So You Think You Can Dance took a big format risk for their 7th season, limiting the show to a top 10 instead of top 20 and introducing a roster of All-Star former contestants to dance their signature styles with the competitors. In many ways, the new format really paid off. There were a lot more memorable routines this year because the talent pool was more selective and the possibility of a strong dancer being pulled down by a sub-par partner was eliminated. It was also great to see the All-Stars back, for the most part they were really great choices (helpful, supportive, engaging and incredibly strong in their fields as well as some of the most memorable contestants that I was just happy to see dance again- Twitch! Neil! Mark! Comfort! Allison!)
The contestants this season though were a mixed bag. With only 10 spots to fill it became instantly annoying that the show had to have at least one dancer from each major genre. The uber-charming Jose was far from one of the best breakers the show’s seen, salsa dancer Cristina seemed a little token and tap dancer Melinda just wasn’t up to par. The format also allowed for the strangely awkward reality that most of the women were eliminated first, leaving a top 6 of 5 guys and 1 girl. But the strength and charisma of top 3 Lauren, Kent and Robert and the absolute amazingness that was Alex Wong made up for the lesser contestants. It was a season with some great dancing and some great personalities but it was also the season with hands down the most injuries. One of the only serious female contenders, Ashley, left on account of injury, as did my favourite competitor- Alex. One of my other favourites, Billy, was down for a week on a leg injury and amazing All-Star Allison had to take a week off for her ribs. It was a tough season but having Mia Michaels on the panel made it great no matter what.
So You Think You Can Dance Canada, on the other hand, left the format generally alone and populated it with 22 truly remarkable dancers. Winner Denys was the first ballroom dancer to take the title in any season I’ve watched of the Canadian or American shows, as well as a true testament to technique and perseverance (an excellent technician and hard worker, Ukrainian immigrant Denys was tougher to connect to than many of the other contestants but won when his sweetness and sense of fun managed to shine through and combine with his brilliant technique in multiple genres). The rest of the Top 20 was jam packed full of brilliant dancers and great personalities with very few that I didn’t actively like and none I really wanted gone. 19-year-old contemporary dancer Amanda Cleghorn caught my eye early in Toronto week with brilliant versatility, unparalleled lines and admirable commitment and stayed my favourite female right up to her second place finish. Ukrainian and contemporary dancer Jeff Mortensen was my favourite male (it was a big season for the Ukraine) as the beautiful technician morphed from his boyishly wonderful self into any of the dozens of demanding characters the choreographers layered onto him.
Lovely quirky dancers Danielle and Sebastian were also highlights, as were the charming and consistently excellent Mackenzie, Nathalie and Janick. Hip Hop dancer Edgar proved the season’s most versatile while the early-departed Jera brought some polarized fun with his crazy combination of ballet and breaking. Head judge Jean-Marc Genereaux continued to annoy (except when accompanied by his wife France, who keeps him wonderfully in line) but awesome other panelists Tre Armstrong, Blake McGrath (extra love) and Luther Brown kept the judging generally sane (though still a little too Canadian in the softball kindness of some comments). Guests from the American show ranged from the grating (Mary Murphy) to welcome (Dan Karaty) to wonderful (Mia Michaels- who also supplied the choreography for the season’s best piece: a group number to Rent‘s “Will I”) and guesting Canadian judges lent the show a brilliant legitimacy (it’s truly exceptional to see ballet icons Rex Harrington and Karen Kain up there). Excellent new choreographer Sabrina Matthews added some remarkable works to the season and returning choreographers Sean Cheesman, Gustavo Vargas, Sho-Tyme and Stacey Tookey were great as usual (Sean’s royalty routine for the finale was particularly wonderful). The contemporary numbers became repetitive and forced with the issues-driven elements but sometimes hit the nail right on the head (Alzheimers and spousal abuse taking centre stage with the most memorable routines). Watching weeks after the show actually aired, I was happy to have the ability to fast-forward through Jean-Marc and sad to have missed the opportunity to vote for my favourites, but with an overwhelmingly talented top 20 dancers and a generally great pool of judges and choreographers, So You Think You Can Dance Canada easily topped its American counterpart in 2010.