Dance today is part of pop culture in a way that it wasn’t a decade and
a half ago. You see it on TV shows like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and in
;lms like La La Land. It’s become a more original and creative part of
music videos. And a surge of marketing campaigns and ads are featuring
professional dancers, or trying to use dance to brand their products.
The genesis of this trend can arguably be pointed back to one show:
“So You Think You Can Dance.” Since its 2005 beginning, the show has
made an unquestionable mark on the dance world. It’s won 14 Emmy
Awards, and made choreographers like Mia Michaels and Nappytabs
into household names. It’s helped launch initiatives to give back: the
Dizzy Feet Foundation, which brings dance education to underserved
communities and provides scholarships; and National Dance Day, which
encourages dancers and non-dancers alike to embrace the power of
And for the generation who grew up watching the show, it proved
that dance has a place on television. “It really has changed the percep-
tion of dance in the public eye,” says commercial dancer Alex Wong,
who competed on Season 7.
Last year, it looked like “SYTYCD” might be on its ;nal season:
Viewership and ratings were down, and the show seemed to be trying
to hang on by switching up its format, focusing on young talent ages 8
to 13 instead of the adult dancers audiences were used to. But this sum-
mer it’s back to its traditional formula, and embarking on a 14th season.
That means we get another summer where dance gets an audience
numbering in the millions. “ ‘SYTYCD’ has brought mainstream appre-
ciation to the extremely hard work that goes into being a dancer,” says
Karla Garcia, who competed on Season 5 and is currently in Hamilton
on Broadway. She adds that in pop culture, it’s rare for dancers to be the
main event rather than backup. “We are always seen behind an artist or
in an ensemble.” But “SYTYCD” puts dancers and their stories front
This increased exposure hasn’t necessarily translated into more
ticket sales for live performances, but it has presented an alternative way
of experiencing the art form. The show launched in the same year as You-Tube, and to Sydney Skybetter, a dance-media and online-presence expert,
its biggest impact was setting the standard for dance on the internet
with its “snackable, and eminently shareable” dance clips.
“ ‘SYTYCD’ has been incredibly successful in creating a place for
dance online when that was by no means inevitable,” says Skybetter.
“We didn’t have a common vocabulary to understand how dance could
impart meaning online, and ‘SYTYCD’ answered that abundantly.” The
show’s routines are short and to the point, providing a taste of whatever style is being performed. Their themes and storylines are easy to
follow and often pack an emotional punch. All of this makes them ideal
internet fodder. Last season alone featured 159 dances that were viewed
online over 170 million times.
Although the show’s subject matter isn’t always complicated or
boundary-pushing, it’s certainly accessible. It’s free, widely available
and easily understandable to an audience with no prior dance knowl-
edge. “This is accessibility in every sense of the word,” Skybetter says.
“It’s something that the dance world really struggles with. Getting
people into a theater is hard enough, let alone getting them to under-
stand why La Bayadère is a thing.”
Nigel Lythgoe, the co-creator, executive producer and judge of the
Fourteen seasons in, how has the show impacted the dance world?
BY SUZANNAH FRISCIA
The “So You Think You Can
ballet to a
Season 11 winner