The pain threshold for the So You Think You Can Dancers must be off the charts. Take, for example, the pinched expression on contemporary dancer Danny Tidwell's face Wednesday night as the judges argued over whether his problem connecting with the audience was the result of his perceived arrogance. Tidwell's expression had little to do with the discussion about his attitude — he was battling tremendous physical discomfort and his closed, tight face hid the fact that he probably wanted to scream. "He had four safety pins pricking his testicles because he'd split his pants," explains executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe, shaking his head after tonight's results show. "You never give a dancer safety pins, and he had four of them up there."
Then there's the silent suffering of international Latin ballroom specialist Anya Garnis, who's had trouble wowing the judges with her solo work but had to "dance for her life" tonight on a twisted ankle. "We didn't know it and she came out and worked on it anyway," says Lythgoe. That was after Sabra Johnson had a close personal encounter with the floor during the opening number. "She got dropped and she really did bash her head," says Lythgoe, who's still hearing from disgruntled fans about the fact that Jessi Peralta was sent home last week after being briefly hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. Guess what? It wasn't the first time she'd given the producers a scare.
"For two weeks, Jessi was ill," says Lythgoe. "The first week, we got her through it. But the second week she went to the hospital." Lythgoe owns up to the charge that Peralta was sent packing in part because of her health. "I won't speak for the other judges," says Lythgoe, "but for me personally, yes, I did take that into account."
Don't kid yourself, this competition is as much about stamina and dumb luck (as in not getting injured) as it is about ability. Unlike Dancing with the Stars, there are no pros to take over the demanding performances on results night. These amazing dancers have to learn a new routine with their partners every week, then learn a group routine for results night, and finally, prepare a solo in case they land in the bottom three.
One dancer who's never been in that bottom-three spot is Lacey Schwimmer. As the weeks go on, it's clear that she has become a major contender. "Lacey is a beautiful young woman who has the same spunk as her brother [Benji, who won all the marbles last season]," says judge Mary Murphy. "She's drop-dead gorgeous. She's got the technique. She's got it all."
Lythgoe is already on record as saying that Benji's little sister beats her big brother in overall dance technique. "I've seen Benji bluff a lot of things," says Lythgoe. "And when I say 'bluff,' he was still great. Don't get me wrong: Benji's technique is superb. I just think Lacey's is even better."
You have to wonder if Benji feels so last-year when he hears that comparison. "Not at all," he says, hanging out backstage after the show. "I taught her, so that's just a credit to my teaching abilities. Of course she's more technical than I am, because she's had one more teacher than I had — me."
Benji makes no bones about calling Lacey "the front-runner of this competition. And I'm not saying that because she's my sister. I'm probably more critical of her than anybody. If she asks my opinion, I'm probably the one who will make her feel the worst because, [for] one, she respects what I have to say. And two, I'll be very honest." Benji moves his body fast and sharp, demonstrating his latest critique. "I told her she needs to snap things a little more. She was supposed to be sexy [in her last performance]. But you can be sexy and feisty at the same time."
Judge Mary Murphy sees a maturity that could ultimately give Lacey even more of a winning edge. "Benji was more of a cornball," says Murphy. "Funny and kind of dorky and absolutely lovable. But if you remember, we had to go on and on with Benji about his facial expressions. With Lacey, we don't have to. She's not over-the-top."
It's strange to think that Lacey herself — who's been dancing seriously since the age of 13 — believed that being related to last year's winner would make her persona non grata during the auditions. "I thought, 'It probably won't happen for me because I am Benji's little sister and they might not like that,'" said Lacey, just after making the final cut to enter the Dance competition. "I hope they see me for who I am, not for who my brother was."
It doesn't seem to be a problem. But she, too, faces daunting physical challenges — and pain that would stop many people from moving a muscle. "Can we not talk about that?" she asks, laughing. "My left kneecap is deformed. I have torn cartilage in my wrist. I have scoliosis in my back. I take a lot of ibuprofen."
Like we said: off the charts.
Check out some great behind-the-scenes pics from So You Think You Can Dance in the July 16 issue of TV Guide. Try four risk-free issues now!
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