I haven’t been closely watching this season of So You Think You Can Dance. One reason is that my DVR cannot record the show now that I no longer have a cable box, so I completely missed both the Vegas and Meet the Top 20 episodes, which were broadcast the nights of Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Così fan tutte respectively. And then Texas and North Carolina happened and I was distracted to say the least. So, I’ve had to catch up via YouTube snippets, which means I haven’t really become invested in the show.

But, you might reasonably ask, can’t you watch the episodes online with HuluPlus or at Fox.com? Well, no. Much to my annoyance, Fox does not allow them to be broadcast for thirty days after their initial airing. A wise marketing decision Fox, I’m sure that serves you well. Anyway, since this season’s dancing so far has been rather uninspiring, I took the opportunity of digging out my DVDs of former seasons (for a friend’s recovery from surgery) to look back and try to find where it all went wrong.

Today’s episode: Season 1.

Nick Lazzarini (winner) and Melody Lacayanga (runner-up) in “All That Jazz”

I actually discovered this show at the very beginning (i.e., back in the summer of 2005 when I had just moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to begin what turned out to be a two-year teaching stint at Washington College); however, I didn’t begin recording episodes until I moved to San Francisco in the middle of Season 3. Therefore, my thoughts on Season 1 (and Season 2 in my next post) are based primarily on the memories of my single weekly viewings with my two, very young, enthusiastic neighbors and a lot of digging around on YouTube.

In many ways, Season 1 was merely a trial run for what this show would become. For one thing, the competition started with only 16 dancers (instead of 20) and dances themselves were only a minute long. There was also a different host, Lauren Sánchez, who, if memory serves, was rather abysmal.

Each week, dancers would pick their partner’s name out of a hat and then their partner would pick their style. So couples changed each week. Now that people are again voting for individual dancers, I would love to see them bring back that element. Dancing with different partners separated the wheat from the chaff. And weaker dancers couldn’t rely on strong/popular partners to get them through.

But the biggest difference was that there weren’t many “story” numbers—dances were really just straightforward examples of their particular genre. Instead of the current video packages, which mostly explain the choreographer’s intention, we got actual information and explanations about the various styles. Oh, how I miss those days.

While some of the numbers may seem less polished to those used to the production values of later seasons, there was a lot of talent on the stage. Probably the best dancer, Blake (who is now a choreographer for SYTYCD Canada), didn’t even make the top four:

Nor did the only male ballroom dancer, Artem:

And whatever technical refinements might have been lacking, they were certainly made up for by the sheer enthusiasm and energy of these first contestants, as in these two numbers by the final four:

As in Seasons 2-4, which I wrote about here, ballroom comprised almost half of the 51 total dances in the competition, with all ten formal ballroom styles* represented (except rumba), along with mambo, salsa, Argentine tango, and even “rock n’ roll” (which seemed to be a variation on swing). There were actually four quicksteps. Four! And, unlike today, dancers were expected to come up to scratch no matter the style. No watered down steps here.

There were only 14 numbers that might reasonably be called contemporary, and these mostly fell under the rubric of lyrical or lyrical jazz. Apart from the Mia Michaels “Message in a Bottle” number referenced above, and the Tyce Diorio “All That Jazz” Broadway, not many were memorable.

For me, the two styles that stayed in my brain over the years were disco and hip-hop. Season 1 provided multiple examples of each that were simply pure distillations and joyous incarnations of these genres. I leave you with three of them.

*The ten dances include the five Standard dances of foxtrot, quickstep, tango, Viennese waltz, and waltz, as well as the five Latin dances of cha-cha, jive, paso doble, rumba, and samba.