Wednesday, August 15, 2018

SYTYCD 15: Meet The Top 10 - Get A Hat, Mary! We're Going Out!

This is it, DanceFans! The moment you've been waiting for. SYTYCD Season 15 has reached the LIVE SHOWS! How exciting! Now, we the voting viewers and they, the lovable judges, will help figure out who makes it to the Top 4 and then the popular vote carries the day and determines who is America's Favorite Dancer! Full disclosure: I'm in rehearsal for my new play Meaningful Conversation that will be going up in NYC in September, so my time to write recaps for Our Show Of Shows will be limited this summer. They will likely come way late, but they will come! As for this year's Top 10, 3 Contempos, 3 Ballers, 2 Jazz Hands, 1 Hopper, and 1 Tappa Tappa Tappa made it this far. Where will the go from here?

TOP 10 Group Dance. Choreographer: Travis Wall Song: "Dream State" by Son Lux

All that body glitters is GOLD! Gold Dresses! Gold pants! Topless Male Dancers! Lifts galore. Gorgeous lighting. Everything we've come to love and expect from an opening group routine. Still, it's funny to watch an opening number with NO ALL-STARS. So different from last year! I'm happy the Top 10 get their moment together though.

Cue the theme song and the dancer intros! Here are your top 10 - OMG! Cat throws it OLD SCHOOL with a, "Here are The Girls! And here are Your Guys!" along with a head turn on the beat from the guys as they strut forward. How I missed that! Cat looks lovely as always in a green suede dress Saint Laurent. She shouts out Travis as an Emmy Nominee this year along with 3 other SYTYCD choreographers and the lighting team. Where's Cat's Nomination?? I must suppress my anger and carry on. Cat lets us know that beyond the 250K and the cover of Dance Spirit Magazine and the Title of America's Favorite Dancer, the winner of this season is joining the cast of Rent Live! It will be airing on FOX in January. So that will be fun!

On to the judges! Mary Murphy is here! Vanessa Hudgens is here! Nigel Lythgoe is here! And Twitch is back filling out the foursome! Nice. Cat chats with Nigel for a bit about the 9th Annual National Dance Day. Usually we're into the live shows already when this happens so they get to promote it more. But Nigel still leads the audience in saying "Happy Birthday, Granny!"to one of the older Dance Day enthusiasts he knows. No more stalling! The Top 10 are becoming 5 couples, dancing 2 routines tonight. So one routine will be in the guy's style and the other will be in the girls. This should be interesting. Let's get to it!

Jensen & Jay Jay - Samba. Choreographer: Jean-Marc Genereux Song: "Mad Love" by Sean Paul

First up are Jensen and Jay Jay. They partnered briefly for ballroom in Academy Week so they know a little bit what to expect from each other. Jensen looks great in this routine. Jay Jay also is serving it up wearing a black mesh T-shirt. I like this pairing. A couple of transitions weren't 100% locked in, but they had great chemistry and hit it hard. A very strong routine to start the live shows, I think! Mary is fresh out of the gate trying to fake out the kids, before declaring it, "GREAT!" Nigel thought they both delivered. Vanessa that it was "fire," and tWitch loved their trust and commitment. Wanting to make it clear that she won't be continuing last season's "let's all fall in love with another contestant" scenario, Jensen tells us she just got engaged to someone she's not competing against for votes! Congrats, Jensen!

Hannahlei & Cole - Contemporary. Choreographer: Tyce Diorio, Song: "They Won't Go When I Go" by George Michael

Tyce brings us apocalypse dancers. Cole and Hannahlei make the the apocalypse look damn good. Legs for days with both these two. If Cole's pants were a millimeter further down on his but the network sensors were going to have to do that modesty blur they sometimes do on bare backsides. This dance was really really nice. Excellent chemistry and connection to the piece. Nigel thinks Hannahlei is this season's Warrior Princes. Not a bad title to walk away with from Week 1. Everyone else liked it too, but no one made an "Apocalypse, NOW!" joke and that made me sad.

Chelsea & Evan - Jazz. Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Song: "Make Me Feel" by Janelle Monae

I don't know if I love this pairing out of the gate. On the one hand, they are both tall. So height difference is not a problem. The routine is fun and playful... in moments. But at other times it feels forced and the technique feels a little wobbly.  I feel bad that this one was a little off. Vanessa is kind but points out the flaws. tWitch felt there was a disconnect throughout and let's them know as a former contestant that they need to let people know why they are there. Mary thought they were trying too hard to have chemistry and Nigel was just like, "Samsies to what they said. Nothing to add." It's a bad sign when Nigel isn't moved to say anything on his own. Yikes!

Genessy & Slavik - Hip hop. Choreographer: Luther Brown, Song: "Round & Round" by Fabolous

Luther Brown has them coming out of a giant safe inside their house...? I don't really get the concept but it doesn't matter. The dancing is tight. I especially liked Slavik. He could be the dark horse of the season. I don't know if the camera work really showed off the routine in the best way possible. Sometimes they seemed to be upstaging each other. The judges EAT IT UP THO. Standing ovation from all. Love! Love! Love! They are getting the "We put you together to fail from the start, but here you go proving us wrong! Wow!" storyline this season. Take it and run with it, kids!

Magda & Darius - Contemporary. Choreographer: Travis Wall, Song: "Glass Heart Concerto" by Blondie and Philip Glass

Nothing says "Producer Love" like starting out with a Travis Wall routine. They are playing each other like instruments or stabbing each other with cello bows. It's like I'm back in Junior High orchestra! There's a lot to appreciate in the piece, both in its construction and the way it is performed. I'm a big fan of these two. But Travis has had so many wonderful routines at this point, and I'm not sure this one cracks the the all time Top 5 or even top 10 for me. It's just such a high bar! I think I liked tonight's group number more. The judges love it. This should put them solidly safe in the votes.

Hannahlei & Cole - Paso doble. Choreographer: Jean-Marc Genereu, Song: "Heroes of Chaos" by Tybercore

I thought this was a VERY difficult paso for Week 1. I know that Cole's style is ballroom but Paso ain't no joke. There were some incredibly well-executed tricks at the beginning but I thought that resulted in them running out of gas a bit at the end. It's not like they tapped out or anything, but I felt like the difficulty started to register in their faces as it went on. Hannahlei's an effing powerhouse though. I love her. And Cole is a very solid partner still looking for his emotional breakthrough. I hope he finds it. The judges like it, but you can also tell they preferred their first routine. This one might have dipped them down on the leaderboard, if other couples nail their second routine.

Jensen & Jay Jay - Jazz. Choreographer: Mandy Moore, Song: "Ex's & Oh's" by Elle King
This piece is fierce and I'm into it. As opposed to the previous routine I felt like the energy was powered up and stayed there the whole time. I'm really loving Jensen tonight. Nigel thought it was too sexy, which... I get, but I don't agree. Nigel prefers his Jazz sexiness with controlled Fosse intensity. There's a time and place for that, but sometimes you can let loose and not sacrifice technique! Mary agrees with me and tells Jensen she was a beast on the stage. Vanessa agrees with me and Mary, as does tWitch. So we win, Nigel!

Chelsea & Evan - Tap. Choreographer: Anthony Morigerato, Song: "Singin' In The Rain" by Jamie Cullum

Oh dear. Chelsea has tapped before but that doesn't make her a tappa tappa tappa. And you can't fake tappa tappa tappa in a situation like this. There's just nowhere to hide in a duet. Especially not when you're doing a routine with someone at Evan's skill level and working with a choreographer of Anthony Morigerato's genius. They all do their best here, but it comes off being too easy for Evan and too much of a challenge for Chelsea. I commend the effort, because doing a tap routine on TV that starts out okay and then keeps going wrong the longer it goes on is basically an anxiety nightmare of mine come to life. I don't think Chelsea could've done anything differently. She did her best. Evan just needed to tap with an All-Star like Gabby for it to really impress. It's not a style you can master in a few days. The judges are kind, but honest about it not being that great. Nigel reminds everyone that tap isn't easy and also notes he'd like to see Evan tap with Gabby. He and I are back on the same wavelength!

Genessy & Slavik - Contemporary. Choreographer: Talia Favia, Song: "An Evening I Will Not Forget" by Dermot Kennedy. 

There is planking! There are big lifts! There are low spinning lifts! There is great chemistry and synchronicity (with the exception of one or two mistimed arm motions). I'm very impressed with Slavik. Gennesy is growing on me. The judges give them another standing ovation. I wasn't quite that taken with it, but the judges can't get enough. TWitch praises their intensity and commitment. Nigel says these two made the Top 10 because they have potential to grow throughout the series. I like them as a couple. They are a good pair and I don't think they're going anywhere soon.

Magda & Darius - Cha-cha. Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy, Song: "I Like It Like That" by Pete Rodriguez

Chmerkovskiy cha-cha! Bring the heat! Magda is on fire! This routine has the type of controlled sexiness of which Nigel approves. Darius shines here too. There is an ease and connection between them that's so important for Ballroom. Mary loves it, but can't pronounce "Chmerkovskiy" no matter how hard she tries. bless her). Nigel approves as I knew he would. Vanessa and tWitch are also on board. This was a great routine to close out the night!

So there you have it, DanceFans. The first Live Show is wrapped. We're saying goodbye to one guy and one girl next week. That's going to be rough because this is an excellent Top 10. My money is on Chelsea and Evan which is too bad because I think they have a lot more to show. That tap routine just sunk them. I was not able to vote this week, but here's my personal ranking of tonight's routines!

1) Jensen & Jay Jay - Samba
2) Hannahlei & Cole - Contemporary
3) Magda & Darius - Contemporary
4) Magda & Darius - Cha-cha
5) Genessy & Slavik, Contemporary
6) Jensen & Jay Jay - Jazz
7) Genessy & Slavik - Hip hop
8) Hannahlei & Cole - Paso doble
9) Chelsea & Evan - Jazz
10) Chelsea & Evan - Tap

Sunday, August 5, 2018

SYTYCD 14 Finale Recap: It's Not Goodbye, Just Until Next Time!

Hey there, DanceFans! How have you been? Yes, It's been many months since the Season 14 finale. Almost a year! I didn't write my recap of the finale episode right when it happened for several reasons; 1) life that week was busy, and - more importantly 2) I was afraid to commit my final Season 14 thoughts to the blog without a Season 15 renewal for the show being a done deal. I just wasn't ready to not have any more SYTYCD to write about. Over the course of several prior seasons, the show had endured some questionable tweaks and adjustments to its formula. We had The Beebs taking up screen time looking for America's Next Best Dance Crew, we lost Mary Murphy, The Hot Tamale Train, and ballroom altogether during Stage v. Street, we lost celebrity guest judges, we had regular judge changes with Cerullo and Abdul, we had a juniors/all-stars season - the show certainly hasn't been afraid to mess with its formula. At best, I can say some of these changes proved to be interesting if not wholly satisfying. 

But forget all that. Season 14's "Back To Basics" focus brought us a season filled with so much talent, so much energy and still managed to throw in a twist with the All-Stars picking their contestant partners. Season 14 wound up being one of the best season's the show has ever produced. Had the show been cancelled, it would've been ending things on a positive note and a creative high, but it was clear this show still had seasons left in the tank to showcase talented emerging artists and tell many more compelling stories through dance. Now that the live shows for Season 15 are upon us, it's time to take one last look at how Season 14 wrapped up so beautifully.

We're kicking things off with a New Routine! Nick Wells' Dancing on the Ceiling - choreo by Mandy Moore for Macy's! Lots of glowing hand held star props! It's high energy and everyone seems to be glad to be back together again. The stage looks so full with 20 dancers on it! If group numbers need to be sponsored by corporate entities in order to get us a 15th season, I say so be it!

Cat introduces the full top 10 to kick things off, because SYTCYD is classy like that. She is looking gorgeous as always in a dress by balmain and jewelry by xivkarats. It's another full season where Cat doesn't look like she's aged a day from her first show in season 2. (Note: With Cat being pregnant with her second child for the early episodes of season 15, I thought we'd get Pregnant Cat in the live shows and then if we saw photos from the lives shows we'd be able to distinguish those photos from other seasons. Also I was fascinated to see if we'd get a Host Sub should it work out that Cat had the baby mid-season. It turns out, however, that Cat had her baby just a few weeks ago - Congrats! - so I'm sure when we hit the live shows in a week or two she'll be back to looking exactly the same as always and we'll all once again be saying, how is this possible that she hasn't aged in a decade?)

Cat introduces our judges. Vanessa Hudgens - dancing later this evening! Mary Murphy - back where she belongs this season punching tickets for the Hot Tamale train! Nigel Lythgoe OBE - evening, Suh! These three seemed to really enjoy their time together this season. Not mad about them all returning for Season 15!

It's encores, y'all! LIVE encores! Well, some are live and some are taped! Um, okay! I'm not sure why we can't pick routines that can be recreated on stage tonight, but we'll see how this goes. The first encore makes sense to revisit on tape. It's the fantastic "Welcome to the Academy" number! It's so fun to be able to go back and see where our Top 10 were situated among so many dancers. There were plenty of great dancers highlighted here that never made the live shows. Although Impavito with her blue hair grabs my eye every time she's on. And of course there is Lex. Not hard for him to stand out either!

Our favorite choreographers are in the house! Before we get to the dancing and the results, first we learn what winning would mean to the contestants through video package: Spoiler Alert: It would mean the world! The win just isn't for them! Their families have sacrificed! They have proven new things to themselves. It would be a game changer! Yes, Show! Make me feel the stakes!

Mary's 1st encore choice! Paraphrasing Plato, Mary wants to see some rhythm. So we will be getting some Koine and Kiki Salsa. What I said then: "The dancing is great, yada yada yada... let's take a moment to focus on the rehearsal footage and how in it they discuss how the Twitterverse has created the hashtag #daddykiki. This is hilarious." So I was more focused on things outside the dancing on this one. And tonight? It's fun. Is it a routine I was dying to see again? Not really. But I do love these two and Mary wants to get this party started with a reminder that her return in Season 14 meant ballroom is BACK. (Update: Koine and Kiki became a COUPLE! Squeeeee!!!!)

Vanessa's Group Dance Pick! Group Disco. What I said then: "I am really loving the new stage and studio set-up. It looks great on TV. The routine is a lot of fun. There are some big wigs on that stage. Marko is wearing this brown... mop, is really the only way to describe it. It looks like it was just pulled out of the plastic box that it came in from Ricky's." What I say tonight: They just played a tape!  At least that means the wigs are no less out of control. All previous comments still apply!

Nigel's 1st Encore Choice! Lex and Taylor Spencer Liff's Broadway Routine, American Birds in Paris. What I said then: I love these two dancers and I love the music. But they're supposed to be birds and the movement doesn't read bird-like to me at all. If you took away the birdcage and the feather costumes, would I think they were portraying birds? No. And yet... it's still undeniably beautiful and amazing? What I say tonight: They still don't seem birdlike, but WHATEVS. With their love story out in the open, these two definitely soar. You can tell they feel free and joyous and it's a delight. (Romance Update: Almost a year later, they are still publicly declaring their love for each other via Instagram on the daily.)

Mary's Group Dance Pick! Luther Brown's Top 9-All Star Group Number. What I said then: "It's got great energy! I have an easier time identifying the All-Stars here than the contestants here. The contestants blend together for me, with the exception of Lex who gets featured front-and-center for an extended period of time." What I say tonight: Another taped piece! But for real, there was nary a disappointing group number this season. 

Vanessa's 1st Encore Pick! Fikshun and Dassy - Shake Your Pants. What I said then: This routine is a lot of fun. They both have personality and moves for days in their favor. What's agains them is that Dassy and Fik-Shun are just a smidge out of sync at times, they spend a lot of time seated in those chairs and Dassy's hat cast a weird shadow over her face at times. What I say tonight. This was not my favorite number for these two, but I appreciate that Dassy gets a featured moment here in the finale. Her hat seems not to cover her eyes as much tonight. It's the minor adjustments that go a long way, folks.

Nigel's Group Routine Pick! Mark Kanemura's RU PAUL EXTRAVAGANZA! What I said then: This dance is totally Mark. He's serving us Mama Ru, amazing composition, drama, power, costumes, props and emotional dynamics. It's FIERCE. What I said tonight: Even taped, it still gets me going. (Mark Awesomeness Update: if you are not following him on Instagram, you are not LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE!)

Audition montage! Remember how there were only 2 audition cities this year and somehow the audition episodes still seemed to stretch on for months? Remember when Jenna drove me up the wall with her breaking all the rules for Koncrete just to pick Kiki? How could we ever forget? Then we get to see basically ALL the routines from the live shows and this really was a phenomenal season. Such a delight to watch.

Mary's 2nd Encore Pick! Lex and Koine Pizza Delivery! What I said then: While I try to avoid hyperbole, I do believe this is the best Broadway number the show has ever produced. What I say tonight: Still delightful fun. These two are just brimming with character and energy. There's also some rehearsal gag footage at the end of Koine being surprised by a crew member standing in for Lex when she opens the door. Oh, you pranksters!

Mia Michaels Group Routine! In the rehearsal montage, Mia interviews the final four and everyone cries. She's like, "celebrate what you've accomplished!" The group routine is awesome and powerful and someone gets flung high in the air. Is it Koine? I really can't tell and I've watched it many times. Was this dance performed live? Maybe it was taped earlier in the day? I'm always suspicious of what was pre-taped on the show. My rule is that if you can't see Cat and the stage in the same frame before or after the dance, it's not happening live.

Vanessa's 2nd Encore Pick! Robert and Jasmine. "Perm." Oh yes, bitch. This is why, for me, Vanessa can come play in the SYTYCD sandbox for as many seasons as she wants. What I said then: ...together they dive into a fantastically fun hip hop routine that's big on energy, precision and sass. This routine was FIERCE, is still FIERCE and Robert was gone TOO SOON from this season. Steal that extra bow, good sir.   

New Routine! We get treated to a special Shaping Sound routine with Travis and Lex! Lex comes out of a mirror and tries to eat Travis' soul or something. I don't know. They're amazing. I guess this is the way of letting us know that Lex has already won? That's cool. 

All-Star Mark's Encore Pick - Closet Dance! What I said then: "this all looks effortless. But it has to take incredible strength." What I say tonight: Still solid. Koine can swing around up there for days!

Clip Package! Say My Name: Koine. The best part of the whole night so far is the montage of everyone on the show (except for Vanessa who actually pays attention when someone tells her their name) mispronouncing Koine's name all season long. 

All-Star Gaby's Pick. Crazy Wig Hip Hop! What I said then. "Despite wearing one of the strangest wigs I've ever seen on this show, Gaby cannot draw focus away from Lex. He gets low. He hits all the choreo hard. He looks like he's having the time of his life." What I say tonight: You think he'd be having LESS fun, this time around? You would think wrong. 

All-Star Jenna's Pick: That hot one on the bar. Cha-Cha from Week 1. What I said then: "I love a contestant on this show who can really lead in a ballroom routine and not just get dragged around by his partner and keep up." What I say tonight: Hot Hot Hot. To think she almost didn't pick him! Boggles my mind. 

All-Star Robert's Pick: To Make You Feel My love. What I said then: "Every time Robert picks her up (75% of the routine is her spinning in the air) it looks totally effortless. As a dancer she has such beautiful softness and strength on display at the same time." What I say tonight: She's still flying through the air. Lex is going to win, but will she make it to Final 2?


Wait, hold up. There are 10 Finalists who made the live shows. We've seen 9 live encore duets, 1 new duet, 4 pre-taped encore ensemble numbers and 1 (pre-taped?) new ensemble number. There was no time to highlight the great work done Logan, Mark, Impavido, and Sydney? That's bogus. Here's an encore I'd liked to have seen from all of them.

Mark and Comfort - "Ending" Contemporary (Or "Hater" or "RedMercedes" for that matter.)
Logan and Allison - "The Other Side" Contemporary
Kaylee and Cyrus - The Chbeeb Ladder Dance
Sydney and Mark - "All-Stars" Ballroom


4th Place: Kiki! He's cool with it. I'm happy for his journey!

We interrupt the results for a special performance! Vanessa Hudgens: Singing with Shawn Cook and Dancing with All-Star Robert. In the grand tradition of judges taking the stage in season finales, Vanessa shows she's game to get down by both singing and dancing. It's a very sweet routine. She's not trying to out do the contestants on the choreo, but she's got nothing to prove either. We all know she's talented. I appreciate her enthusiasm for the show and for all the contestants. Bravo, VH!

Nigel's 2nd Encore Pick! Nigel says it's the most sensational season they've had so far and I have to agree. I mentioned it earlier, but 14 seasons in the show has had an artistic revival that has been such a joy to watch. Here we get the quartet of Mark, Kiki, Koine and Taylor. What Is said then: This routine looks very tricky. It is not easy to dance just to someone's speaking voice. These four kids nail it. There are amazing moves for all of them. What I say now: It's still awesome. They can't quite the final lift to work, but they improvise and it's fine.

3rd Place: Taylor! SURPRISE! That means my Koine has made it to the top 2! My personal fave made it as far as one can go. Let's face it. She's not going to win. It's a foregone conclusion that it's Lex but that doesn't make the outcome boring. It will be totally satisfying when he takes the crown.

Final results of the season! Both have been incredible. 2nd Place: Koine! LEX IS AMERICA'S FAVORITE DANCER! Cue the streamers and the lasers! Everyone is thrilled. Richly deserved! Lex will remember every second of it. It was an honor for him to be on the stage. Congrats to All-Star Gabby for sharing the win since she picked him to be her partner. Nothing left but to let the confetti fly while Cat tells us she'll see us again next summer - and now we know that's true! I look forward to seeing you again for recaps of the Season 15 Live shows. Until next time, Dance Fans!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Thoughts on life, time, mothers and sons, grief and other light topics. Enjoy!

"Time, be my friend." - Home, The Wiz

"Time, why you walk away / Like a friend with somewhere to go / you left me crying." - Time, Hootie & The Blowfish

"This too shall pass." - Abraham Lincoln, quoting ancient Klingon proverb

"The Lord in His kindness, He gives me what you always wanted. He gives me more time." - Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, Hamilton

(Mom and me. Swingin' at Byron Lake Park.)

[Author's Update: I wrote this 2 years ago for a website that has since gone dark, so I wanted to lightly edit and repost it here. I've had several friends lose parents in the time since I first wrote this. If you are dealing with a recent loss or continuing to learn to grieve with one as old as mine, these words are for you.]

In my life so far, I've run six marathons. I plan to run more. [Author's Update: I've now done nine.] I like to run them. I don't know why. I don't run just to go running. It's not my go-to form of exercise, but I do like running marathons. I enjoy the challenge. They're tough, but not impossible. Like most things in life, if you find a comfortable pace, do your prep work and keep yourself in a good head-space, you'll make it to the end and feel good about the journey. One trick I have for staying mentally strong is to think about making it to the halfway mark. After that, I'm fine. From then on, I tell myself that each step that I still have to take is less than what I've already done regardless of how much time it might take me to get there. Somehow knowing that helps me keep going forward.

In truth, I evaluate a lot of experiences by asking the question, "What half of this am I currently on?" Tasks at work, writing projects, plane, train and automobile rides - they all get measured this way. But the biggest half and half situation I've been measuring in my life has to do with my mom and when she passed away. Margaret Anne Panettieri (known to 
all who loved her as Peggy) died on Friday, February 13th, 1998 from complications of advanced cancer. It was a relatively quick illness. Less than a year, but at the time the days themselves felt very long. Peggy was the sweetest person and a great mom. My sisters and I were fiercely committed to having her attention, which was funny because she was very gentle and a non-competitive person (and I was obviously her favorite, so why compete girls??) She was very smart. She knew how to budget and save money and make it stretch (and there were times when we definitely needed it to stretch.) She encouraged us as kids, but also worried about us A LOT. She made this great macaroni salad in the summer with homemade Italian dressing and I swear I've never seen it's equal anywhere else. She was 54 years old when she died. I was 18 at the time. As I write this, it is Saturday, February 13, 2016. 18 years have passed. I'm 36. And this means that I now face the reality that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will have lived more than half my life without my mom being alive.

(Mom and me at Junior High Graduation.)
Pretty much from the day she died, I have been aware that this day was coming. A mental "Save the Date" was programmed into my head. Every year that passed, I would feel the balance of time shifting and now my adult life matches my childhood life in length of years. I've lived exactly the same amount leading up to my mom's death as I have leading away from it. And you know what? There's a part of me that is really not okay with it. There's still the 18 year old version of me in my head who lives in that heartbroken space. I can see him in my mind. But at least now when I see him standing there reeling from the loss, I can send the image of 36 year old me to embrace and console him. I can understand how he feels because he's a part of me. It seems highly unfair to him that Mom shouldn't still be her own thriving person. That she shouldn't be able to be a part of her husband's life, her children's lives and her grandkids' lives. That she shouldn't be pursuing things that made her happy outside of her relationships to us. I can't argue with him. I feel that absence. I feel that grief. And grief is one hell of a smorgasbord of emotions all rolled up together. It's not easy to unravel, nor to see where one feeling ends and the next one begins. The only thing that you have at your disposal to sort it out is... time. And 36-year-old me has had time.

People often don't give themselves the luxury of time in dealing with a significant emotional loss. We face an internal and external expectation to get over things, to move on from them and bravely go forward. I do not view grieving along those lines. And so today, I want to write a little about what I have taken away thus far from the experience of my mother's life, her death and my relationship to her in both instances.

After my mom died, there was a very long phase where it felt like I was in a fog. Pretty much my entire college experience exists in that fog. Not that I didn't have fun. I had great experiences and built friendships that are still vital to my life to this day. But underneath all of that, my brain was still trying to process what the hell happened and what it meant to me. So for anyone out there that is reading this who has recently experienced a loss, I tell you with love and empathy that the struggle through the fog can last for years. Like, many years. It takes as long as it takes, but at some point you'll be able to look back and say, "Okay. I was there, and now I'm here. And now I can find a way forward."  But it will take a long time. And I reject the notion that you have to get there on anyone else's schedule. I'm not saying your life stops during that time. It won't. You have responsibilities and you can meet them. I'm simply saying I believe grieving is about learning each day to live with loss, not about getting over it.

(Mom and me outside the Beatles Museum!)

Grief expresses itself in a very wide range of emotions, not all of them related to sadness. There's joy. There's laughter. There's silliness. I think it's important to give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling and not judge it. At the same time, let it try to be something that washes over you like a wave, instead of covering you like a blanket. Holding on to pain is not holding on to a person. Acknowledge what you feel. Experience it and release it, so whatever the next feeling is can come in. Also, relationships are complicated, so you might have very complicated feelings to sort through. Just because a relationship was incredibly important doesn't mean everything was perfect. As you find yourself in different places in your life, you'll continue to use your life's experience to examine that relationship. That process does not end.

The sneaky victory I feel over the situation comes from one of the huge benefits of having time, and that's knowing that my mom has never not been with me in these past 18 years. Death tried and it failed! Suck on that, Death! If a person is in your DNA and they are in your flesh and your blood and your brain, are you ever apart from them? If 
you actively think about a person every day, can they really be completely gone?  I don't think so. And being able to still feel my connection to my mom makes me feel that I am connected to something bigger than myself. And yeah, sometimes a memory hits me and I really cry. I wish I could talk to her as the adult I am now and better understand who she is as a person - and who we are together -  from my adult perspective. But if the half of my life since she passed wasn't filled with her physical presence, it was no less filled with her love. These years have been filled with my own achievements and adventures that were inspired by her life and her love. Can that be enough? Can we look at what is there instead of what is not? It may not always be easy, but there is a lot of joy in the pursuit of it. I already said I enjoy a challenge.

I watch friends and family now who are dealing with both aging parents 
and little growing children. The refrain is the same: time moves too damn fast. It goes by so quickly. It's easy to feel that way. But I also think: you're only in the moment you're in. So love that moment for as long as it lasts and then love the next one for its uniqueness and possibility. I don't think you do yourself any favors by thinking of time as an adversary - as something acting against you that is speeding up or running out or that can't get here soon enough. Welcome time as a friend, it will always be right there with you.

Last week, I was going through some old papers I'd saved from college, and I found a handwritten letter that she had sent to me at the beginning of my freshman year. There were a bunch that were typed too, because as she got sicker I think she had a harder time writing in her very pretty cursive and the word processor made the messages neat and easy to read. But I love the handwritten one, (note to parents: write 
your kids handwritten notes - they are special!). This is what she said to me.

Do my best and I'll always be proud of myself... I will try to carry that with me over the next 18 years, Mom, more than even I did during the last 18. Should I be so fortunate to get that much time, I will be 54 years old. Two thirds of my life will have been lived since your death and I'll be the same age as you when you passed. That is a crazy fact to wrap my head around. But I look ahead, and think of all the things I can do with that time. I know you will remain with me throughout it. And I feel so much love. And I feel so much gratitude. And because of that, every moment is so full.

Monday, September 25, 2017

SYTYCD 14 Top 4 Recap: Sophistication Up the Wazoo!

Here we go, Dance Fans! The Performance Finale is here! I really believe it's anyone's title to win at this point. If the kids were a little tired and nervous last week,  I bet this week they are super tired but emotionally FREE! It's just about dancing now. They've gotten as far as they can go and now the votes will be what they will be. So let's hope they have a great time in this penultimate episode of what turned out to be a really great season, shall we? After all, Mia Michaels is in the house. If you're not excited for her return, there's just no pleasing you.

All-Stars and Top 4 Group Performance. Choreographers: NappyTabs! "Mi Gente" by J Balvin & Willie William. NappyTabs is here too?! So many OG choreographers are returning for the live shows this year. Can we get a Sonya group number for the finale next week? Pretty please? This routine has a lot of hide and seek going on for the dancers as they move multiple moving platforms on the stage. Lex gets a stand out solo moment because he's Lex. The audience is waving glow sticks - as are the judges - which is delightful. This number was a lot of fun. NappyTabs did not let us down n their return!

Cat is a vision in light blue, in a dress by Marc Jacobs, shoes by Gian Vitorossi and jewelry by xivkarats. She reminds us that this is the fun episode where everybody dances with everybody and no one goes home! What's not to love? If you voted last week, fear not! Your votes still count. They'll be added to this week's total to determine who wins the cash prize and the title of America's Favorite Dancer 2017!

The judges are here, but they remain powerless! That will try to make up for it by saying extra-insane things that defy logic and grammar! This week, we're getting a Top 4 group number, an all-stars number, the contestants all partnering with each other, "Contestant's Choice" encore numbers and also brief solos. If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is! I'm curious to see what the contestants choose for their encore numbers tonight and what gets saved for the Encores Finale next week. I mean, we're not going to see the same routines 3 times in one season, right? Not with so many stellar routines to choose from. I can't wait to see the whole Top 10 again! SO SOON! But not yet. Let's savor tonight while we can!

Top 4 Group Number. Choreographers: Travis Wall and Chris Scott “Elements” by Nathan Lanier. There are four contestants and four natural elements and two choreographers. I'm assuming the whole routine is pre-taped because the make up on all of them is so intense. The solos are definitely taped, but even when they're all on stage, I'm doubtful this is happening live. No matter. This is cool. Koine is Earth. Lex is Water. Kiki is Fire. Taylor is Wind. Unfortunately, they can't summon Captain Planet without Heart and Vanessa stays seated at the judge's table. Instead, their powers combine to form a great routine. A fun way to start things off for these four!

Kiki and Taylor - Cha-Cha. Choreographer: Anya Garnis, “Don’t Cha (Ralphi’s Hot Freak 12” Vox Mix)” by The Pussycat Dolls. ANYA! They were burying the lede! Nobody told me ANYA! was coming back tonight! OMG. She is the greatest. She and Pasha have been across the pond rocking Strictly Come Dancing. I love when she's able to come back. The dance is strong. Kiki does a great job partnering Taylor, and she seems really confident and in control a solid 95% of the routine. There are a few quick moments that feel a liiiittle wonky, but they are really minor and don't affect the overall performance of the piece. Mary is thrilled that ANYA! is back, as she's the original rider on the Hot Tamale Train. She loved the routine, as did the other judges. They think Kiki is a generous partner and Taylor committed to it and had fun. Great stuff!

Lex and Koine - Broadway. Choreographer: Al Blackstone, Broadway “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole. Lex is a pizza delivery guy and Koine is the amazing dancer who loves him. While I try to avoid hyperbole, I do believe this is the best Broadway number the show has ever produced. The character work is delightful and funny. The dancing is great. It's hilarious at this point in the season to think that Lex was the one who started with "no personality." He brings so much to this routine. But gosh, doesn't Koine just make it all look so effortless?? Can she sing? Get this girl to Broadway as soon as the tour is over.

Kiki and All-Star Jenna Favorite Routine: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Oh this is even better the second time through. The first time was lovely, but I felt like Kiki was a little too much in Ballroom-mode with his partnering. He sheds a lot of that here. His connection with Jenna is fantastic. It's a beautiful moment for them. At the end Jenna is crying and Cat rushes out to see if she's okay as if they had just finished a Doriana Sanchez Disco Number. Jenna is fine, she's just sad that her time dancing with Kiki is almost over. Hey, all good things, Jenna... The judges love this encore. Vanessa literally declares, "It's love!" Here's hoping there's a Season 15 and you come back to us, Vanessa.

Koine and All-Star Marko Favorite Routine: Speaking in Tongues. Come for the headdress. Stay for the shredded body suits. The sequence where they just keep flipping over each other is so impressive. I don't know if it's elevated past the original performance, but that's such a high bar with Koine. Where was there left to go? I have really appreciate the Marko-Koine partnership during the live shows. These two are very special dancers.

All-Stars Group Performance. Choreographers: Keone and Mari Madrid. "DNA." by Kendrick Lamar. The formations in this number are really cool. The All-Star numbers always seem really complicated to me. I'm always so impressed by what they do. This routine is a little like Return of the King with it's multiple fake out endings. The dancing and music stops and the crowd starts cheering and then they keep going. It happens twice and it makes me chuckle both times.

Koine and Taylor - Jazz. Choreographer: Mandy Moore, “Black and Gold” by Brenna Whitaker. Yes! Here's to the Ladies who jazz! I'll drink to that. Koine and Taylor are so fierce. They are entirely true to their own energies (Taylor's center brings her higher, and Koine is more grounded - so I guess Earth was a good element for her!) but they both bring an equal sense of power to the choreography. In judging, Mary says they have, “Sophistication up the wazoo.” That has to be my favorite comment of the season, if not the entire series.

Lex and Kiki - Hip-Hop. Choreographer: Luther Brown, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott. This routine is a lot of fun. Kiki and Lex have an easy chemistry together. I'm so glad Kiki avoided being the hip-hop disaster in the live shows that he was during Academy Week. They do Luther Brown proud, which is a nice present since it's his birthday! In judging, Nigel brings up how Lex was not good at Samba and then shows footage of Kiki sucking at Hip-Hop. Both guys are like, "what gives?"  I guess that means Nigel is truly Team Koine? I'm cool with that.

Taylor and All-Star Robert Favorite Routine: Change Is Everything. Oh WOW. I thought this one was top notch the first time through, but it goes to another level this time. Taylor just completely lets go and it's incredible. I don't really understand how she can move so effortlessly in the air, making shapes around her partner. Wind was definitely the right choice for her in the Element Dance. The emotion is flowing out of her. If she wins next week, the foundation was laid with this routine in Top 10 week and solidified again tonight.

Lex and All-Star Gaby Favorite Routine: More (Tappa Tappa Tappa). Lex picks tap for his favorite routine. I guess this means we'll get their awesome hip-hop routine next week! Following the trend of the night, this routine is better than when we saw it in Week 1. Lex is much more relaxed. He has an easy confidence about him. His arms have a better flow. Obviously, he always knew how to do this kind of routine, but now he's figured out how to do this show and the routine is that much better for it. Lex is great.

Kiki and Koine - Contemporary. Choreographer: Travis Wall, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. In this number, we get the beginning and the end of a relationship. The transition between the two points involves a reversible black and white dress and Koine selling the hell out of yet another routine. She seems more mature and angrier at the end of the piece than she does at the beginning. And the routine is like 90 seconds long. Nigel shouts out the costume department in the judging for the fantastic work they've done all season, and they truly do deserve an Emmy nomination for this season. There hasn't been a week when I didn't note how amazing the costumes have been. Nigel is happy to see Kiki do contemporary yet again tonight and believes that the show has given a lot to Kiki and that Kiki has given a lot to the show. Aww!

Lex and Taylor - Contemporary. Choreographer: Mia Michaels, "You Matter to Me” Sara Bareilles feat. Jason Mraz. Okay, so MIA IS BACK and she brought the Waitress album with her! This is a routine about deep love. Do either Lex or Taylor know about being in love? It turns out they do, because they are IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER! My mind is blown. I can barely take in the routine the first time through as my brain is still trying to process this info. LexandTaylor4eva!!! There's one move where they slide into each other on the floor and connect in a kiss, the force of which looks like it should break both their faces and spray blood all over the stage. That doesn't happen, though. How does that not happen? Upon a second viewing, the piece is quite lovely and there is a great care that's evident between them and the dance is very lovely and involves LONG kisses, which might have been awkward if she got two dancers who didn't actually love each other. The judges wish them the best both in and out of the competition. What else can they say? That's a wrap for the competitive routines of Season 14!

Cat tells the dancers she thinks this is one of the best performance finales the show has ever done and I have to agree. The live shows this season were definitely among the best ever (I maintain that only airing for an hour a week for the first half of the season really dragged out the audition process). It's time to vote! I'm putting all my voting power behind Koine, who has been my favorite performer all season. I still feel that the title will go to one of the lovebirds - Lex or Taylor - as I originally predicted (but I called Taylor, "Ashley" until my Sweet Boy Josh pointed out my error.) But I think you could make a solid case for any of the four winning. No matter who wins the title, the result will be satisfying.

Tonight's non-encore routines in order of my preference:

1. Lex and Koine - Broadway
2. Kiki and Koine - Contemporary
3. Koine and Taylor - Jazz
4. Lex and Kiki - Hip-Hop
5. Lex and Taylor - Contemporary
6. Kiki and Taylor - Cha-Cha