A day with the kids who like to dance, dance, dance

(Tuesday October 19, 2010) A tiny little voice cries out, “We love you, Tré!”

There is some giggling and then applause for the tiny voice. Then Jean Marc Genereux appears on the stage, does some moves, and shimmies over to the judges’ table. Bedlam. A cacophony of roaring and squealing. The kids adore Jean Marc. Who knew?
I’m at Monday’s taping of So You Think You Can Dance Canada(CTV, 8 p.m.), always an educational adventure. Again, I’ve brought my neighbour’s boy Lucas, aged 10 and a stalwart fan of the show. Since he first became enraptured, aged 8, his knowledge has surged. First he just liked the movement, especially the hip-hop performers. He hoped that Nico Archambault would win the first season’s title. Everybody did, and Nico won.

We’re standing in the waiting area before the taping starts, watching last week’s show. The boy is enthralled. I tell him that one performance was well choreographed but sloppily performed. That’s just me. “The choreography is important, yeah,” he says. “You gotta have a good story to start off with,” he adds with grave certainty. A critic is born.

We’re taken to meet Leah Miller before the show. She emerges from behind a dark curtain, dressed in a spectacular sequined dress and heels that can only cause awe. She’s very gracious, as ever. Canvasses Lucas’s opinion on the Final Four who will perform and compete for votes tonight. Amanda, Denys, Jeff and Janick. The boy announces that his favourite, Sebastian, was voted off last week. We are informed that Sebastian is, in fact, in the house tonight. All the Top 20 Dancers are. Someone organizes some candy for Lucas. Leah Miller offers advice on which ones to eat first.

We’re in our seat and there’s a brief wait. Two little girls, aged about 8 and very smartly dressed for their night out, are invited onto the stage by Josh, the guy who keeps everyone entertained when technical things are holding up the show. The tiny girls do some hip-hop moves. Ecstatic applause. Judge Luther Brown says he’s impressed.

The show unfolds. Solos and duets. Lucas leans forward, watching intensely. He’s impressed by Jeff Mortensen, the 22-year old from Edmonton who entered the competition with a traditional Ukrainian dance and has blossomed emphatically. Me, I find Amanda Cleghorn, a 19-year old from Mississauga, Ont., an entrancing figure. Long-legged and amazingly graceful, her pirouettes would take your breath away.

There’s a break and it’s some little kid’s birthday. Everybody sings. The Josh guy announces his granddad is in the house. Granddad waves. Applause, applause. The dance performances resume. Salsa, jazz-fusion, contemporary. Lucas is greatly taken with the jazz-fusion piece, a comic but extremely demanding duet. It’s theatre, comedy, dance. “That was sick, “ he says. Kids.

Each week, recently, SYTYCDC does a socially relevant piece. Last week it involved a wife getting news of the death of her husband, a soldier serving in Afghanistan. As you’ll see tonight, there is a piece that highlights a troubling social problem. It’s well done, and then the judges deliver their remarks. Tré Armstrong is overcome, heartbreakingly so. There’s silence and then sympathetic applause. The watching kids have been taught something, is the idea.

The studio is hot, the lights blazing. The kids in the mosh pit stand throughout. Later, I ask if anyone has ever fainted there. “Uh, no, I don’t think so. The girls are usually standing in heels for a long time, which is tiring, but they’re focused.”
They are an adoring and appreciative audience. They gasp and shout encouragement when they see difficult moves performed. A male dancer tossing his female partner in one of those over-the-head moves makes them gasp. The female in full stride, all rippling strength and confidence, makes them roar.

The show ends, the four dancers knowing that, after this, only one will be the winner and the others will be runners-up. They dance together, joyously, goofily. Amanda imitates Jeff’s Ukrainian style and pulls it off. Beside me, Lucas is grinning, his feet moving incessantly.

Then he goes to have his photo taken with Leah Miller, the other judges and the dancers. Anybody can. The kids line up, all giggling excitement. Leah appears, transformed in a hoodie, jeans and boots. I leave Lucas to hash out the performances with her. The judges and dancers are unfailingly polite and sweet. This is an arrogance-free zone.

We’ve just left and are sitting on a bench waiting for Lucas’s mom. A young woman from the show comes dashing out. “Lucas, Sebastian is here and he wants to meet you!”

In we go again, and there’s Sebastian, one cool dude, with Natalie, another of the Top 8 dancers. Lucas gushes. Sebastian encourages him to dance, dance. He signs a photo of the Top 8 and Natalie does too, using Sebastian’s back to support the photo.
We leave and Lucas leaps on a bench, does some moves, all energy after a long day. A security guard outside on a break watches, smiles.