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Fox commissioned this reality/talent contest from the people behind American Idol in 2005 in an attempt to get lightning to strike twice. The show's eventual executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe (himself a former dancer) thought it would never work. And, although the series isn't the pervasive cultural juggernaut that Idol has become, it's still a significant success.

The show adheres pretty closely to the Idol format, but with some interesting variations. Auditionees who aren't either sent to the next stage of the competition or rejected are asked to stick around and show they can pick up some basic choreography, then a final decision is made on them. Once contestants make it to the Top 20, they're paired up into couples of one guy and one girl. If any couple lands in the bottom three for the votes, each individual performs a solo and the judges make the decision of which guy and which girl goes home that week. This continues until they have 10 contestants remaining, then the couples are determined by the girls picking a guy's name from a hat, or vise-versa. Also, once the Top 10 is established, voters now vote for their favorite individual dancers, and the judges get no more say on who goes home. Said Top 10 contestants also get to perform in a tour following the end of the season, which gives the judges a vested interest in making sure the best qualified dancers don't wind up voted off too early. Sometimes some dancers who are popular but didn't make the Top 10 will also be on the tour; for example Chelsea Traille, who was eliminated in Week 3 of Season 4.

Season 7 is following a different format where there is only a top ten (what actually happened was a top eleven) and instead of being paired up with other contestants, the hopefuls are paired with "Allstars," fan favorites from previous seasons. The judges and the fans both seem to enjoy the format, though injuries wreaked havoc with the season.

Season 8 returned to the top twenty formula, but when the competition narrowed down to the top ten, the Allstars were brought back. And even though it was never made a big out of, the judges now continue to make decisions beyond the top 10.

Nigel Lythgoe was the sole regular judge for the first couple of seasons, as the other two spots were filled with a rotating group of choreographers who taught the contestants their dances on weeks they weren't acting as judges. In season 3, the histrionics-prone Mary Murphy, a ballroom choreographer, became the second regular judge, effectively making her a louder but more sensible version of Paula Abdul to Nigel's not nearly as acerbic (anymore) version of Simon Cowell. Beginning with season 6, Adam Shankman is also a permanent judge. In season 7, Mia Michaels replaced Mary as a permanent judge. Mary came back as a judge in season 8 with Shankman absent due to working on a Tom Cruise film.

With dance styles ranging from various Waltzes to Bollywood, and from Contemporary to Hip-Hop, the show has become a somewhat unlikely but welcome showcase for the art and culture of dance and has spawned a number of spin-off shows in other nations (curiously, the most successful translations thus far are the Polish, Turkish and Benelux versions - the British one was axed after two seasons).

Tropes used in So You Think You Can Dance include:
  • Aerith and Bob: Any season will have people with ordinary names, people with extraordinary names, people with ordinary names spelt differently, and occasionally someone with a nickname- for instance, season 6 had Ryan, Victor, Kathryn, Noelle, Channing, Ellenore and Legacy.
  • Ass Kicks You: Katee.

  Nigel: That is a dangerous weapon, you should be on the next James Bond movie doing that!

  • Author Appeal: Mandy Moore (no, not that Mandy Moore) sure does love her some 80s music.
    • Sonya Tayeh has a signature move where the guy, behind the girl, wraps his arms around her waist and lifts her, usually with the girl either lifting one leg straight up or lifting both legs but bent at the knee. It shows up in a LOT of her pieces; some fans call it the "toddler lift."
  • Bare Your Midriff: At least once a show.
  • Berserk Button: The judges, and especially Nigel, don't tend to like it when someone screws up and they were dancing in their style.
    • Often this can be the response to any abysmally bad dance, especially the closer they are to the finale.
  • Catch Phrase: Mary Murphy's "Hot Tamale Train" and her over the top screaming for dances she really likes.
    • That was bucc!
    • Lampshaded in Season 8 with the battle of the catchphrases between Robert, with his signature: "Wooooooooo!" and The Professor, with his "Indubitably."
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Some of Mia Michaels' critiques can get a little odd.
    • According to Nigel, the same could be said for her choreography.
  • Creator Couples: Wade and Amanda Robson, and Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo.
  • Darker and Edgier: Sonya Tayeh's signature choreography style. Wade Robson, Mia Michaels and Travis Wall also dabble on this side from time to time.
  • Dirty Old Man: Nigel. Just Nigel. he always has some comment to make, pervy or not, when ladies are scantily clad or routines become... suggestive.
    • Adam Shankman isn't much better.
      • Nigel is at least peripherally aware of this reputation, as of season 8. He even refused to comment on one dancer's sexiness "lest [he] be seen as a Dirty Old Man"
  • Don't Try This At Home: Will's last comment to the camera before his and Katee's pas de deux. The routine is, shall we say, strenuous in the flexibility department.
  • Easy Mode Mockery: Occasionally, dances will be panned by the judges for not being challenging- quite often they're Broadway routines, which often rely on personality instead of ability.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Cat Deeley.
  • Filler: Less as seasons have gone by, but still some pops up on results shows.
  • Five Moves of Doom: Some dancers' solos often fall into this,but the dancer who gets slammed for this most by the fandom and judges is Jordan.
  • Happily Married: Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello from season 6. Made it just a little awkward when the judges were talking about how much chemistry either of them had with their respective partners Ellenore and Jakob.
    • Choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon.
    • And choreographers Jean-Marc Genereux and France Mousseau... just watch this clip
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Three current Dancing with the Stars pros started as contesants (Chelsie Hightower, Dmitry Chaplin and Lacey Schwimmer).
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Sasha
  • Hopeless Auditionees: Every season, including four (so far) appearances by a gawky fellow insisting he be addressed by the stage name "Sex."
  • Hotter and Sexier: The Canadian version has been noted serveral times as having far more sexual dances, season 2's Kim and Emanuel's Love Sex Magic standing out in this troper's mind.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Assuming you have tapes, of course; we're unlikely to ever see a DVD release due to music rights issues.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Almost certainly averted by Season 7's Kent, who was rather flustered by the fact that Courtney didn't care that he had to put his hands all over her while they danced.
    • There are those who find it more likely that Kent's discomfort getting physical with female partners was less because he was a virgin than because he isn't so much interested in girls.
  • The Mean Brit: Nigel played this somewhat close to straight early on, but has eased up considerably. Just don't do terribly in your audition then claim to be a teacher.
  • Most Common Superpower: Season 5, Top 6, girls' superheroine-themed group dance. Blatantly Lampshaded.

 Cat: She's got a superpower all her own!

Nigel: You can't tie down talent, can you?

Nigel: ...What?

  • Mr. Fanservice: The list might very well be long, and YMMV on who belongs on the said list, but there are many.
    • Most of the guys don't tend to wear shirts very often. Nobody's complaining, though...
  • Murderous Thighs: This is why you don't want an acrobatic dancer as a deranged girlfriend.
  • Nice Guy: Season 6's Ryan. It got to the point that when he and Ellenore did a Lil C hip-hop routine, the judges pointed out that he was just too nice for hip-hop (and apparently, Lil C was complaining that he got 'the nice one and the weird funny girl'.)
  • No Indoor Voice


  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Music of choice for the solos of Season 5 runner-up, Brandon Bryant.
    • As well as several Paso Dobles, making them seem ridiculously epic.
  • One of Us: Neil has shades of this, with his Wookie noises and general geekiness. Ellenore studies Japanese, is a fan of Little Kuriboh, anime, and lip-synchs to videos of Family Guy and Harry Potter. Hell. Yes.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Season 7 had some very good contestants, but sometimes it was hard to notice them when they were dancing with the likes of Anya, Pasha, Twitch, and Comfort, who were arguably the best in their styles the show had ever seen. Female fans, especially, found themselves vulnerable to distraction whenever Pasha took the stage.
    • Given this show's fan base, male fans often found themselves every bit as vulnerable.
    • Your failure to mention Allison both frightens and enrages me.
    • This sometimes happens when a decent dancer is dancing with a really exceptional one (like season 3's Lacey, season 5's Kayla or season 6's Jakob), and it's usually nobody's fault. It can also happen if one dancer isn't exceptional, but steals the show because the dance focuses more on them or because of their outfit (see Kevin and Karen's Latin Ballroom dances in season 6- Kevin was continually overlooked in favour of Karen, though the dances weren't that amazing and Karen wasn't especially great).
    • A really amazing routine (like Kayla and Kupono's 'Addiction' or Mark and Courtney's 'The Garden') can make all the others that night look standard, even if they were really good.
  • Plucky Girl: Many, maybe all, female contestants. They go in knowing they will eventually have to do a style they don't know in front of millions of people, and give it all they've got.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: What happens when you have a Paso Doble with two men.
  • Retcon: Sometimes Nigel doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. He fell in love with the idea of an "untrained" dancer winning during season four, and talked as if Joshua was this, even though it was pretty clear that Joshua had had a lot of training. (And certainly the judges would have known for sure.) This was especially galling since Joshua already had a heartwarming, inspiring, and truthful story (namely, his perseverence in dance despite growing up in football-crazed Texas).
    • In season 6, a big deal was made about the tap dancers who made the finals as being the "first" when they definitely weren't (Sandra Colton from season 1 was a tap dancer).
      • A bit of word trickery on Nigel's part:He was typically careful to say "the first tappers in the Top 20." Season 1 started as a Top 16.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lil C has a rather impressive command of the English language. Doubles as Sophisticated As Hell, as he'll sometimes just follow a highly erudite and eloquent sentence with "that was bucc."
  • Shirtless Scene: The guys aren't scantily clad quite as often as the women, but there's hardly a shortage of skin. Guys who know they're Mr. Fanservice are guaranteed to do it in their solos.
    • Some dancers (Brandon, Will, etc) don't seem to ever actually wear a shirt.
  • Shocking Elimination
    • Inverted in seasons seven and eight with a shocking lack of elimination.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Entire routines can be ruined by this alone.
  • Technician Versus Performer: All the time. Also, see Underdogs Never Lose.
    • It's also what can make or break dances, and in more than one way. A couple who dance without putting any energy or personality into it won't get much applause and will get panned by the judges. A couple who put the wrong kind of personality into it will also get panned by the judges (for example, a hip hop routine where the couple are cute instead of badass, or a Broadway routine where the woman is tame instead of sexy).
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent: The BBC did the UK version, which was also hosted by the original show's presenter Cat Deeley.
  • True Companions: For the most part, every season's Top 10(ish) apparently become this during and after the season. Most of the show's alumni come off as pretty close as a whole as well, especially on Twitter.
    • Many of the dancers continue to be associated with the show. Two will often be brought in to teach the choreography in the initial auditions, and during the competition choreographers will often bring people back to help them teach.
      • Though there are some jarring omissions. Main one this troper can think of is season 3 winner Sabra, who has yet to return, even in the audience
      • Note also that many contestants across the seasons will often end up working on dance projects together once they've finished the show. Many of them also end up dancing on Glee at some point or other, so contestants from previous seasons who had never met more recent contestants now get to work with them.
        • Season 3 as a whole was allegedly marred by a lot of backstage drama between the dancers,being a notable exception to this trope for the series.
    • Season 4 contestants flashed their camaraderie with the phrase "IV Real" (for real).
  • Underdogs Never Lose: When the final two get down to the technically brilliant (and in all but one season) contemporary guy and the other dancer, often with less formal training (if any) but a beaming personality, guess who wins.
  • What Could Have Been: After Billy Bell had to withdraw from season 6 due to illness, Nigel admitted that he was disappointed because he had wanted to see the battle between him and fellow technical marvel Jakob. Many fans felt the same.
    • Same was said for Alex Wong, both of who were brought back in season 7.
  • Yoko Oh No: While they were both filming Camp Rock 2, Season 4's Courtney Galiano was occasionally seen in public with some dude named Nick Jonas. Among other things, this resulted in a slew of "we hate Courtney Galiano!!!" groups popping up on Facebook.