Travis Wall mentors Team Stage on this season of So You Think You Can Dance. Read on as he chats with us about the difficulties and advantages of dividing the dancers into groups based on their experience as street and stage dancers.
In the next episode, the dancers will be cut down to the top 20, and it’s a process that Wall said wasn’t easy on any of them. “Next week you’re going to see some more brutal cuts. With my team, with tWitch’s team, we’re getting to a place where everyone is incredible, everyone is amazing and now we try to cast a stone in a way. We start comparing people to each other. We start saying, ‘Is this person better than this person?’ [because] these two people are very alike.”
As a mentor, Wall could only advise the other judges on which dancers he thought should stay, but ultimately it was out of his hands. “It’s tough when you’re in the moment,” he said of the eliminations in the second Vegas episode. Wall added that he wished he could have had more time to deliberate each dancer, but it wasn’t possible. “You’re diving in head-first on a decision and you’re hoping you made the right one. So I have to pick and choose my battles.”
“We wanted to find an eclectic top 20, so especially on my [team], I didn’t want to have the same dancer twice. So it gets very brutal and we lose a lot of good people,” he said about the upcoming episode.
Twelve seasons in, you might think the judging would get easier or the judges would grow soft, but Wall said this season is going to be tougher on the dancers than ever.
“It gets tougher every year and the standard gets raised every year because of the previous season. The talent that we get on the show and the levels that the dancers achieve during the top 20 — when they’re dancing in these couples and the routines that the choreographers are giving them — we are upping the standards every season. So it just gets harder. We keep saying, ‘We’ve seen this. We’ve seen this. We want to see something we’ve never seen before. We want to see talent we’ve never seen before.'”
On this season of SYTYCD, the show changed things up by splitting up the dancers into groups based on their experience rather than men versus women. The move has put a new spin on a series that is now in Season 12.
“There wasn’t somebody on the outside that was helping you in the show before,” Wall said about the change. “It was every man for himself. [Now] there’s a coach, there’s someone who’s been through everything who can tell you what to do, what not to do. Now I think it’s more about your team, too. You’re going to root for people on your team, you’re going to root for the best ones to stick around because, at the end of the day, if you’re from Team Stage, you’re going to want someone from Team Stage to win the show.”
The switch-up has brought about some good-natured rivalry between the groups of dancers, which has also added a new element to the show. The street dancers understandably want to prove themselves against the trained dancers, while the stage dancers want to prove why they have gone to classes their entire lives. “It takes a lot to get where we are, so we’re going to fight for each other,” Wall said of Team Stage. “It’s going to be a lot of competition this summer.”
Splitting up the teams by experience also made the judges’ job even harder this season. “Usually, when it comes down to the top 20, there are about 14 to 15 stage dancers and about five stage dancers. So it was very hard in Vegas, when you’re usually casting a show with all these stage dancers, and you could only pick 10.”
Speaking about what advantages the stage dancers might have over the street dancers, Wall said typically those trained in stage would have an easier time learning choreography and adapting to different styles of dance. “Normally we’ve trained in lots of styles and not just one style. That’s where we’ll have the advantage.”
But he doesn’t dismiss the street dancers, especially the ladies on tWitch’s team. “They are incredible, and you can tell they are trained in contemporary and jazz, and they’re trained in hip-hop,” he gushed about the women on Team Street. “His girls are really good; they can do more than just hip-hop. So I think it’s going to be a pretty fair competition when it comes to picking up choreography. I think it’s going to have to come to the dancer itself.”
As for the boys on Team Street, Wall thinks they have a lot of work to do to measure up to the girls. “I’m scared for any choreographer that gets them,” he said.
“The Street girls are going to be the competition to beat,” Wall predicted.
One clear advantage Wall can see that Team Street has over Team Stage is personality. As a mentor, it’s one of the things he will be working on with his dancers. “[SYTYCD] is about showing a bit of yourself on TV, and I think that’s going to be a little bit hard for some of my dancers. I know some of my top 10 are incredible dancers, but as far as personality goes, I have a couple of duds.”
“I need to make sure that they are really trying to open up and find themselves,” Wall said of some of the timid people in his group. “There are a couple of 18-year-olds that I don’t know if they know who they are. I know when I was 18, I was feeling that way, too — when I was on the show trying to find myself. I really hope they open up and show their personality because I know the street team, they’re really loud and they have these very bright personalities. I really want my team to show that.”
“At the end of the day, I definitely think that we’re going to out-dance that team. But I just want to be as likable as Team Street,” he said.
With all the changes this season, Wall encourages new viewers to give it a shot. “With this new take on the show, if you’re going to start fresh on the show, this would be the season to do it.”