2) The audition stories were so uplifting. B-boy Quincy Vereen lost his left leg in a motorcycle crash. Contemporary dancer Hanna-Lee Sakakibara nearly died in a wedding-hall collapse in Israel. Janet Bombard’s left arm was amputated during a car accident. Yet they all cleared enormous physical hurdles to come back and — say it with us, now — dance, motivating fans in the process. “Hopefully I’ve inspired a lot of people,” Bombard says. “[Maybe now] some people with disabilities who didn’t think they could dance will get up and do what they love to do.”
3) The show’s teaching us how to speak Dance. The first few episodes provided a crash course in ballet and hip-hop. Now we can tell an uprock dancer from a “hip-hop-popping-style” freestyler. And we know that a pirouette is a turn on one foot, a grand jeté en tournant is a leap with a turn in midair, and hopping around like a fool is European “jump-style.”
4) Because the judges keep their word. Last season Nigel Lythgoe and Co. were so impressed by wispy ballerina Claire Callaway that when she bruised her right ankle, they reserved a spot for her in this year’s Vegas semifinals. She was noticeably absent — but there was still a space for her. “The offer was out there, [but] she couldn’t do it,” says judge Mary Murphy. Why? “She is pregnant.” Also, when judge and hip-hop choreographer Shane Sparks had to tell Bryan Gaynor — the pop-locker with scoliosis — that he didn’t make the cut, Sparks didn’t let him leave empty-handed; he promised Gaynor a part in his new dance movie. We checked and Gaynor has indeed been cast in Backdown.
5) Even the so-called “losers” had great attitudes. Viewers and fellow auditioners loved portly hairstylist E.J. Sierra. But his fancy steps, including a crowd-pleasing turning switch-leap down to a split, weren’t good enough for the judges. Lythgoe even seemed repulsed and offended, angrily telling E.J. people were cheering for him because he is a capable fat dancer, not because he’s a good one. But the 28-year-old wasn’t deterred. After his episode aired, Sierra, who’d dropped 170 pounds before auditioning, told TV Guide, “Just performing on that stage was probably the best time I’ve had dancing. So even if I didn’t pass, that was more than enough for me right there.”
6) Because nobody cries like Shane Sparks. We don’t know what’s with him this year, but he keeps turning on the waterworks. Sparks cries when he laughs, he cried when scoliosis-stricken Gaynor performed and when Houston popper Phillip Chbeeb blew him away. “I love when people do what they do and love what they do,” he [Sniffle] explains. “It touches me.”
7) Mary Murphy is much less of a ballroom snob. She’s always given street dancers a hard time, but since her promotion to a full-time judge this season, the ballroom queen seems a bit more open-minded. She even gave a B-boy a standing ovation. “When you see a great dancer, you see a great dancer,” Murphy says. “No matter what genre.”
8) SYTYCD outdances Dancing with the Stars. Yeah, we said it. Contestants on this show are serious about their craft. So much so that they’ve been working toward this dream since they were wee ones. And the job’s only getting harder. They train with choreographers up to 12 hours a week for the show, and then they practice privately on top of that. “It’s grueling,” Murphy says. “The emotional exhaustion of all of this is very difficult.”
9) Nigel is nicer! Sparks said it best when he told us, “Nigel has a little more compassion this year.” The exec producer sent some dancers through to the choreography round just for the experience and let several contestants down easy. “People have told me they thought I was cruel on occasion, but I never thought I was being mean,’” Lythgoe says. “When I was a dancer, I used to have chairs thrown at me by choreographers!” Who was his dance coach? Bobby Knight?
10) Hok is back! Tears — ours and his — rolled last season when judges sent the dynamic Japanese-British break-dancer (aka Hokuto Konishi) packing due to a problem with his visa. Thankfully, this year the 22-year-old is back with more — wow! — tricks. He’s even let us in on the secret to his trademark frantic leg twirl. “I used to do judo,” he says. “I don’t actually have a name for it. But the leg twirling was one of our blocking exercises. If you’re lying down, you do that to flip them off.” Judo chop!
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