The Largely Self-Taught Dancer Wins America's Collective Hearts: So You Think You Can Dance Season Finale

You never know who's going to win this competition since it's, as many of you have noted, ultimately a popularity contest. You don't know who's all voting and what criteria they're using (the young women holding up the "Marry Me, Twitch" signs made me realize he's become a bit of a heartthrob). But having said that, I really think Joshua Allen was the rightful winner this season. He has everything: the creativity innate to Hip Hop; the understated charisma; the endearing personality; the entertaining dance persona; the acting ability; the heart, soul and passion; the immense drive to improve and learn; and even, somehow, and probably most importantly, the stunning technique in spite of his little formal training. He did say in his interview that he took some dance lessons when he was young, and, since he was poor, his studio would give him classes in exchange for work, so he does have some formal training. But it's not like he went to the Kirov Academy or the School of American Ballet. Which means he largely taught himself how to do those pirouettes, those fouettés, those jetés, those barrel turns. It takes not only sheer drive and a huge passion for dance, but a deep intelligence to be able to do that. I really don't know if there's been a winner I've felt is so deserving.

That's not to say the other three weren't deserving. I loved Katee; I think she dances with so much joy, her love for the art form radiates through each and every movement her body makes. And of the women, she had the most advanced technique and artistry. I was surprised she came in third but I think Twitch ended up being the Neil of this season, garnering the young female vote, a huge demographic here.

But I also think Twitch developed a wide fan base over the course of the show because he's always so authentic in his emotions and in his movement choices, whether it's Hip Hop or another dance. He brings an everyday realness, a humanness, to everything he does. And he's such a comedian -- but not in an overblown slapstick way, but in a way that expresses a kind of sympathy to the human condition. Hip Hop seems to be fundamentally about having a sense of humor toward the streets, toward life, or the dance of life. In his Hip Hop with Courtney on Wednesday night he looked so defeated, nearly beat up, by her character. But it was a Charlie Chaplinesque kind of defeat, sympathetic but funny at the same time.

I'm not surprised Courtney came in fourth, but I have to say she really impressed me this week. This week her improvement throughout the season really showed, and her drive and hunger really made her stand out. Her lines were so much better than in some of her beginning routines, and she was dancing with so much more precision. She also came into her own, developing her own dancer persona and dancing as full-out as possible, taking things the farthest they can go. She still needs to work more on her artistry, on her subtlety, on not stopping short on the movement, and on keeping in character. In her Hip Hop with Twitch, I thought she was just as good as he was, dance-wise -- both moved perfectly in sync with the beat, the lyrics, and each other. But while he stayed in character throughout - remaining cautious of her supposed crazed nuttiness, she slipped out of hers about a quarter of the way through. After the little kicking and punching session up front, once they began dancing side by side she let things slip, concentrating pretty much solely on the movement. And technique-wise, the overhead lift was certainly impressive but it seemed that she couldn't maintain her line in the air after he let go of her. She couldn't keep her shape and balance on her stomach atop the crown of his head (which is hugely difficult anyway), and came down early. The landing on his shoulders and the ensuing drop to the floor didn't look entirely clean. But if she was going to fall, it was a great save.

The Tyce Diorio routine illustrated the two top women's strengths and differences. Courtney really camped up a lot of the movement and went for maximum effect with those struts, the walks, the wiggles, the jazz hands, the shoulder shaking. She's really learned to make herself seen. But in her effort to do that, to go for the flash, she cut some movement short, didn't do it full out, and she lacked some of Katee's genuineness. Right before they picked up their umbrellas, they both did a little move where they balled their fists, made as if they were turning a knob, and pulled their bodies inward and then curving upward, as if going through a door to another world. Katee's movement seemed to say just that, but Courtney's was shorter, was more limited to the movement than what it was evoking. And she was ahead of Katee as she picked up her umbrella, arriving at the stairs too early. And, at one point, they had some little dashes, footwork where it looked like they were running in place. Courtney looked just like she was picking her knees up and down quickly, but Katee gave her footwork a kind of brushing that jazzed it up, looked more like stylized movement than a simple motion. But Courtney's very young. She'll catch up.

Katee and Joshua's Wade Robson routine was beautifully passionate. Both were perfectly in character. And more importantly, they didn't just act, but made the choreography part of the character. When she cried at the beginning and he came up behind her and shifted her weight from side to side, it was like she was pushed a bit off-kilter by her passion for him. Later, she did a few pirouettes and threw her arms toward him and set him off on the same pattern of turns. He looked like he was going to spin a little out of control but then his stop was so controlled, and I realized that, unlike Marquis earlier, it wasn't that he'd thrown himself so hard into a turn that he nearly lost balance, but that he was just making it look that way for the purposes of this story, to show his character's precarious abandon, in throes of passion.

I LOVED Youri Nelzine's Trepak for Joshua and Twitch. I thought it was rather ingenious how he combined Russian folk dance with Hip Hop, the feuding duel-like nature of both dances, and how he played on both dancers' strengths - Twitch's amazing thigh muscles allowing him to last so long in that low, close-to-the-ground movement, and Joshua's stunning, nearly ceiling-high jumps. Those three jumping splits in a row, followed by that twisting corkscrew of a jump, then three barrel turns, the last one huge - simply amazing. And Twitch's fast-traveling kicks, first sideways, then forward, all the time in that deep knee-bent position, most of the action without the use of arms to help propel himself along, using only the thighs - equally amazing. Joshua's ending fouettés into pirouettes were excellent, and, for me, made him the "winner" of this little dance. But, to be sure, he wasn't perfect. He lacked some clarity and polish on the ending position of the turns. And, did you notice how the choreographer in practice did the turning jumps all around the floor; Joshua only did three. But overall, his theatrics more than compensate for any lack of this kind of ballet technique. And given more training, with his raw talent, he'll be an enormous force in the dance world to come.

The two dances I really didn't like Wednesday night were Katee and Twitch's Foxtrot and Courtney and Joshua's Jive. The Foxtrot ended up being far more Broadway than Blackpool, largely because choreographers Tony and Melanie clearly couldn't get Katee and Twitch to learn proper connection (Melanie was hilarious in her deadpan crack, "okay that's not it at all, but we'll try it again.") The frame should make a martini glass shape, with the lower bodies like a stem connected at the pelvic bone, and the upper bodies full and opening out - like the cup. It's really gorgeous if done properly and the most magical thing about ballroom, to me anyway, is the two bodies moving in perfect unison, as one. Some of the great Blackpool champs just melt you with their shaping, their seeming ability to read each other's minds. From afar they can look like whirling, spinning funnels out there on the dance floor. But there's nothing wrong with jazzy and theatrical and lyrical of course - it's just more Contemporary than Ballroom. And all the balletic moves here were splendid - her developée kick, the overhead lifts - her gorgeous lines in the air and in that cute cartwheel. And Twitch looked great on some of the side-stepping jazzy struts. Even without the elegant cocktail glass-form, the romantic flavor was still very there.

The best thing about Joshua and Courtney's Jive was the ending around-the-world lift into his gymnastic flips, the last of which, in typical Josh modus operandi, looked like he'd crashed and possibly hurt himself, until you realized he only meant it to look that way, to show the breathless quality of the Jive, and of this competition in general -- like he was saying it was the end of a long routine, of a long competition, and he was just completely knackered. But, impressive aerials aside, it wasn't really a proper Jive. The Jive kicks had no height. The footwork - the side kicks, the sailor shuffles, the swivels -- all lacked pizzazz, electricity, spark. They looked tired and like they were just concentrating on the technicalities. I think part of the problem was the choreography that was trying at once to be a Jive and a Jitterbug. It was Jitterbug that had all the high-flying aerials. Jive, which grew out of Jitterbug, took out the lifts so that the focus could be on lightening-fast footwork (and when you see great dancers do it, sometimes their feet are just a blur). They're two different dances, and Jason Gilkison definitely put them together here for entertainment effect. But I'd think trying to do both at once would be incredibly hard; you'd have to lose the effect of one or the other.

I thought Mia Michaels' piece was a nice note to end on. At first I thought it was entirely bizarre, but on watching again it grew on me. It reminded me a bit of the Olympics, the carrying of the satin-y sheet back and forth across the stage like a team's flag in an opening ceremony. It also kind of reminded me of Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room (now THAT would be a great ballet for this show): the athleticism of it all, the way the dancers never stopped moving even for a split second, the slow-motion running backward and forward, the jumping rope, the play fighting, the very difficult upside-down and handstand-on-the-shoulder lifts, the combination of ballet (when Courtney and Katee stood on relevé - tip toes -- in a feet-crossed, sous-sus position, their arms held out before them full and rounded as if holding a giant beach ball) with other kinds of dance. Mandy Moore was right that this really did celebrate the athleticism of dance. Not only were there lots of lifts and jumps and non-stop movement, but a there were a lot of small, subtle movements that nevertheless required great clarity and precision, a certain sharpness to pull off correctly. Not sure what the costumes represented -- they seemed Scottish -- but I loved the violin music; it was perfect.

I loved how they had Cat record little interviews with the dancers to show prior to their solos. But I wish they would have been a bit longer so we'd have gotten to know the dancers more and seen less flashbacks of the tryouts. We know they're talented dancers by this point; we don't need to see tryouts again! I think Joshua's interview revealed him to be a humble person, one many can relate to, with his family's lack of money making expensive dance lessons all but impossible, and his having to choose between sports and dance as a boy. I wanted to know more of why he chose dance, because not many boys do. There's still a lot of very unfortunate ridiculing associated with men and dance and I often wonder how many get up the courage.

Thursday night's highlights for me were the Wade Robson top 20 routine, where I was reminded how great a dancer Gev is, with those traveling sideways bounces on his back through the row of slicing Hip Hop legs. I also really liked Nigel's choreography to Five Guys Named Moe. And that Popping battle was amazing beyond words. Philip was good but I don't think I've ever seen anyone or anything like Robert before. It's like he really doesn't have a skeleton, or like he's triple or quadruple jointed or something. I couldn't even tell that Robert, as Nigel said, was humorously mocking Philip because his movement was so unique, it looked nothing like Philip's. As Adam Shankman said to Robert, "you are a freak of nature and I am freaking over you; you scared the living POOP out of me." Adam really needs to be a mainstay of the show, he has a way of expressing just what you were thinking but in such an over-the-top manner you have to laugh at yourself.

And cute that the judges danced for once. Mary Murphy really kind of blew me away with that Samba. I didn't even recognize her at first; thought it was Dmitry's s pro partner. Dmitry's dancing seems so much more sleek and precise and polished -- so much improved from when he was a contestant two seasons ago when it was all about that annoying ripping off of the shirt.

I'm so sad the season's over. As always, it feels kind of anti-climactic. Thanks so much, you guys, for listening to me blabber on, and for all your insightful comments!

I'm very happy for Joshua. Can you guys think of a better featured dancer for Adam's Step Up 3-D?