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Can SYTYCD's Next Generation really dance?

Every summer I look forward to the return of So You Think You Can Dance.  For several weeks, I forget that I’m an over-the-hill former dancer who never had the skill, body-type or stage presence to make it as a professional.  Instead, I watch magic happen on stage and then compare my technical notes to that of the judges.

So when the show announced a change in format this season to focus on 8 to 13-year olds, I figured this was a desperate attempt at a ratings revival.  And I was worried.

Since the dawn of MTV, dance has undergone a hyper-sexual revolution.  Dance schools went from focusing on proper technique to flashy costumes and shaking their booty like the music videos.  And frankly, it gets a little weird to watch girls who haven’t developed yet popping their hips and throwing a come-hither look over their shoulders.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

The kids who passed the first round of auditions were then selected by previous seasons’ All-Stars.  Then, they auditioned further, trying new styles of dance like their adult predecessors.

In the end, each of the ten All-Stars chose one dancer to work with for the show.  But what to do with them?

The show’s choreographers are second to none.  However, their subject matter tends to be complex and emotionally-charged.  Not something an immature mind could properly perform.  And how many different ways can you put a child and an adult together until it gets inappropriate?  Of course, the choreographers could just dummy it down so that we were watching a kids dance recital every week.

Fortunately, the routines have been fun, different, and stretched the choreographers’ creativity.  But what of those kids who seemed to be mostly cute smiles in Elmo-sized packages?

When kids grow, their proportions change, allowing for more articulation and subtlety in their movement, not to mention strength. This has been a problem for a couple of competitors.

Four-foot-tall J.T. is frankly too-short for a lot of the movements he’s been attempting.  And yet, when he danced beside his coach, All-Star Robert, he broke the rules of physics.  His age disappeared.  He danced like a man, not a child. And instead of being weird, it was … beautiful.

Ironically, each of the All-Stars picked dancers who were (although not obvious at first sight) funhouse mirror versions of themselves.  So you can see what they could become with the right guidance.

Of course, 8 years old is too young to focus on a career. And some were not ready for the pressure or emotional impact of the show’s competition.  The first child to be eliminated was so distraught she was taken off stage during her video montage.

Ironically, Nigel Lithgow originally didn’t want to do the show for much of the same reasons I didn’t want to watch.  He’s changed his mind – as have I – despite the ratings hitting a series low.

This may be the last summer of SYTYCD.  But it shows high hopes for the future of dance.