Tuned In: Personality is key on Fox dance show

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LOS ANGELES -- One morning last week on the soundstage of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" (8 tonight, WPGH), dancers from this season's Top 12 rehearsed the Bollywood number that they performed on last week's show.

Garbed in colorful outfits -- the guys in turquoise; the women in red tops and gold skirts -- the dancers bounded across the stage, all smiles and limbs moving at the speed of light.

'So You Think You Can Dance'

When: 8 tonight, Fox.

Host: Cat Deeley.

This week, the contestants have been trimmed to 10 -- last week the judges sent Malece Miller and Alan Bersten home -- and they'll begin to be paired with All-Star dancers, including former Point Park University student Neil Haskell, who competed in season three and returned in seasons seven and eight as an All-Star.

Mr. Haskell, a Buffalo native, spent his freshman year (2005-06) at Point Park before embarking on a dance career after landing a job in New York. He's happy to return this week for the 10th season of "SYTYCD" following a stint playing the role of Steven in "Bring it On" on Broadway.

"It's great because you can lead the kids and give them advice and you learn so much from them as they're learning from you," Mr. Haskell said. "It works both ways. And it's fun to come back to this show. It sort of feels like a family and community and it's all positive. That can sound cheesy and fake and corny but every time I come back, it's all hugs."

He has been back to Pittsburgh a few times since his Point Park days, most recently in 2010, but he keeps up with some of his former teachers, including Kiesha Lalama, who he expects great things from in the near future.

"She's blowing up," he said. "She's gonna be the next big thing in choreography in New York. People in New York don't know what's coming. I'm so excited for her. She's actually just starting up a ballet company now and, dude, it's gonna be huge."

For his part, Mr. Haskell plans to stay put in Los Angeles for a while, focusing on booking TV and film roles.

None of the contestants in the current season of "SYTYCD" is from Pittsburgh, although 25-year-old Aaron Turner of Las Vegas said his mother is from Pittsburgh and he has aunts and uncles locally.

While dancing skill and artistry are certainly key elements of "SYTYCD," judge Nigel Lythgoe said another factor plays an even larger role in who wins the reality TV competition.

"Fifty-one percent is personality on this show, even more than technique or anything else," Mr. Lythgoe said during a press conference after the rehearsal performance. "You will always find that personality wins over technique on this show, generally."

While the show's regular judges and dancers may be serious about dance, Mr. Lythgoe said the general population is not.

"From my point of view, we are an entertainment show," he said. "And we have to be an entertainment show. Otherwise, we wouldn't be on the air. Dance is a very niche market when you're doing it in the art side of it, rather than in the celebrity side of it, like 'Dancing With the Stars.' And so we need to bring as many people to the party as possible. And if we bring people on here with a large social following, social network following, we hopefully will bring their fans to it as well, and they'll enjoy the show."

That helps explain the presence of past competitors, like Mr. Haskell and Travis Wall, who returned to the show as a choreographer. And it's why celebrity guest judges often show up. Mr. Wall said it's helpful if the celebrity judges know something about dance.

"Sometimes you get a celebrity, and it's great. And then sometimes they get up there and they don't say anything, even just to give a comment or a correction so a dancer can take something away from it," Mr. Wall said.

Choreographer Tabitha Dumo said celebrity judges can sometimes offer the audience point of view.

"I know when [co-choreographer] Napoleon and I choreograph a routine, we always do it for his sister," Ms. Dumo said. "She has nothing to do with dance ... but we always do it for her because we want to hear her opinion, as someone who doesn't understand the dance. Is it entertaining? Does she understand what we're saying?"

This is the second season that "SYTYCD" hasn't aired twice a week with a separate results show, a format ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" will switch to this fall. Mr. Lythgoe is not a fan of this approach.

"Listen, I won't lie to you: I hate doing the results in our performance show," he said. "It's horrible. So I don't know why they've gone to once a week. It's a shame. I guess it's ratings based."


A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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