Top 15+ Routines from So You Think You Can Dance

As the daughter of a dance teacher/choreographer, always seemed unfair that I didn't inherit my mother's dancing ability.  However, I did inherit her love of dance, and So You Think You Can Dance is the first show in ages that I actually rush home to watch.  Admit my reason for posting this list is entirely selfish - looking forward to consolidating links to all my favorites in one place, so that I can watch these amazing routines as often as I like!
  1. Benji and Heidi, mambo, "Black Mambo."  You don't need to watch those ballroom dancing competitions on Saturday afternoon television - just watch these two nationally-ranked performers show you how the mambo is done!  (Gentlemen, take note: no matter how geeky you look, learn to dance like Benji and you'll have to shake the girls off with a stick!)
  2. Jakob and Molle, waltz, "Ordinary Day."  Nothing ordinary about this exquisite performance.  Usually when I think of the waltz, my imagination conjures visions of stuffy people in gilded ballrooms.  But this routine made me realize what the waltz can be at its best: energy, joy, and experiencing - if only for the length of a dance - what it must feel like to fly. Add a touch of nostalgia (the costumes, the scenery, the sweetly innocent "boy meets girl" storyline) and you get one of my favorite SYTYCD routines ever.
  3. SYTYCD Company, contemporary, "Ramalama (Bang, Bang)."  From nostalgia in the park to ... zombies!  This show definitely explores the extremes of dance. But how can you not love this twisted, brilliant routine choreographed to a song that sounds like the music zombies would make if they could form their own band?  (FYI, the male dancer who's clearly better than all the others is the routine's choreographer, Wade Robson.)
  4. Dominic & Robert, hip hop, "Scars."  Does it get creepier than zombies?  One word for you: clowns.  The frenetic choreography of this piece perfectly complements the disturbing score, creating a dance that you'll remember ... in your nightmares!
  5. Kayla and Kupono, contemporary, "Gravity".  This dark but utterly riveting routine personifies the horror of addiction: both the intoxicating grace with which it tempts the addict, and the brutality with which it imprisons them.  The choreography stands alone but - serendipidously - it's performed here by two dancers who can act, and the result is a performance so haunting that you may have trouble shaking it off afterwards. 
  6. Nick and Melody, jazz/broadway, "All That Jazz."  This steamy routine is liquid awesome by way of Bob Fosse, poured over a glass full of Broadway. Bartender - bring me another one!
  7. Brandon and Janette, jazz, "Ruby Blue."  Fun, fun, fun!  Part silent film, part Raiders of the Lost Ark, this routine made me laugh aloud even as the intricate, tongue-in-cheek choreography left me dazzled - performed brilliantly, by the way, by two of the best dancers ever to appear on the show.
  8. Danny and Lacey, samba, "Hip Hip, Chin Chin."  Steamy, sensuous, sultry, and sexy, sexy, sexy!  No wonder those Latin countries have the reputation they do!  To be fair, have to split the credit for this one three ways: the choreography is smoking, the song is tight, and the performers don't just land it - they nail it.
  9. Neil and Sabra, jazz, "Sweet Dreams."  (aka "the table dance")  Who choreographs a dance about a business negotiation?  After this you may be wondering, why hasn't anyone choreographed a dance about a business negotation before?  Be prepared to be dazzled by storytelling, the athleticism, the precision, and this one breathtaking moment when Neil vaults over Sabra and the table.   (Forget dance - someone sign that boy up for the U.S. Olympics gymnastic team!)
  10. Twitch and Katee, contemporary, "Mercy." (aka "the door dance")  Not the most challenging or demanding routine, but definitely one of the most entertaining.  The choreographer seems to be channeling Amy Winehouse by way of the Alvin Alley Dance Company.  Another example of how the right story + the right choreography + the right music + the right dancers = magic.
  11. Courtney and Mark, jazz, "The Garden." And now for something completely different ...!  This is so strange, which I'm sure is what makes it so fascinating. Sexual energy literally explodes from the dancers with each lunge, kick and pounce.  Feirce!
  12. Twitch & Alex, hip hop, "Get Outta Your Mind."  The routine features a hip hop-dancing therapist trying to help a classically trained ballet dancer patient get his freak on.  Which is the stuff of great drama - but when you add the fact that Twitch really is a hip hop God, and Alex really is a classically trained ballet dancer, you get magic.  
  13. Kent and Neil, Broadway, "Damn Yankees."  Don't know if this will make anyone else's "Top 15" list, but for me this energetic, acrobatic routine represents pure Broadway magic with a heaping plate of "Gee Whiz!" on the side.
  14. Adichike and Comfort Hip Hop, "Falling." The choreographer of this routine has perfectly captured the raw pain of breaking up with a partner who is bad for you. Alicia Keyes should consider making this the official video for her song.
  15. Jaimie and Hok, Jazz, "The Chairman's Waltz" (aka "The Hummingbird Dance").  For all they talk about the importance of different styles of dance, SYTYCD has a blind spot with respect to ballet.  Which is a shame, because this luminous performance shows that ballet can be about a lot more than tutus and toe shoes.
  16. Chelsea and Mark, Hip Hop, "Bleeding Love."  Who knew hip hop dancing could make you cry?  Dare you not to be moved by this simple but exquisite piece of choreography depicting a wife trying desperately to compete for the attention of her workaholic husband. 
  17. Lindsay and Cole, Paso Doble, "Unstoppable."  The paso doble is hard to pull off - unless the male dancer manages to successfully channel the inner ferocity of the dance, the formulaic moves can come off as painfully awkward rather than masculine.  And then, finally, in the show's ninth seasons, two gifted dancers show how it's meant to be done.  Adrenalin-inducing!
  18. Tiffany and Eliana, Pole Dance, "When You're Good to Mama."  This number will make you wonder why burlesque ever died.
  19. Ensemble, Jazz, "Fame".  Every time I watch this number by choregrapher Wade Robson I'm reminded of a great line from the musical Amadeus, in which Mozart celebrates opera for its ability to transform 20 voices speaking all at once from cacaphony to beauty. In this case it's 20 dancers all going about their own business, except that Wade Robson turns all that cacaphony into something gorgeous.
  20. Ensemble, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, choreographed by Mia Michaels. Seriously, if anyone ever turns Alice in Wonderland into a dance operetta, it's going to look just like this: equal parts beautiful, unsettling, frenetic, and magical.
  21. Lauren and Pasha, ChaCha, "Telephone".  This isn't even close to the best cha cha ever performed on the show - in fact, most of the moves are pretty basic, but between the way Lauren hurls that fringe around and whatever that is that Pasha's doing with his hips, this performance is smoking hot!
  22. Ensemble, Contemporary, "Wave".  Setting aside that pretty much everything Travis Wall does is outstanding, this one rises above the others for its eerie beauty and wave-like quality of movement. Who knew a bunch of men could move like this?
  23. Kent and Lauren, Contemporary, "Collide." So it helps that this amazingly sweet story of young love is performed by two of SYTYCD's most lovable young dancers, Kent and Lauren, but after you see the way these two gifted dancers pull off this deceptively intricate choreography - including a section in the middle where, I swear, they sustain flawless synchrony for 12 entire bars - you'll agree that only they could have pulled this off.
  24. Robert and Ashly, Quick Step, "The Man With the Hex." Quickstep has come to be known as the "dance of death" on the show because it's incredibly hard to bring the level of perfect precision required to make choreography that's incredibly effortful look effortless.  This is as close as any two performers have come to making it work. Just check out the long run they pull off during the bridge ...!
  25. Ensemble (featuring Mark), Jazz, "All That Jazz." So I've already listed an All That Jazz cover on this list, which makes me wonder if I just have a thing for Bob Fosse.  Maybe, but there's also the Mark, like an electrical generator, sizzles with popping electricity from the moment the dance begins, animating the whole cast.
  26. Billy and Katee, Broadway, "McCaverty, the Mystery Cat." I'm not sure choreographers always knew what to do with Billy's style of dance, characterized by a range of movement seemingly unhindered by bones, but whoever figured out he'd make a great cat was channeling genius. Watch this and ask me afterwards if you wouldn't pay $200 a ticket to see this guy in Cats.
  27. Robert and Alison, Contemporary, "Fix You." On one level, this is a gorgeous contemporary dance performed with near Siamese-twin-like synchronicity by two gifted dancers. On a deeper level, however, it's an incredibly affecting story about supporting someone you love through their darkest hours. Go ahead and appreciate both levels equally; god knows they're both equally worthy.
  28. Brandon and Janette, Disco "Loving is Really My Game". I know ... DISCO. But you know how one tends to forget the painful memories and remember the idealized ones? Here's your chance to forever bury any painful recollections you may cling to of "bump" choreography and white leisure suits and replace them with what all of us who actually lived through the 1970s like to believe disco was really about - energy, celebration, dazzle, spectacle, and pure, unrestrained joy.
  29.  Ensemble, Broadway, "Puttin' on the Ritz." Let's call this what it is: a whopping dose of infectious energy topped by a swirl of good clean fun with a cherry on top. Probably helps that it's the first ensemble dance of the season - the dancers are visibly busting with excitement and pride at having made it on the show!
  30.  Ensemble, Broadway, "Charleston." Gangsters and molls,
  31. Ensemble, Contemporary/hip hop, "Velocity". It's Matrix: The Musical!

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