E: From Cat’s fuzzy, shag-carpet like jacket and gray scarf to Nigel hamming it up with a weepy, handsy grandma, Atlanta brought the fun, y’all. I don’t know about you, dance fans, but I’m loving this season so far. Really the worst thing about this episode is that it’s over and I have to wait a week for a new one. As they told us last week, we’re in the dirty South (whatever that means; I’m honestly not sure I want to know). Last year “Hotlanta” delivered our eventual champion. Could Melanie’s heir be flipping and twirling in this crowd? Maybe…
Speaking of the grandstanding that occurs in line waiting to get into the theater, man, some of this stuff is really impressive! I’m glad these kids get their nameless moments of glory, but sometimes I wonder who they are, and why we don’t get to see more of their awesomeness. I feel like it’s almost never people we see actually auditioning. Just me? Okay, moving onward. Nigel asks the dancers waiting in the theater if they could be Melanie’s successor; their faces beam up at him, full of piercings, framed with feathers and cowboy hats and backwards caps and bow ties, alive with hope.
Joining Nigel and Mary on this weekend’s judging panel is the marvelous Debbie Allen, and when I say marvelous, I mean damn that woman is a joy to watch. She wrinkles up her nose and grooves along with the music; she is moved by talent; she is fierce and eloquent in her descriptions of it. Her good humor is infectious. And she knows her stuff, baby.
First dancer of the day is 18 year old Audrey Case, who makes the mistake of telling the staff member who initially interviewed her that she can lick her elbow, fart with her neck and has never had a boyfriend. Might one thing have to do with the others, Mary wonders? Once the judges are done ribbing her and making her run through this bag of tricks, we find out that Audrey is incredibly strong and bouncy and has pretty incredible balance, and an enormous smile that keeps her coquettish walk from veering into tawdry. Audrey – who does not actually seem like someone who’s never had a boyfriend – gets a standing O from the audience. She must just spend all her time in the dance studio. Debbie Allen notes that she’s “such a bunny”; in a similar vein, Nigel calls her a magical little Tinkerbell before they all send her to Vegas. Funny how the first audition of the day is always a stunner, huh?
Next we’re introduced to a three man dance crew, the Dragonhouse Crew, who live together in a small apartment with a horde of other dancers. Only one of them will dance for us now, though: Boris Penton, age 23, who’s wearing an electric blue jacket and has – well, okay, I think I need to explain his hair. Imagine a very wide mohawk which has been dyed blue and then shaved down the middle; Boris has two stripes of bright blue hair angled off his head, at about the position where you’d find devil horns or teddy bear ears. It’s fun. He does this amazing popping and locking routine to classical piano, and it’s so musical and his isolations are so fierce and sharp! I love it. His style is really precise and unusual – quick motions, moving only a fraction of an inch at a time, which clearly takes a crazy level of control. The judges and audience explodes to their feet, and the adorably humble Boris (who sported an affectless, slack-jawed expression while dancing) is sent straight to Vegas; crewmates Mitch and Andre wait anxiously for their own turns.
18 year old Joshua Alexander wears black socks to audition, which I thought was sort of odd until I saw that the socks have holes for the balls of his feet. Is that a normal thing, holey dancer socks? Anyway, contemporary dancer/musician Joshua is light and lyrical, super musical, and does these amazing spins where he pulls his arms in and still keeps his balance. The judges wordlessly hold up tickets, and then demand he hug them. “When you dance, it’s like you’re testifying,” Debbie tells him in her most maternal manner, his face folded between her hands.
In a montage of unnamed contestants, we see three people with interesting backstories and great skills make it to Vegas: a hip hopper raised on the mean streets of Chicago who brings Debbie to tears, a girl who controls her Tourettes tics through dance, and a young man who lost his mother as a child.
Then we spend a lot of time with martial arts champion Tim Conkel, 21. He took up martial arts to protect himself from bullies, and the 11 time national champion/3 time international champ has lately turned to dance to pick up girls. He’s a bit chunky for an athlete, with dark hair and pale skin that flushes continually when he talks to the judges; he’s got a very particular combination of cockiness and humility that’s largely pleasant and – as Mary would say – entertaining for sure. When he arrives at the stage, he’s got a spangly girly backpack with Selena Gomez’s picture on it, which he leaves on stage so she can “watch” him dance. What kind of 21 year old admits to crushing on Selena Gomez? (Is that judgmental of me? I just think of her more in connection with pre-tween girls, even if she’s not actually jail bait herself.) He dances to Alicia Keyes, and is bouncy and (as Mary says) explosive, definitely another bunny with his springy flips and tumbling. I love the way he calls Nigel “sir” (although not as much as I love the way Nigel pronounces “karate”); he’s endearing and totally shameless and the judges send him straight to Vegas on entertainment value. I can’t imagine he’s got the chops to stick around, but if Debbie Allen thinks he’s a wolf in lamb’s clothing, I won’t argue with her.
Dancing DJ Jackson Alvarez, 24, gets almost everyone on stage doing something called “the Wobble”; I might have called it an annoying time waster if it didn’t result in Debbie Allen getting her groove on and dirty dancing with Nigel; her joy was once again infectious. It’s impossible not to smile as she revels in movement. Jackson’s cute and obviously cool, and does this freaky crick in the neck maneuver to “Everybody Dance Now” and I guess it’s fair that they make him go to choreography, even if I would have put him through. I liked him. So does Cat, who gathers a little gang to learn the Wobble backstage.
And, yay! A new style! Palestinian belly dancer Janelle Issis, 23, learned her art when a family friend saw her fooling around in church. (Only in America, Nigel sighs, wistful.) We get to see her loving family, and at least four bright and bejeweled costumes (I love the one with the butterfly top) as she performs at nursing homes and a variety of other places. Some vaguely creepy old guy wants a lap dance – and so does Nigel, who gets mocked by Debbie and Mary for his avid interest. Janelle’s gorgeous, all huge dark eyes and long curly hair, and she produces very clear isolations which make me think she could be great at hip hop too; she’s also strong and bendy enough for contemporary work. Apparently she’s got a lot of training in more recognizable styles, but belly dance is her first love. She pulls off a layer of her skirt and dances with it as a veil; Nigel blathers on about her sparkling eyes (like he’s looking any higher than her sparkly bra?) before sending her to choreography.
Self described “weird dancer” Danielle Dominguez, 18, goofs around with her mom during Cat’s interview. She’s got gorgeous, lustrous, shampoo commercial hair (like Janelle and Audrey, dark brown and long and curly) falling down over strong, fit shoulders, angular cheekbones and strong elegant eyebrows and a wide white smile. Nigel – clearly feeling expansive today – asks her how she started dancing, and she says at four she rejected her mom’s preference, cheerleading, in favor of something more musical. This results in Mom doing a snappy little cheer in the audience at Nigel’s request. There’s also a bit about how Danielle loves bacon and eats it in copious amounts; Nigel (accidentally?) implies that perhaps Debbie and Mary should go on the bacon diet, and has to resort to miming digging himself out of the hole to get back in their good graces.
When Danielle dances, she pulls back those strong shoulders in a creepy/cool way, contorting and twisting her body into odd, thrusting shapes. She’s right about the weirdness, but that’s not remotely a bad thing. No fan of this show can watch her and not think how much Sonya Tayeh would love her. Indeed, Mary brings that up immediately, and Nigel name drops Lady Gaga when saying he’d love to see Danielle dance with everyone’s favorite oddball Mark Kanemura. She’s sent straight to Vegas, of course. Big points for introducing me to Oh Land’s weird and gorgeous “Numb”; it’s only the auditions and I’ve got new music already!
Rounding out Day One we get a double shot of the remaining Dragonhouse Crew members. First up, Andre Rucker, 21, wearing a red jacket and normal hair (er, a normally shaved head) which makes him the most sedate looking of the trio. He begins his routine on the floor, kneeling/sitting precariously on the floor; soon after he links his hands over his mouth, waving his fingers so they look like an alien’s tentacles. His movements are slow and robotic and wonderful. I find him adorable and sly, full of so much life with an over all excellent performance quality. Roomies Boris and Cyrus watch from the back of the theater, practically leaping out of their skins in consternation and pride. They needn’t have worried. It’s Vegas, no question.
And then the final roommate is up – Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer, aged 21, colorfully attired in red pants, a pink button down shirt and white vest, with tall, oddly chopped hair, a beard, and fantastical hoops in both ears. Each earring seems to be a hoop within a hoop, which somehow gives the impression that his bearded jaw is abnormally wide, like an alien. I’m annoyed for a moment that his nickname is Glitch – is he ripping off tWitch? – but as soon as he begins to dance, I get it. His style is called robotic popping, and though this can apply to all three crew members, it’s particularly apt here; there’s a lot of the class robot, a lot of moonwalking (excellent throw back, loved it), and then this amazing full body stutter thing. It’s exactly like a record skipping, only done with his whole body. Glitch is just right. He’s funny – he creates little tableauxs, stops and smiles his huge smile at us. He presents us with his backside and then turns to grin before he wiggles it. He pretends to dry heave, to shoot, to swagger. He leaps off the stage, creeps up the judges’ stairs, (making much better use of space than his mates – I loved seeing the camera man and the judge’s body guard running after him at the same time), throws himself off, and just goes generally nuts. When the performance is over, he bounces all around, cheering for his crew, clearly knowing that he’s knocked everyone over. Nigel, indeed, leaps to his feet to imitate Mia Michaels’ complimentary threat to stab a dancer in the eye. He calls Andre a genius and then says Cyrus topped him. “That’s my roommate,” Cyrus howls in pride: he can be your roommate in Vegas, Nigel declares.
Fifteen dancers make it through choreography, including belly dancer Janelle and her partner, DJ Jackson. Excellent. That’s a successful day!
Day Two begins with a pretty young copy-Cat imitating our darling Brit; Cat, of course, introduces her to the cameraman (who does the opening segments on the show) and films her. It’s all super cute. The cuteness continues with 18 year old Floridian Courtney Kirby and her grandmother, a former dancer and dance teacher whose name seems to be Everdeen? Can that be true? At any rate, Grandma was a tall Lauren Bacall type who still has something of a glamorous feel to her, but also weeps profusely whenever her treasured granddaughter performs. After consulting his notes, Nigel’s on the lookout for Granny. “Is that a good seat?” he calls out to her. “No, I wanna sit up there with you!” she hollers back. She clutches at Nigel, hugging his face to her chest and proclaiming her love for Courtney, who is wildly athletic but a bit flappy for my taste. I think she’s full of potential, really great at tumbling and so flexible, but could use a more work on extending her lines properly. Nigel wants her to go to choreography, but he’s outvoted (Debbie calls her a beauty and a beast), and so he hands the ticket to Granny Everdeen.
After we get a brief look at a tall dancer in a plaid shirt, we meet Virginia country boy Asher Walker. Cat finds him adorable, but I’m not sold on his squinty eyes; seems like they’re looking for another Kent Boyd, right? He looks like he’s gone all out for his wardrobe; plaid shirt, cardigan, giving a sort of 1920s feeling, but then super new colorful sneakers. He’s a break dancer, did I mention? And he wants to be a back up dancer for Justin Bieber. Again, I can’t imagine why a 19 year old would admit to that. He’s really good, though; he’s got wiggly feet (and he stands up on his toes a few times, cool), he’s fast and athletic and musical. And of course he lip synches along with the song, corny but endearing. The best bit is when he does a backward roll with a headstand in the middle – a headstand on his actual head. Nuts. Dude goes straight to Vegas.
Meet George Lawrence the Second (and yes, you’re allowed to wonder why it’s not Junior; I sure do) whose father wanted him to be an athlete and isn’t so jazzed with the dancing as an alternative. He’s trying, but it’s not easy. George, 18, needs to get rid of that sad little mustache now. His spins are awesome, and Debbie wrinkles her nose in appreciation. I’d be proud to call you my son, Nigel declares before sending him to Vegas, which surely can’t be helpful; Mary calls him her favorite auditioner so far. He’s got strong tumbling and amazing leaps, but that surprises me, even though I couldn’t name my own favorite yet.
Next up is the best montage ever, and you want to know why? Because we get the dancers names! Yes, that’s right, their names! Sexy Abigail Ruiz (we’ve seen her body in promos before, curling up from the floor, head thrown back) makes it through to Vegas. Also receiving a ticket is Calvin Turner, Jr. (not the Second), a black ballet dancer with a blond mohawk. Finally there’s Aubrey Klinger, who’se been shown all episode as the example of all that’s good. She’s got short blond hair streaked with pink, and she’s a leaping prodigy. Hurrah! Here’s hoping to see more of you three!
And with a shot of Centennial Park from the 1996 Olympics, we’re introduced to 20 year old Brittany Ortner, who lives in Oviedo, a tiny chicken-riddled city in Florida. Nice. We get an excellent look at one of those Chewbacca chickens – you know, the kind with feathers on their stumpy legs? Crazy. Brittany chicken dances for the judges, and comes off as, let us say, bubbly and more than a bit ditzy. But the girl can definitely dance. She’s sassy, and she’s always aware of the audience, all come hither without actually spilling over into skankiness. Her moves aren’t as well connected as you’d want, but she’s got yards of personality, which gets her to choreography. And that’s just one step closer to leaving her little town.
Finally, we’re reintroduced to Damon Bellmon (20) and Deon Lewis (19), a pair of skinny, schmoozing buds who dance together. I remember one of them ending up with Cat’s phone number last year, but it turns out that there was a major controversy around their actual performance, which was intended as a “tribute” to some dancers called Les Twins. Yeah right, I say after seeing the clips side by side – Bellmon and Lewis stole the choreography wholesale! But it turns out that they actually did tell Cat that it was an homage last year, only that bit of their interview never aired. Now I feel bad; I’m glad the show is clearing things up, albeit a year late. (“I got like a million twits about that” Mary declares, making me choke.) They bounce around to “Moves Like Jagger” which makes me wonder why the editors already used that song so much in this episode, and they’re in really nice sync. They’re goofy, doing a lot of mimicry, and while their choreography isn’t as good as what they stole from Les Twins, it’s still quite entertaining and they pull it off really well; there’s even a few super athletic tricks that left Mr. E stunned. To see how they can dance with girls (bah), Nigel sends them to choreography.
And the choreography proves to be too much for Deon, but Brittany Ortner makes it through, as does Damon (drawing a “no way, you?” from Cat) and 13 other dancers. Thanks, Atlanta! Next week, Salt Lake City – and guess what? A ballroom dancer! I know! I was beginning to think we’d never see one for more than a millisecond! I can’t wait.
How about you? Is Mr Lawrence the Second your favorite of the season? Do you have a favorite? How dirty was the Dirty South? Care to Wobble, anyone?