He’s been labeled a freakish dancer and an androgynous dancer, but the day after being eliminated from So You Think You Can Dance, Billy Bell, 20, seemed to simply be a satisfied dancer. Surprisingly chipper, the contemporary dancer called up EW to chat about his injury, Nigel’s criticism of his decision to sit out, and the routine he’s hoping to reprise on tour. (You’d be surprised!)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling?
BILLY BELL: Yeah. I think Jose and I both felt kind of — I guess “relieved” isn’t the best word. It wasn’t a sad experience. We both had no regrets leaving the competition. I think we were both satisfied with everything that we had done, and how far we had grown. It’s kind of a strange, but happy, experience.
You did make it really far!
Yeah. And, also, we’re going to be back so soon doing the finale, and back again doing the tour. So it’s not like we’re gone for too long.
Is there someone who you were really close to?
Yeah, probably Robert and Lauren were the closest for me. But all of them really. It’s such a tight family, words can’t describe it.
You were a favorite going into the season. Did you ever think you were a lock for the top 3 or top 4?
Actually, the exact opposite ran through my mind. I thought, oh, they’re probably setting me up to cut me. I probably won’t even make the show this year. I thought I was going to get cut in Vegas.
I don’t know. I felt different this season. I can’t even really explain it. I just felt like I was going to get cut. So I was kind of on pins and needles the whole time.
This has been such a long journey for you, since you were supposed to be part of season 6, before you had to leave. So I’m guessing, if anything, you feel fulfilled that you were able to be big part of season 7.
Oh, for sure. I feel like everything happens for a reason. There was a reason I was on season 6 and I got sick. And there was a reason I was on season 7. I think that if it’s meant to happen, it’s definitely going to happen. I think everything that happened was great.
This year you also had your knee injury. What happened?
I have a slightly torn [section] of my knee. Basically just soft tissue attached to ligaments. So yea. It kind of basically just messed up the tracking in my knee, and was causing me a lot of pain. So I went through a lot of physical therapy throughout the week to get it better, or a little less painful. And I wore a big old knee brace while dancing, and that helped out a lot.
Did you hurt it during a specific dance?
No. I think it was a repetitive use sort of injury. It wasn’t necessarily one specific thing.
It was a bit controversial that you decided not to dance, even though the doctor gave you the go-ahead. What was the reasoning for you sitting out?
My entire reasoning for sitting out was because I’m a huge believer in prevention. And I thought, if I feel something tearing, why am I going to continue to tear it when I can stop, let it heal, and continue in the competition? Especially because, in the grand scheme of things, the show is such a small part of someone’s career. I was just thinking ahead of time. Whether I won or lost the competition. It’s better to win or lose the competition and be able to dance, than win or lose the competition and be like, oh, great, now my knee’s completely messed up and I’ll never be able to dance.
Were you guys more aware of that this season, because of all the injuries suffered on the set?
For sure. As the show was growing, they are becoming more conscious about how their dancers are working, and all of the injuries that are taking place. They’ve been checking in on us, and they’ve been saying, “How do you feel? How is your body?” That was helping out a lot in preventing injury, rather than letting it happen.
Had there been too much dancing this season? It seems like you guys are dancing more than in previous seasons. Are you overwhelmed? Does it feel like too much?
I actually don’t think we are dancing more than any other season. I definitely feel like it is manageable. I actually think it’s just a fluke. It’s something that’s just happening this season that’s never happened in the past. As far as dancing more, I think it’s just — when you put all of your heart into something, there becomes a moment when you stop thinking about yourself, and you start thinking about what you want to do, rather than what you can do. And I think that’s when injuries start to happen, when you’re giving it your all all the time. You forget, like, oh, I guess I do have to take care of my body.
The week you did sit out, it seemed like Nigel was subtly critiquing you for doing so on results night. Did you think that was unfair?
I did feel a little bit of criticism for my decision. I don’t regret it in any way whatsoever. I feel like I made the smartest decision. I was actually kind of upset, because stepping — that was my favorite routine that I had done all season. So to have to sit in the audience and watch tWitch do it was kind of horrible for me. Not going to lie. That was my favorite dance. So that definitely was rough. And then to hear the next day Nigel almost insinuate that I was, like, faking something, was almost like, are you kidding me? But things happen. TV happens. What are you gonna do, right? There’s always certain positions where you’re helpless, and you’re like, Okay. I can’t really say anything.
You experienced a different panel shortly last season with Mary. Did you notice a general difference in mood across the board this season?
I think the difference was pretty evident this season. I feel like with Mia on panel, it kind of has a different edge for the contemporary dancers. Beforehand, you had Adam, Mary, and Nigel. And the three of them aren’t necessarily contemporary or classically trained in ballet. So it was kind of like, okay, you’re taking the criticism as an opinion. Whereas, with Mia, she can tell you something very, very specific. And that will hit home a little bit quicker. I feel like it was easier to take a correction this season.
Did it just feel more constructive?
Oh, for sure. I felt like anything that was said came with good intention. Even if it wasn’t necessarily said in the best way. But it came from somewhere. And that meant you could definitely improve on something.
Last night, Nigel called you an androgynous dancer. Do you think of yourself that way?
You know, I don’t really mind being androgynous. I think anything to set you apart is good. That’s kind of been the hot topic, I feel like. Everyone’s been on this androgynous case. I don’t really mind.
What was your favorite routine of the season, besides the stepping?
The homeless routine that I did with Ade and Stacey Tookey. That was a big moment for me. For some reason, I was just really able to get into the character, and I think it really helped in the performance.
So it was nice to go out with a bang then with that routine, right?
Going out on a high note is way better than going out on a low note. For sure. I was definitely thrilled.
And you’re definitely going on tour, right?
Yes! So excited!
Is there a dance you want to make sure to do on the tour again?
Bollywood was kind of fun. I really liked the krump. Everyone hated on me for the krump, but I really liked it! I mean, I would do the krump again. Why not?
Was there an all-star you enjoyed working with most?
That’s hard. They’re all so different. Probably Kathryn. I knew her from season 6, so I guess I’m a little biased. It was kind of like working with an old friend all over again. It was nice because we partnered in season 6 for the first week, and all of a sudden, we were partners again.
You also knew Robert before the season started. So you came in with a little family.
Yeah, Robert danced for my company, so I knew him for a little while too. I think that made it a lot easier dealing with things. As opposed to having to meet people and test it out to see who you could talk to most, we knew. Going in, we knew each other. We were like, “It will be fine. If you have a problem, come talk to me. Or I’ll come talk to you.”
Who do you think is going to win the whole thing?
It’s so hard! All four have such potential to really take it. I think AdéChiké is gaining so much momentum in the competition, whereas Kent has had it. He’s had the tween support the whole time. They love him. And then Lauren is the only girl, so she’s definitely got a huge chunk of vote right there. And Robert — I kind of think he’s a dark horse. I think he’s going to sneak up. He could take it.
What can we expect next from you after the tour?
I definitely want to start doing more of my own choreography. But at the same time, I want to make sure I have a dance career. I’m pretty much interested in anything and everything. I want to do film, I want to dance on television more. I want to do company work. I want to tour with artists. I want to tour with companies. I want to do it all. I’ll be everywhere.
Would you want to come back and choreograph for the show? Pull a Travis Wall?
Oh yeah, in a heartbeat.