Inside the Making of Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance"

October 26, 2008

Chances are, you’ve been watching “So You Think You Can Dance” since its premiere July 20 on Fox, but DS has the inside scoop on what it really took for these dancers to make it to Hollywood. Producers saw more than 2,000 hopefuls in eight U.S. cities, and invited dancers to callbacks in NYC, L.A. and Chicago, where open auditions were also held.

In NYC, DS sat in on a Broadway Dance Center private audition, where students performed solos in their chosen dance form. Only 150 dancers out of about a thousand, both from the BDC audition and the NYC open call, were asked to return to the callback.

According to dancer Amy Ryerson, who performed a contemporary/modern solo, the callback lasted for 16 grueling hours, during which judges whittled the group to 20 finalists. Dancers had to freestyle to hip-hop music for the first cut. Because Ryerson heard that judges weren’t impressed by high kicks and leaps in the freestyle round, she danced like she was in a club. “It was funny, because I had a lyrical costume on,” she says. “Somehow, I stayed to the next round.”

Next, dancers performed prepared solos and were interviewed. They didn’t begin learning choreography until nearly 10 pm (the day began at 8:30 am), at which point they learned one salsa dance and one hip-hop routine, Ryerson says. She was put on a “short list” of about 20 potential finalists, pending results of L.A. auditions. Only eight dancers from the NYC short list (Ryerson was not one of them) were eventually selected to join winners from L.A. and Chicago to comprise the 50-person cast.

Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe, who also produces “American Idol,” explains that the final 50 were not simply the best dancers in the country. “They [were] cast so that [we had] breakers, hip-hop dancers, ballet dancers, lyrical jazz dancers, Irish dancers and tap dancers,” he says. “It’s a question of, so you think you can dance? Well, let’s try you out with other styles.”

The original 50 split into groups of 10 to work with each of the five choreographers/judges—Brian Friedman, Dan Karaty, Alex Da Silva, Mary Murphy and Mia Michaels. Former DS cover boy Friedman doled out a sampling of his most intricate choreography. “I’m a very demanding teacher,” he says. “I like everything to be clean, precise and detail-oriented. If [a dancer’s] eyebrow is supposed to be up, it better be up.”Friedman was impressed with the diversity and talent on the show: He plans to hire some of the dancers for future projects, but declined to name names.

For the finale slated to air September 28, the final four dancers (two boys and two girls) must perform alone, with each other and as a group, in addition to improvising. Lythgoe is looking for “America’s most versatile dancer, with personality” to receive the grand prize of $100,000 and an apartment in NYC for one year, though it’s not up to him. The decision ultimately lies with the viewers, whose only chance to vote is on the final episode.