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The Wessex Wire

Start of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Season 18 showcases diversity

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Season 18 of “So You Think You Can Dance” is filled with excitement and surprises.

Season 17 of “So You Think You Can Dance” was highly criticized and fans were unsure what the future holds for this beloved show. Returning back to television on March 4, the first episode of Season 18 left fans with excitement and a list of questions, with the first being: Where is Nigel Lythgoe?

Lythgoe, the show’s executive producer and judge since 2005, has left the show due to alleged claims of sexual assault against him. After the third and final round of auditions, “Dance Moms” superstar Jojo Siwa will act as Lythgoe’s replacement on the judges panel. Joining Siwa, the other judges of this new season are Allison Holker and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. with Comfort Fedoke, who acted as a guest judge during the first three episodes of auditions. 

Holker is a contemporary jazz dancer and has experience in film, television and concert tours. Chmerkovskiy is known for his appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” and his talent as a ballroom dancer. Fedoke competed on Season 4 of “So You Think You Can Dance” as a hip-hop dancer. She is a choreographer, actor and singer as well. Each of these judges is notable in the dance industry, and they each have their expertise in different styles. 

The audition episodes featured a handful of heavy topics including suicide, physical disabilities and sexual orientation. With each live performance, the audience hears part of each contestant’s background. Many share stories that have affected their past and how dance has provided comfort for them. Being a true fan of “So You Think You Can Dance” means getting to know each contestant and what drives their passion.

After Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss committed suicide in 2022, his wife Allison Holker decided to honor him by being a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Holker competed in Season 2 and placed in the top 8, while tWitch was the runner-up of Season 4. Their relationship flourished because of their shared love for the art in Season 7 where they both returned as all-stars on the show. 

Chinese folk contestant Jin Lee was inspired by Holker’s ability to contain her grief and thanked her for keeping tWitch’s legacy alive. With a focus on storytelling, Lee embraces her culture and exemplifies the true beauty of being an artist. Leaving Holker in tears, Lee and Holker bonded over their shared journey after losing a loved one.   

Representing New Jersey, Olivia Alboher made a grand entrance doing cartwheels before beginning her performance. Other contestants such as Kaylee Bays have a disadvantage due to physical limitations and instead of cartwheeling into the room, she rolled in on her wheelchair, ready to prove a disability should not stop one from pursuing their craft. Bays was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which prevents mobility and restricts movement, two very important factors in dance.

Bays’ adaptive dance was inspiring to both fans and judges. Although this disease is one without a cure, Bays will never give up on her dreams as a dancer.  

“I will dance until I’m dancing with my eyes,” Bays said.

Another grand entrance left the judges speechless. Juicy Love Dion strutted in dressed head to toe in sparkles. He exuded confidence but displayed his vulnerability and previous insecurities. In his childhood, Juicy Love Dion was unable to get in touch with his feminine side because of his father’s disapproval. In adulthood, he discovered performance as a drag queen allowing him to embrace his true self. The judges were wowed by his performance and gave him a standing ovation.

“So You Think You Can Dance” is not just a show about dancing. It serves a purpose in the dance community for both a jumpstart in careers in the industry as well as providing a safe place for people to share their passion. “So You Think You Can Dance” shows that dancers are simply human. Each of these contestants has a story to tell and a future of success ahead of them.

Behind the Byline
Dani Tiegel
Dani Tiegel, Apprentice Editor
Danielle Tiegel, but you can call her Dani, is an Arts and Culture apprentice editor for the 2023-2024 Wessex Wire. She does competitive dance and is a cheerleader for West Essex. When she is not at the dance studio, she is shopping, napping, or watching “Grey's Anatomy”.
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