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So You Think You Can Dance mentor blog: tWitch on how the show redefines courage

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Quinn P. Smith/FOX/Getty Images

Everything was fantastic in this week’s top 8 performances. It was a great night — a very sad elimination, but what’s not going to be at this point in time? And one of my favorite things about this part of the competition is that we get to see solos from all of the dancers, because that’s when you really get reminded of why you’re there, why you love them, and why you’re voting for them. The Street dancers get out there and command the stage. They’re such a presence, and they’ve got so much personality. My favorite solos from the Street side were definitely Jaja and Virgil. And then Jim’s solo was incredible last night. That was crazy.

Virgil: Virgil once again proved why he was one of my favorites from the jump. He’s a load of talent, and this African Jazz routine was something we’ve never seen from him before. I kind of disagreed with Jason’s statement that he looked comical at times when he was trying to be sinister. I thought he was very into it, and he did an incredible job. And I thought it was very special too that I didn’t really notice the height difference, because they were dancing so well together. The lifts he did do — he nailed it. I was incredibly proud of him. 

Derek: He and Jaimie had a very beautiful routine. It’s been fight through the season to find Derek’s connection. That’s been an ongoing note for him, so even though he left the competition last night, hopefully he takes those notes with him: There always needs to be a connection to the piece. He’s an incredible dancer. His facility is crazy; his talent is crazy. Now, it’s just time to work on the emotional connection — not just what you’re dancing but why you’re dancing as well. That’s so important. 

And to be quite honest, I think that’s a note that’s spread across the entire cast. There are a select few — and they stand out — who really do that naturally. They add their theatrics and they add on all of the emotional connections that they need from the moment they start rehearsal. Those people are Gaby, Jaja, and Virgil. From the jump, I don’t think any of them have ever gotten a note about connecting ever. They’re very natural performers, and they’re smart in their choices. When So You Think comes back next season, it might be cool to have an acting coach on hand to talk about intention, because while you’re doing all of that incredible choreography, if you don’t have the right intention, it’s almost a disservice. Because then all we’re doing is watching you dance rather than feeling you dance. I feel like the connection note has probably been given the most this season, and I don’t really fault the contestants for that. That’s something that you have to learn and you have to practice. When you’re worried so much about the moves, if they’re foreign to you, then that’s where your main focus is going to lie. It’s just a word to the wise: You have to be able to infuse that emotion into every step.

Hailee: Hailee is one of the chameleons. Even though she is not on my team, she is one of my favorites and has been one of my favorites. I remember her the first and second times she tried out — I was there. I choreographed her in the Vegas round the first time, and then I was a judge the second time she tried out. She’s been working really, really hard, and there’s not too much that she can’t do. And I love Luther’s choreography — there’s nothing like it at all. It makes me want to get up and do it with them. That’s another piece Hailee has done that I wish I could be in.

Megz: Megz had it rough this week. The Paso Doble is a style that is super intense and very hard to pull off if you have no previous experience, but she did her best. That’s the thing about Megz — she does her best. She’s had a rough couple of weeks, I think, being in the bottom. That takes a toll mentally. So she really has to stay strong going into these next rehearsals. She’s another one who got notes on intention, but when you’re focused on controlling the cape and being lifted upside down, there’s a lot going through your head. I’m glad she can give it another go-round. Megz has her work cut out for her — not only to nail the choreography, but I also told her after the show that she’s really going to have to step up her solo. That’s going to be judged against Jaja and Virgil, who are two of the best soloists we’ve seen in this competition, period. I get really excited to watch them dance. So that’s something that Megz is going to have to work on, but thankfully she has another week to do it.

Neptune: It was tough to say goodbye to Neptune, but what a way to go out. He got to do his solo, and then he got to do a jazz piece to show his growth. Although they said he was exposed — which he was, because he doesn’t necessarily have formal training — the growth he showed is still tremendous. You really got to know Neptune, and that was one of the most important things for me as team captain. At least America got to know him and allowed him to come back week after week, so you could see how focused he is and how much good attitude he carries with him. That was really important. And on top of that, he’s going to be able to get to go on tour, so he’ll be back soon. As hard as Neptune works, and given everything he’s gained through this competition, I agree with Nigel. With a little bit of fine-tuning, he could be a professional dancer, no problem. This is definitely not the end of Neptune by any means.

Jim: This was one of those times where, just like the Street side had some exposure to their lack of training, Jim was the same. He’s been able to do everything. He’s been intensely focused and determined. But to embody the street feel, the hip-hop feel, is difficult, especially if it’s on the complete other end of the spectrum from what you do. From the way that you hold your body to the angles that your feet are turned — the turnout is a little different in hip-hop, so it was very hard. At the same time, this is what the show is about. It’s about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, stretching further than you’ve ever stretched before, and doing it in front of millions of people. 

The fact that you gear up enough courage and muster up the strength to go out on the stage and still give it everything you have, no matter what, no matter how you feel on the inside — that’s something that you never forget and always carry around with you. You’ve kind of redefined the word “courage” for yourself. And that’s really special. To me, that was probably the roughest routine that Jim has had to date, and I think it’s the furthest that he has been stretched, but there’s a strength in that too. Because he still got through it. And we got to see his solo — we are reminded of why he’s here. On the Stage side, Jim had the sickest solo for sure. 

Gaby: Gaby’s duet was absolutely stunning, and Robert was one of my favorite All-Stars. It was so beautiful. What a way to welcome back Mandy Moore. Besides Hailee’s, of course, it was my favorite Stage piece of the night, 100 percent.

Jaja: Jaja is a star, and I absolutely agree with the Amy Adams comment–there were some shots where she looked exactly like Amy Adams. It was kind of great. What’s even funnier is that Jaja had no idea who that is. She’s the hardest girl in her solos — fitted hat on, Krumping, going crazy hard. And then she’s like, “What is a mobster?” And she can’t say “feisty.” Jaja is another chameleon. She’s just going to have to keep it up. One thing she’s going to have to work on is her stamina, because in the upcoming weeks, they’re probably going to start doing multiple routines. I see her in the top 4, and there will be a lot of dancing. She’s going to have to stay strong within those routines.

I thought Tessandra’s Team Stage group number was fantastic, and I really enjoy watching the Street dancers get down and do their thing. Something that I’ve been noticing a lot on the social media comments is that people want to see deeper concepts from the Team Street group routines. Last night was one of the times when I actually wish there might have been a concept as well. That was the last time we’ll see those four dance together. Next week, there’s only going to be three of them, and there are going to be a lot of routines. But the great thing about these dancers is that they do the absolute best with what they’re given every single week, and they really enjoy dancing with each other.

I’m very proud of these dancers. We started out with hundreds and hundreds of dancers, and it’s whittled down to three now. They’re carrying the torch for everybody. I’m really excited to see what next week holds. Especially in the video packages — we had the cutest video packages this week. Virgil was an adorable kid. Jaja looks the same.

I want to thank America for getting those votes in there. The first couple of weeks, we lost the vote, and I started to wonder if we would ever win one. Now we’ve won three in a row. We really appreciate that. At this point, every single vote counts. It’s time to start getting creative. If you really want your favorite contestant to win, it doesn’t have to stop at just you. Have voting parties. Throw a party to watch SYTYCD and then start voting together. Reach out to your friends; reach out to your family. All it takes is a single phone call. If you’re really good at memes or gifs, get creative. It’s down to the wire, so do everything you can. That’s what’s going to count.

As told to Kelly Connolly

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