with a 240 degree view of the LA basin showing off an only slightly hazy late morning, the next superstars of dance prepared for their coming out.  The Top 20 contestants of “So You Think You Can Dance”, having arisen from the auditioning masses,  survived Hollywood week, learned to salsa, ballroom and dance on their heads and finally walked the Green Mile to stand before the judges – at last they have made it to this rooftop where they will take their first group photo and meet the press.

In a room off the rooftop, the twenty sit in make up chairs, getting their hair done, trying on outfits and seemingly at every possible opportunity, grabbing each other to break into a quickie tango.  Outside, hotel guest sun poolside while the crew fixes up a 20 foot platform to look like a gritty rooftop – with fans, air vents and floor scrapple – on top of the actual glamorous rooftop.  In various corners, crews from Fox news and Access Hollywood hide under makeshift umbrellas. 

Eventually the twenty begin to emerge into the sunlight.  Kameron Bink in cargo pants, plaid blazer and a faux-hawk accessorized with a red star died into the side of his head, stands on the rooftop on the rooftop and begins bopping in slow motion as the camera snaps.  A gothy make-up girl stands poised near by looking in extreme heat danger in her head-to-toe black ensemble.

Sytucd3_laceyschwimmer0271The twenty begin to emerge for interviews between their photo shoots.  Especially interesting to chat with is Lacey Schwimmer, sister of last year’s champion Benjy  Schwimmer.  Lacey, a perpetually grinning, bubbly, wisecracking swing dancer admits that with the pressure to top her brother’s turn last season, she has “more riding on her shoulders than anybody else in the top 20.”  But nonetheless, she says her biggest fear is not failing but “making a fool of myself.” Claiming “I’m not too bright” she explains, “I make up words a lot – like unexpectable and coolicult.” The latter she says is a combination of cool and difficult.

A life of learning how to do something as hard as professional dancing breeds either an outlook of realism or masochism.   The most terrifying thing about these shows, as I see it, is the moment of truth when having given their all to a performance, the contestants stand naked before the judges.  However, in chats with them the dancers all seem almost eager to stand and be judged.

"I kind of like that feeling, that people are telling me the truth," said Lacey.  "I don't take compliments very well."

Sabra, a contemporary dancer from Roy, Utah says of being judged, "That's part of our job and why we're here."  As dancers, she explains to me, there is always room for growth and always the need for constant criticism to help you get there.

Another, Danny Tidwell, a former ballet student turned contemporary dancer from New York told me, "It's almost an insult when you sit in front of these people and they don't tell you what they need to hear."

The mood at the photo shoot, compared to the events associated with Dance's sister show "American Idol" seemed almost low key and laid back.  But beneath that, in conversations with the young dancers it was clear that there was a steely, obsessive determination to each of them.   Unlike singing, where a person can show up with a decent voice and a little charm and float through for a while at least, dance does not lend itself to dilettantism, and all the dancers  tell of the grueling practice schedules they have gone through for years leading up to this show.

But the fun of watching them is how much they make it not look like work;  in their spontaneous moments outside the wardrobe corner how they break into intricate numbers and make it seem a natural extension of themselves.  Coolicult, as Lacey framed it, is a actually a very good expression to describe how the whole thing looks.  And before the season is over, for these kids heights of coolicult like they have never known lie ahead.

- Richard Rushfield

(Photo courtesy Fox)