How to tell if you are watching a good 'So You Think You Can Dance' audition

So You Think You Can Dance‘s audition rounds can get confusing. And not just because of Lil’ C’s dictionary-bending vocabulary. No, sometimes it’s tough to decipher the judges decisions: Why does one dancer get turned away entirely while another seemingly similar dancer picks up a ticket? Why do the judges rave about one dancer while sending through another with cautionary advice? How can you tell apart the Melanie Moores (pictured) from the Danielle Ihles? For your reference, I’ve put together a guide to good dancing, courtesy my experience in both dance and the recapping of SYTYCD. (Note: Since I am a worse hip-hop dancer than cheese-denier, this list is skewed towards SYTYCD‘s contemporary dancers. Also: I know nothing about ballroom, other than it breeds good-looking Russian men. Come to mama, Pasha!) Without further ado, seven ways you know you’re watching a good dancer, after the jump!

Tear-jerking story: This one’s obvious. Unlike Idol — known to pull plenty of bait-and-switches on us gullible fans — pretty much every auditioning dancer who brings up a sob story will be ushered through to Vegas, even if they have to go through choreography first. See: Last week’s homeless-because-of-deadbeat-dad Ihle, a sloppy dancer who really needed a few more years of refined training in order to really become a contender. But that doesn’t matter. M.I.A. father? Vegas. House burnt to the ground? Vegas. Sick relative? Vegas. Hangnail? Only if SYTYCD gets really desperate.

Pre-dance rituals: SYTYCD is partial to showing b-roll footage of our dancers preparing for their auditions while they tell cameras their stories. Take a look at their stretching techniques — if the auditioner uses a bar, and can stretch his/her head to his/her foot, safe bet you’re about to watch a quality dancer. If his/her idea of warming up is through booty shaking, you’re likely about to witness bad dancing of Sex-like caliber.

Their feet: General rule of thumb here: The more disgusting the feet, the more gorgeous the dancing. Look for bandages, blisters, and bunions. Beauty is pain.

Wispy shirt + underwear = Vegas: Leotard and tights? Psh. That kind of dance uniform is a thing of the past. Though in my day, we donned unconventional wear like garbage bag shorts (yes, they actually resembled trash bags), SYTYCD has dictated that in-vogue dancing attire be a mixture of carefree and slutty. See an auditioner with a flow-y top just short enough to give Nigel Lythgoe a view of some tight-fitting hip-huggers when she developpés? She’s in. For an example, see this picture of season 5 winner Jeanine Mason.

Song choice: If you find yourself grooving to a relatively unknown tune by the likes of Dionne Farris or Roisin Murphy, you’re watching a good dancer. Sisqó or Britney Spears? Probably not. Dancers are a creative folk — they are likely to have unconventional, but sophisticated, music tastes.

Don’t get distracted by flashy moves: Yes, back flips and double pirouettes look impressive. But those will just get you to choreography — gymnastics isn’t dance, and pirouettes are far easier than they look. Look for extensions that appear as though they could reach as high as Jupiter, and jumps that look effortless. If you can’t tell that a dancer is transitioning to the next move — and doesn’t need to prepare before executing pirouettes — then they are bound to be Vegas-bound.

Muscles: Always works.

How can you tell, PopWatchers? Lend your two cents!

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

Read more:
‘So You Think You Can Dance’ premiere recap: The Hot Tamale Train is Back!
‘So You Think You Can Dance': The 15 Greatest Routines


Comments (48 total) Add your comment
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  • lol

    I love it! Thanks for the tips!

  • Sarah El

    I fully support any use of Pasha pictures.

    • Kaci

      I concur.

    • justjack

      oh thank you for that picture. yummy.

    • Mindy

      Me too!

    • Bell

      Pasha and Mark

    • Nick T

      Yes. Pasha. Yes

    • chattypatra

      Add me to this list, please!

  • Laurie

    Haha, agreed :]

  • Larrylew

    Just so you know, pirouettes are not easier than they look. Dancers make them look easy. And you can definitely tell a good dancer by their turns.

    • Mocha

      I agree. Although they’re not the flashiest, good pirouettes and fouette turns are a lot more difficult than dancers make them look.

      • MF

        But pirouettes are one of the first things most dancers learn, so pulling out a double just means you’re an average middle schooler. Yes, 4+ is impressive, and yes, most non-dancers couldn’t pirouette well if their life depended on it, but it’s still one of the easier things in the vocabulary.

      • Mocha

        I agree, and I never said pirouettes are among the hardest skills–they’re far from that. I just think that if a dancer has sky-high leaps but shaky pirouettes, their technique is still lacking and you can tell.

    • Hi

      It’s not the turns that are difficult, it’s maintaining your center. I’ve seen MANY hip hop dancers with NO training pull out doubles or even tripples but how they come OUT of the turns is where you can tell trained from un-trained. Almost anyone can stand on one foot and turn…it’s true, this is not that difficult. It’s doing it w/ a solid center and “dismount” if you will, that makes it solid.

  • Sara

    I’ve seen eight year olds do beautiful pirouettes. It’s the other stuff that’s impressive.

  • tim

    Melanie Moore was amazing. I feel like she won’t make it through Vegas. The best ones never do.

  • etm

    I keep thinking that’s a pic of Ginnifer Goodwin!

    • Lauren

      Me too! I was seriously confused at first.

  • mary

    Love this list, I always wonder about the technical side of the judges decision. Ovbviously the sob story is a dead television giveaway. I hope EW reposts one of their slideshows of the best SYTYCD performances too. That’s the perfect timewaster and an excellent reminder of how talented these performers are as we gear up for the season!

    • unicornicus

      Second! I love those lists and I’d love to see it updated. I hope Kate Ward reads this…

  • cam

    this article made me think to last year when they showed Adam Shankman demostrating all the audition chlice’s, like the “reach to the sky.” haha…

    • Mindy

      I LOVED that segment! One of my favorite audition segments ever.

  • Tanya S

    This girl was not only a fabulous dancer but you could tell that she was just the sweetest genuine thing. I hope she goes all the way!

    • Lola

      I so totally agree! I just finished watching her prior to deleting from my Tivo. She was breathtaking and had soooo much musicality. At the risk of sounding cheesy, she made me tear up – and not because of the sob story but because of her dancing alone.

  • Lemon

    Oy. Enough with the personal drama stories. Just dance already. And is it just me, or are they seriously lowering their standards? “Helicopter arms girl” gets sent through to Vegas???

    • Kat

      Yeah I don’t know what was up with the wacker who was inspired by helicopters. It was interesting to watch, but I couldn’t believe how much they RAVED and that they sent her straight to Vegas, even though her leaps looked heavy to me, and she didn’t really demonstrate much other dance technique. I was waiting for them to send her to choreography and I figured she would nail it (she’s got a great way of holding your attention, even when she’s totally still), but I couldn’t quite believe they just sent her straight to Vegas. Bizarre.

  • Cate

    My question is about the hip-hop dancers. How come some of them go straight to Vegas, but others have to go through choreography, even though none of them have proven that they can do anything but hip-hop? Is it a matter of how good their hip-hop is because SYTYCD always needs that genre?

    • Kat

      I think it’s a matter of how much musicality and/or flow and/or entertainment and/or general wow factor they demonstrate. If there’s a good combination of those things happening, then they can go to Vegas. If they do well in their dance but don’t really show much of those four things, then it’s usually choreography. Or at least that’s my take.

    • Mindy

      They also ask the contestants to talk about their experience when they ask their name, age and style at the beginning before they perform. So, sometimes these hip-hop dancers have experience on their resume that shows a lot of training/work with choreography, a la B-Boy Machine from last week.

  • cam

    one thing to keep in mind: yes they’re looking for the best dancers, but they’re also looking for ratings/good TV. Looks and personality are huge factors, as well as back story. But I suppose that’s true for any “dance” audition as well. …but I bet the main reason they sent the krumper to Vegas is so there could be a confrotaional “scene” with Lil c.

    • TV_Pete

      I thought his partner dancing was not bad, so I wasn’t surprised he got sent through to Hollywood.

      • Madge

        Never would have thunk I would find this so inidspnesable.

  • Dear Dairy

    The comment about transitioning to the next move is so true — and the main reason that, IMHO, Danielle Ihle will not go far in the competition. Her transitions were so poor as to be distracting.

    • Mindy

      Absolutely. It made her look like a total amateur.

    • TV_Pete

      I thought it was not great either.

      The girl with Amnesia also had trouble transitioning out of her moves. Sadly, her physique was beautiful, but she had a little more weight than the female dancers. An extra 10 pounds puts extra stress on the body and 20 pounds can definitely “hold you down” during jumps.

  • Crystal

    ALL I could think during the latin yellow dancer was “Anya and Pasha, I miss you!!”

    Dancing is so subjective, it is always interesting to see the judges take vs. mine. I also ff’wd through ALL the backstory stuff.

    They seem to be showing a lot fewer whole auditions this season – is that just my perception??

    • Mindy

      No. They do seem to be showing a lot fewer auditions. Especially as I have seen the spoilers. I know a lot of the dancers who make it. And I know that some of them auditioned in these cities, and their auditions weren’t aired.

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