Favourite DWTS Performances

Over the years, I’ve given Dancing With the Stars a lot of flack. First of all, there’s a very loose definition of “Stars.” Up until recently, they had their orchestra band perform all the songs, which I understood, but it resulted in a lot of not-so-good versions of pop songs. Their insistence on using a lot of pop songs was also met with mixed results; some songs just did not work with the style the pairs were supposed to be dancing. Nowadays, it annoys the hell out of me that they insist on including contemporary and jazz (just no, leave it to SYTYCD). Regardless, there has been multiple times where everything just comes together and we get legitimately good/great performances. After a certain point, I was just watching for the Pros and their group numbers during the results shows or dancing alongside the musical guests, but sometimes the stars actually do leave an impression and that’s the reason for the show’s existence. So here goes my top 10* favourite performances from the past 20(?!) seasons, in no particular order.

*Plus a few cheats. Because I can.

1.) Season 2, Drew & Cheryl – “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”

This freestyle eventually set the bar for all future freestyles. Anyone who actually watched this back in the day, just has fond memories of it. It showed off Drew’s dancing skills that he learned from the weeks of competition and it was a lot of fun to watch. I guess it’s also one of the reasons why I’m not particularly fond of the slow, almost-Contemporary freestyles, because when I think freestyle, I think fun and upbeat. But that’s just me.

2.) Season 10, Nicole & Derek “El Capitalismo Foraneo”

Have I mentioned how much of a sucker I am for a good Tango or Argentine Tango? It’s such a gorgeous dance, and requires the partners to be strong and bold, yet sensual. Sure, Nicole Scherzinger was very much a ringer this season, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t earn her win. This routine was flawless from top to bottom, and it certainly helped that they got a more traditional song to dance to, as opposed to a pop song. Ugh, LOVE IT!

3.) Season 5, Helio & Julianne – “Hey Pachuco!”

The Quickstep is endearingly(?) referred to as the kiss of death on SYTYCD, and that’s because it is HARD. The stamina and energy required to just get through a one minute routine is crazy and mixed with the fact that you have to be light on your feet is crazy difficult, whether you’re a dancer or not. What was great about this routine was that Helio managed to do all that and look like he was legitimately having fun.

4.) Season 9, Joanna & Derek – “Living on Video”/ Season 10, Nicole & Derek – “Spanish Guitar”

As the show grew and with each passing season, it was expected of them to change things up a bit. First they added in non-typical ballroom dance styles, and then they started playing around with these fusion dances (some straight-up combos and some incredibly random). And if anyone could rise up to the challenge, it was Derek. [Full disclosure: I’m a huge Derek Hough fan. I think he’s an amazing dancer/choreographer and deserves all the praise in the world.] It was evident first in season 9, when Derek had to choreograph a ‘Futuristic Paso Doble’ (set to an 80s song) for his partner Joanna; then again in season 10, when he was tasked to choreograph a ’50s Paso Doble’ for Nicole. The end result was all kinds of awesome.

5.) Season 8, Gilles & Cheryl – “Assassin’s Tango”

See #2. Plus using the score from Mr. and Mrs. Smith gave it an extra edge that was absolutely wonderful.

6.) Season 5, Mel & Maks – “Free Your Mind”

The changing of the lyrics was actually hilarious, and exactly what I was talking about earlier. Mel B was just such a beast though, you kind of had to ignore the song arrangement.

7.) Season 18, Meryl & Maks – “Feel So Close”/ Meryl & Val – “Too Close”

I never usually call ringer, even when there’s someone in the competition who has dance experience, because normally it’s like a hip-hop or Broadway background, not ballroom. When Meryl Davis, along with Charlie White, were announced as part of this season’s cast, boy did I ever yell “RINGER!!!” I mean they basically ballroom dance, ON ICE! AND Derek had helped them with choreography for the Olympics! As the season went on though, I just couldn’t deny how great a dancer Meryl is, and she had such a great partnership with Maks. Had to choose both her Tango with Maks and Argentine Tango with Val because I would not have pegged those songs to use for Tangos (which would have annoyed me before), but they made it work!

8.) Season 8, Shawn & Mark – “Do Your Thing”

It was just non-stop dancing, and simply put, so much fun and entertaining to watch.

9.) Season 15, Shawn, Derek & Mark – “Jungle Jazz”

Sure, it was more Afro-Jazz with touches of Samba, but you couldn’t deny how good the performance was. Shawn getting to dance with both her partners on the show was such a treat.

10.) Season 19, Alfonso & Witney – “369”

When it was announced that Alfonso Ribeiro was going to be a part of the season 19 cast, everyone pretty much called it that he was going to win, pretty much based solely on “The Carlton.” From the beginning, he proved that he was going to work hard and earn that Mirror Ball Trophy, starting with this dance. A Jive in week 1 is no joke; you have to get those flicks and kicks right, and make sure you’re light on your feet with a natural bounce/rhythm. Alfonso’s routine was all of that and then some.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Non-competition performances

1.) Season 5, Jennifer Lopez performs “Let’s Get Loud” with the Pro Dancers

I don’t remember many of the group numbers from seasons 1-4, though obviously I always knew the Pro Dancers were crazy talented. Things changed after watching this performance; I loved every part of it, with our Pro Dancers performing, while J.Lo sang. I think it had finally dawned on me how much I love the Pros dancing as a group, when everything just comes together – choreography, music, costumes. I can’t ever listen to this song now without picturing this performance in my head.

2.) Season 7, Jennifer Hudson with Derek & Julianne – “Spotlight”

The Hough siblings are ridiculously talented and I love them both dearly. It’s just so great to see them dance together, every once in a while.

3.) Season 10, Chelsie & Derek – “Malaguena”

I absolutely loved the simplicity of the performance. An acoustic arrangement (featuring Mark on guitar) and they let the dancing do everything else. It was very much a classic Paso Doble. It’s no wonder they were Emmy nominated for this.

4.) Season 11, Mark & Val “Toxic”

This was before Val became a Pro on the show, though the connections and relationships were already there. They set this up as Val and Mark always having had a friendly rivalry because they both danced and played musical instruments; this was just a fun showcase of that. One of my favourite things about this is that they were playing “Toxic.” I mean, I remember watching it and it starts off with the dueling violin and guitar, then I start hearing those recognizable notes/riffs, and I was like “Are they..? OMIGOD THEY’RE DOING TOXIC!!!” šŸ˜€

5.) Season 10, Pro Dancers – “Evacuate the Dancefloor”

It’s great when you see the Pro Dancers do straight ballroom, but it’s also so much fun to see them let loose like this.

6.) Anytime Derek & Allison choreograph something (Season 13/Season 15 “Heart Cry”/Season 18 “Animals”)

Before Allison became a Pro on DWTS, she had often choreographed special performances with Derek. Two of my favourite dancers working together? It was amazing! The first time they performed together on the show in S13, they did an incredible Tango/Paso/Flamenco/Contemporary fusion number;I remember being away on vacation, watching the performance on YouTube, and was honestly left breathless. In S15, they choreographed a beautiful Contemporary number, which also featured Melanie Moore, Kathryn McCormick, and Jessica Lee Keller. Then in S18, they worked together on the really fun fusion featuring some of the Pros and Troupe members, though Allison didn’t perform with them.

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Throwback Thursday: Dancing Days

Dance Crew, my second family during my high school years. Can't believe this was 10 years ago!

Dance Crew, my second family during my high school years. Can’t believe this was 10 years ago!

I have made it known how much I love dance, ever since I was a little kid. I remember just dancing around to songs and then finding every opportunity in school to make up dance routines. I never asked for dance lessons because growing up in my house, it never going to be an option. Parents put me into piano lessons (of course), but that lasted two years before it got too much for us. So my dance education consisted of trying to learn choreography from music videos and such; to this day, it actually still is. When high school rolled around and I found out about Dance Crew, I knew I wanted to try out, even if I didn’t know what to expect from it.

Me being completely unsure of my dance ability, I was in shock when I made it past the first cuts, and then eventually got through to joining the Crew. As you would expect from any Crew, though not necessarily normal for a typical school team, we did everything ourselves: scheduling practices, choreographing, finding a teacher supervisor. Everything was us and while most of the choreographing was done by our Captain, it was still very much a group effort. For me, I found a place to learn dance, from people who loved dance even more than I did, and a creative outlet that I never thought possible.

From year to year, unless you graduated, quit or there were serious issues which caused you to be kicked out, we all stuck together as a team. We became friends and we became a family – a somewhat dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. In my sophomore year, I was slightly more confident, but still very insecure about my dancing abilities, so I always felt like they let me stay because I was loyal. I caused no drama; in fact, I hated the drama that sometimes went on, but I was committed to the Crew. The one time I questioned my commitment was towards the end of junior year. I had already ran for Co-President of Student Council and lost; got over it after a day or so and chalked it up to a VERY BAD Friday the 13th. Now, our Captain was going to be graduating that year and we had to nominate/vote for Co-Captains next year; I had thought that being next in terms of seniority I would be somewhat in charge. Boy, was I wrong. I mean I knew I wasn’t the best dancer or choreographer in the Crew, but that’s why we were voting for Co-Captains and I would handle the logistical stuff. To be overlooked completely though? Yeah it hurt. Sure, it was just a title, doesn’t mean that I felt betrayed somehow, like my loyalty/commitment/care for the Crew meant nothing. I didn’t talk to any of them of a solid week and for high school, that was a long time. I remember needing to think things over and re-analyze my position in the Crew. It took some time but ultimately, I had to put those hurt feelings aside and realize that I couldn’t spend my senior year not dancing with them. They did kind of make it up to me when I graduated though.

There were a lot of good times and a lot of bad times, but when I said that we were like a family back then, I meant it. We had each others’ backs. The bunch of us may have gone our separate ways after high school, as often happens. However, the memories are still there, and even with everything that happened during my time, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Dance Crew made my high school experience better than what it would’ve been without it.

 

Justin Timberlake Brings It on The 20/20 Experience Tour

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I am an unabashed Justin Timberlake fan. Musically, he can do no wrong. His concerts are top to bottom amazing and they are my reason for going to concerts in the first place. The first real concert I attended (and by that I mean non-Vietnamese) was the Justin Timberlake & Christina Aguilera – Justified + Stripped Tour, which also had the Black Eyed Peas as the opening act. To this day, that is still my favourite concert line-up: LOVE JT, BEP were getting popular thanks to “Where Is the Love?” and their album “Elephunk”, and this concert is what made me a Christina fan. The second time I saw Justin was during the 1st leg of the FutureSex/LoveShow Tour. The show was over 2 1/2 hours with a short intermission that consisted of Timbaland DJ-ing; in total, 3 hours+ of almost non-stop music. I mean, there was maybe a 10 minute break between the opening act (Pink) and Justin – that rarely happens these days. That show just blew my mind that I went to see it again during the 2nd leg of the tour; it is also the standard to which I judge all other concerts I go to now. Last summer, I saw Justin team-up with Jay-Z for the Legends of the Summer Tour, and though I had problems with the staging (particularly from where I was sitting), they put on such a great show – performing together, mashing-up each others’ songs – that I forgot about it and just enjoyed those 2 1/2 hours of music.

Which brings me to this past Thursday, where I got to witness The 20/20 Experience Tour in person at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. That entire day leading up to the concert, nothing could get me down because I was just so freaking excited to see Justin do his thing, knowing that he was mixing up the old songs with tracks off his past two albums, and getting to see some amazing dancing. And seriously, as much as I love the music, I LOVE the dancing. Inexplicably, dance has always been a part of me and I have always loved it. I am not a great dancer by any means, but I’d like to think that I’m at least decent (I was a part of my high school dance crew and they must’ve had reason to keep me or even let me on in the first place). Every once in a while I’ll even find myself making up choreography in my head for songs I love, even though I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Anyways, back to the point, I was just SO excited to see everything and man, Justin really does not disappoint. I don’t know why I say that like I’m surprised because I know I always have a good time at his concerts, but he just brings it every single time I see him.

[Of note: Justin doesn’t have an opening act for this tour, opting instead for a DJ freestyle prior to the show. It’s a shame though, especially considering he has a record label and probably should’ve used this tour as a platform for whatever artist he has on his roster.]

Justin starts off the show with Pusher Love Girl, the first track off part 1 of The 20/20 Experience album. It’s not a typical party starter song but it’s still a great song to begin the proceedings with The Tennessee Kids backing him up and the wonderful throwback groove. Part way through the song before he gets to the “interlude” part, Justin stops for dramatic effect, though after it went on for too long we knew something was up. Turns out his mic stopped working! “You broke the mic! Y’all were so loud, you broke the mic!” Justin hilariously laments after tossing the dead mic to the side. And so the show goes on.

"Y'all broke the mic!" Ahaha whoops! Sorry JT!

“Y’all broke the mic!” Ahaha whoops! Sorry JT!

After the staggered start, the rest of the show went off without a hitch as Justin made his way through new and old songs seamlessly. I’ll admit, I took a peek at the setlist beforehand so I knew Gimme What I Don’t Know was coming up next; unfortunately, it was only the intro. It’s not a GREAT song, but again, I was just really looking forward to seeing the choreography for it! Justin, how could you deny me the chance to see world class choreography from Marty Kudelka for this song? I didn’t have much time to be mad because he went right into Rock Your Body, which we can all agree is a total crowd pleaser. But you wanna know what was great for this dance-lover? What JT and his dancers did on TKO. The choreography was on point and they were giving it all to me – so completely into it.

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Four JTs are better than one?

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Justin’s verse on Jay-Z’s Holy Grail, leading into Cry Me A River was genius, and ended off the first half of show. A short 10 minute intermission later and we were back with the second half. It was a relatively low key start to the second half with Only When I Walk Away (this one did include a fair amount of lasers) and Drink You Away. The fun really amped up once Justin got into Senorita (again, a total crowd pleaser) which naturally led into Let the Groove Get In; it was here that the audience got a real treat as part of the stage got raised up and slowly moved across to the end of the arena. Justin stayed at the other end for a good 6-7 songs, and even making his way down from the breakaway stage to the mini-stage located in the bar area. Also keeping up with the dance theme, you have no idea how much I wanted to see some choreography to Groove. To be honest, I’ve been imagining a straight-up Latin Ballroom routine to this song, every time I hear it so I was invariably going to get disappointed.

The stage breaking off and heading our way!

The stage breaking off and heading our way!

Something that I hadn’t seen Justin do before during concerts, and is something that I personally love when I go see any concert, was the fact that he added some covers into the show. The man has two new albums for which he’s touring, plus two previous albums chock full of hits and crowd favourites, and he STILL put in some covers. Touching on his Memphis roots, JT covered Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel; he also did a very nice cover of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature (a music inspiration to all). And just for some added fun, we got a little Jungle Boogie and Bell Biv Divoe’s PoisonĀ (complete with awesome 80s/early 90s dancing).

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Performing from the mini-stage in the bar area.

Unfortunately, at some point, the show had to end. For the encore, Justin gave us his two biggest hits, SexyBack and Mirrors, and then it was over. Nearly 2.5 hours later, my voice was cracking from singing along all night and walking was only slightly an issue due to all the dancing. I love seeing my bands and regular singers + musicians, but just because of what I grew up on, I just completely LOVE a well-produced and well-choreographed show, and that is what this show was. From top to bottom, beginning to end, Justin Timberlake had us all in the palm of his hands, and all of us fans in the audience were more than happy to oblige, reciprocating the energy that he was putting out. Let it be known though that he also had an amazing group of people backing him up. The Tennessee Kids, his band and backup singers, were as energetic as ever trying to match the energy and enthusiasm of JT. And because I can’t say enough good things about them, the dancers are EVERYTHING; Dana Wilson, Ivan Koumaev (again, so proud of how far he’s come from SYTYCD), Nick Bass, Natalie Gilmore, Lyle Beniga, and Lindsay Richardson – just the best! I don’t know what the chances are of them doing another go-round of North America (probably not), but I sincerely hope they at least release this show on DVD so I can add it with my FutureSex/LoveShow DVD that I watch ALL THE TIME. If The 20/20 Experience Tour hits your town, go see it if you can because I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

The amazing Tennessee Kids

The amazing Tennessee Kids

The equally amazing and talented dancers

The equally amazing and talented dancers

FULL SETLIST:

  1. Pusher Love Girl
  2. Gimme What I Don’t Know (Intro)/Rock Your Body
  3. Don’t Hold the Wall
  4. FutureSex/LoveSounds
  5. Like I Love You
  6. My Love
  7. TKO
  8. Summer Love
  9. LoveStoned
  10. Until the End of Time
  11. Holy Grail/Cry Me A River
  12. Only When I Walk Away
  13. Drink You Away
  14. Tunnel Vision
  15. Senorita
  16. Let the Groove Get In
  17. That Girl
  18. Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)
  19. Not a Bad Thing
  20. Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
  21. What Goes Around…Comes Around
  22. Cabaret
  23. Take Back the Night/Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang cover)
  24. Murder/Poison (Bell Biv Divoe)
  25. Suit & Tie
  26. SexyBack
  27. Mirrors

DVD Review: Step Up Revolution

Step Up Revolution

Back in August, prior to the theatrical release of this movie, I posted a list of some of my favourite dance movies, because I am SUCH a sucker for these type of movies. Now that Step Up Revolution has released on DVD/blu-ray and I have finally been able to see it, I have 2 main things to say about it: 1) Best film in the series since the first one and 2) I regret not seeing it in theaters.

I truly mean it when I say that I feel Step Up Revolution is the second best film in the series, behind only the original. When the first Step Up was released back in 2006, it was during a time where dance was really being accepted by the mainstream again. Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance had premiered either that year or the year before, thus allowing dance to make its impact on pop culture. By today’s standards, Step Up wasn’t your atypical dance movie – the writers of that one really did try to give it some real drama and it ended up being something special. I mean, it had to be, to justify having three sequels that were released in theaters and not just straight-to-DVD. Not to knock down the legitimacy of the first 2 sequels, but watching them, you had a feeling that the filmmakers made those movies just to show off amazing dancing, with little to no attention paid to plot and characters and it was very formulaic. With Step Up Revolution, it became a nice mix of the original and the 2 previous sequels. They really outdid themselves with the choreography, something that was the focus on the sequels, but they also really tried to give the movie a decent plot line, beyond just two crews battling each other. Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman, both making their feature film debuts, paired up nicely and for their first acting gigs, weren’t too bad.

What was evident while watching the movie was that it definitely deserved to be viewed in theaters, on the big screen, something I regret not doing. Watching the dance sequences, even in the standard way, you could see how the 3D was used and how it would’ve given a different feeling had you seen it the way it was intended.Ā  I think it went beyond the tricks of things coming at you, and actually would have given it an extra depth, which for something like dance is pretty nice to see. If we simply get down to it, it just would’ve been really cool to see it in 3D.

Is Step Up Revolution the greatest movie of all time? No. But if you’re a fan of the previous Step Up movies or if you’re a fan of dance in general, you’ll love this movie and the great choreography featured in it.

Thankful for Pop Culture

I’m Canadian, so we already celebrated Thanksgiving a month ago (ya know, the REAL Thanksgiving, as per Robin Scherbatsky). However, in honour of Americans celebrating their Thanksgiving this weekend, I thought I would give thanks to the pop culture things I am thankful for this year.

1.) NIKITA

Always thankful for this show, from the moment that it was picked up to the fact that it is still on the air, despite the odds. I know I gush about this show A LOT, but they have never failed to amaze me with what they do. Maggie Q is the the first Asian-American to be the lead of a TV show, which to me is such a huge deal. The rest of the cast and crew work tirelessly (especially the countlessĀ  “Fraturdays”) to give us a mini-movie each episode. The show has done so much in 2.5 seasons (thus far) than most shows do in their entire run. Thank you for being awesome and I honestly look forward to the day that I can actually tell you all that in person!

2.) The last season of FRINGE

So incredibly thankful that we’re getting a final season of Fringe. Again, it’s a show that has faced incredible odds and as a fan, you can’t help but be incredibly grateful that a final season of the show even exists. FOX could have easily cancelled it because of the low ratings, but they totally did us (and all involved with the show) a solid by allowing the writers to finish the story they set out.

3.) MAROON 5 & KELLY CLARKSON

Two of my favourites in music had a great year. Though Kelly released her album “Stronger” last year, I’m simply thankful for her putting on such great concerts this year. A great singer performing incredibly well LIVE, there’s not much more you can ask for than that. I’m still not IN LOVE with Maroon 5’s “Overexposed” but I am happy that they have a huge hit with “One More Night”; they completely deserve it. Also, the fact that “One More Night” kept “Gangnam Style” from ever hitting #1 on the Billboard chart was a great bonus (seriously, I would’ve called that the end of the world if Gangnam became a #1 hit).

4.) TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival is such a great event for movie fans. It offers a little something for everyone: indies, documentaries, foreign films, and just damn good movies. This year I got to attend one of Jason Reitman’s famous live readings, got to see an incredible performance by Marion Cotillard in the film Rust and Bone; the harrowing Twice Born starring Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch; and a lighter different side to Alexander Skarsgard in What Maisie Knew. Not to mention the official release of movies that played at TIFF last year – 10 Years, Friends With Kids, The Oranges.

5.) Wonderfully written TV Shows

A great number of both new and returning shows have been doing ridiculously well creatively. On the drama side: Parenthood, Homeland, the resurgence of Dexter, Once Upon A Time, Revenge (season 1), Covert Affairs, Suits, Nashville, and Arrow. On the comedy side: Parks and Recreation, Community, Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother, Go On, and Ben and Kate.

6.) AMAZING DANCING

I am beyond thankful for all the truly amazing dancing we witness on both the big and small screen. Step Up Revolution continued the series with some more new and exciting choreography. But So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars are the dancing gifts that keep giving. The most recent example? Derek Hough and Allison Holker choreographing an INCREDIBLE contemporary number this past week on DWTS, that also featured Melanie Moore, Kathryn McCormick and Jessica Lee Keller.

 

That’s what I’m thankful for, this American Thanksgiving. Share what pop culture things you’re thankful for!