SYTYCD Season 9 – A Prelude

Erica: So I’m all confused as to what is going on this season. Why are they changing the format?

Kate: What are you talking about? This episode is just like the last few top-20-revealed episodes.

Erica: It is?

Kate: Yes! We don’t start blogging until they actually start competing, which is next week.

Erica: But next week they’re not getting rid of anyone, right?

Kate: Ummm…

Erica: Okay, anyway, I thought as long as this isn’t the competition proper yet but it’s still with the dancing and what-not, I’d do a run-down of our Top 20 dancers, and we’d give our opinions, okay?

Kate: Readyyyy O-KAY!

Erica: Great. I’m just going to go in order of how they were announced.

The Contemporaries (Round One)

Alexa Anderson 

Erica: Much has been made of the fact that she was in the top 21 last year – meaning she was the first loser. But she made it this year! They gave her a lot of crap in Vegas about being technically perfect and also stunningly gorgeous (she is) but emotionally dead so expect to see her congratulated every five minutes or so for showing her heart or some such.

Kate: I’m not thrilled that she’s in the top 20 because the feedback they were giving her led me to believe she would not be. I always had a problem with facial expressions too, though.

George Lawrence II 

Erica: This is the one with the bad daddy who wanted him to, I don’t know, play baseball or something? And then Debbie Allen said that there are very few people who are simply meant to dance, and he’s one of them? The thing is, as much as the whole thing annoyed me, because that’s such a hippie-dippie thing to say and also I know how much Nigel loves to hate on the bad dads who don’t want their sons to dance, but George really does dance like the light of some god is within him. In the first contemporary routine, which featured these first four dancers, he stood out by a mile. He’s my current favorite.

Kate: Was he the tall one?

Will Thomas 

Erica: We saw nothing of him in the auditions episodes. And in this episode’s Top 10 Boys dance number, we saw that he’s a little, uh, doughy. Which is not great in a dancer. And he’s super, super tall. Like, taller than Cat. Even when Cat’s in heels.

Kate: Oh HE’S the tall one. My bad. Yeah I’m not that much of a fan, he needs to be quicker on his big-ass feet.

Amber Jackson 

Erica: Amber Jackson wasn’t really featured in the auditions episodes either, but apparently she has been rejected by these folks before. And the last time she said she wasn’t going to come back, but look, here she is! Nigel tells her she looks ugly when she says she’s quitting, but beautiful now that she’s come back – which of course he wouldn’t take the time to say if she came back but didn’t make the top 20. I don’t like her hair as much now as I did in the earlier shots of her.

Kate: Yeah that was so mean NIGEL! But she clearly grew as a dancer, I’m neutral on her as of this moment.

The Ballrooms (or Latins, whatevs)

Nick Bloxsom-Carter 

Erica: He’s a crier. He’s also not long for this competition. He’s good but not great. Although maybe I am speaking too early. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with ballroom boys because in their own genre, their main job is to support the lady. Or ladies.

Kate: I barely even noticed him because the ballroom girls were so freakin’ good. Actually one of them messed up at some point I think.

Whitney Carson 

Erica: Seriously, people, what goes on in Utah? Anyway, I knew she was going to be in. She’s a virginal hot tamale; that’s exactly what this show is all about. I know I’m snarking, but she’s very good.

Kate: RIGHT? And they were like friends before the show.

Lindsay Arnold

Erica: She’s the other ballroom chick from Utah. Which is sort of the problem; she’s terrific but if I had to guess now, I’d guess Whitney is going to outshine her. But what is up with Utah?

Kate: Yeah, of all the states you’d think would have awesome ballroom dancing, Utah is not one of them. I actually can’t tell them apart.

The Ballet Dancers

Eliana Girard

Erica: She was one of the first auditioners we saw, and she was the one who made me go, “Why is she doing this show?” I think she said she was with Alvin Ailey, and then she moved to Cirque du Soleil to do pole dancing (actual dancing with the poles, not a euphemism for stripping, and not actual pole dancing at a strip club). Like, she has a career, and a good one, and why is she here? And that seems to be true of the male dancers, too, although I think both of them expressed interest, during their auditions, in learning other styles, so, you know, that’s a reason. But Eliana already works outside of traditional ballet so . . . what is she hoping to gain here? That said, she’s fabulous.

Kate: Yea this was a great weird ballet routine! And I don’t get that either about the professional dancers quitting their jobs to do this show, haven’t they already gained what they would from this show? I think it’s just a thing now in the dance community, like “Hey let’s all do SYTYCD this year!”

Daniel Baker 

Erica: He seems sort of cynical and maybe a touch asshole-y. But maybe I just don’t know him well enough yet.

Kate: Eliana outshined the boys in this one so I didn’t even notice. Maybe I didn’t pay as close attention to this episode as I should have eh?

Chehon Wespi-Tschopp

Erica: That is one hell of a name. Seriously, though, their ballet routine was awesome and they were all so in sync and perfect in it. Sometimes I see that and I think contemporary looks like ballet’s lazy little sister. Which I know is not true and sometimes I see fabulous contemporary routines I adore (like Mia’s at the end of this episode – what’s up; she has been battling cancer or something?), but damn, these guys were good. Maybe it’s just the difference between working professionals and kids who left high school, like, yesterday.

Kate: Wait is he the one from auditions that was kind of like a robot but insanely good? He needs a lot more personality if he’s going to make it on this show but he is immensely talented and has perfecto form. And, um, hello muscle definition.

The, Uh, Jazz (?) Girls

Tiffany Maher

Erica: They didn’t show us her in the auditions, I don’t think. I’m not going to remember her.

Kate: This was actually an awesome routine, and they are both ridiculously miniscule, but I don’t know that they’ll last very long because they are basically interchangeable.

Audrey Case

Erica: I wouldn’t remember her, either, except I think she’s the one who, after being told, with her group, that she’d gotten through ballroom, said, “Really? Even though I sucked?” and giggled and I found that obnoxious. But maybe I’m remembering wrong.

Kate: See above statement.

Erica: As a note, only these two danced. The next girl was sick. I did not think they did that good a job with some really pretty good choreography from show favorite Sonya Tayeh, and it’s really rare for me to think the dancers dropped the ball on the choreography rather than the other way around.

Janelle Isis

Erica: She’s not jazz, she’s a belly dancer! Oh, boy, I hope she has to do lots and lots of solos. And I mean that nicely; especially with this season and its new rules, I don’t even know that doing solos is going to be a bad thing or what. And here’s my thing: She’s a Palestinian Christian from Alabama who belly dances. Is this one hell of a country or what?

Kate:I don’t think she should have been in the top 20. Belly dancing is very different than any other form of dance and I’m not sure she’ll be able to pick up, like, hip hop and quick stepping. This was just Nigel being a horny weirdo.

Erica: I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying I love watching belly dancing.

The Contemporaries (Round Two)

Matthew Kazmierczak 

Erica: They compared his looks to Ryan Gosling’s and now that’s all I can see.

Kate: ME TOO!

Janaya French

Erica: We never saw her before. She lists her specialty as “Lyrical,” not “Contemporary.” What, pray tell, is the difference between lyrical and contemporary?

Kate: Haven’t we been over this? Lyrical is more ballet-y, contemporary is more jazz-y.

Erica: Alright.

Dareian Kujawa

Erica: All I know about him is he’s short.

Kate: Don’t remember this one either. Crap.

Erica: They really didn’t do a lot to highlight him. I forgot to include him in my run-down at first.

Amelia Lowe

Erica: Aw, she made it! This is the woman who wants to be Berenice Bojo in The Artist. I thought she was going to be the girl they made me love and then sent home because she’s too weird and quirky and not well-trained enough. But she made it! She also has a little light-0f-God thing going on, but technically, she’s not as good as George or, really, a lot of the other girls.

Kate: That’s not the light of God, it’s extremely pale skin that actually hurts my eyes. I am so mad she made it. The other girl was better. I hate her stupid hair (hello Kate circa 1994) and her stupid makeup and her stupid silent movie thing, it’s just a schtick and I don’t like that she used it to get on the show. During auditions I did not think she was all that talented.

The Non-White Guys without “Training”

Cole Horibe

Erica: He’s the “martial arts fusion” guy. Whatever. They padded this category because they didn’t want to let in so many trained contemporary dancers as they usually do. Which is not to say he’s not good, but that’s what happened.

Kate: Er, this routine was AWESOME. I mean truly spectacular. An Asian and 2 black guys doing a hiphop-lyrical-contemporary hybrid with baseball bats as props?! It was true genius, I love this new choreographer and I love all of them. Extreme talent all around and I can’t wait to see what else they can do.

Erica: Sorry, yes, the number was cool. And he’s super-talented. But I’m saying, they vacillate a lot between “Let’s let in the best of the best,” and “Let’s invite a variety of styles into our top 20,” and this year, they were doing the latter. In a “best of the best” year, I don’t think Cole or Cyrus would have made it.

Brandon Mitchell

Erica: A stepper we’ve never seen before right now. I actually thought he was the best of this group. He’s also kinda easy on the eyes. As is my man Chehon up there.

Kate: Love love love.

Erica: I know this is a stupid thing to even bother mentioning, but when they showed this, Jason asked what stepping was. We had a step team at our high school, so I knew. Yet another advantage of growing up in a racially diverse community.

Cyrus Spencer

Erica: This is the guy who lives in that house in Atlanta with, like, 20 other people who do the kind of dancing he does – “popping,” whatever that is – and three of them tried out and he was the best one. He’s good, but a) the guy they showed as his direct competition and then sent home was better at all the styles, and b) I think he was shocked he made it as far as he did at that point and was kind of hoping to be sent home so he could, like, take actual dance classes before trying out again. What I’m saying is, as awesome as he is, I think he’s a little out of his depth.

Kate: Yeah Brandon was better but together they were so so so good.

Erica: Oh, also, I loved how, after their routine, Nigel was all, “Aren’t you poor, pathetic brown people so very grateful to white British me for giving you this FABULOUS opportunity to make more money for me?”

Kate: Ha, you love when he does that. But it is incredible that they are hiphop dancers and did lyrical stuff so beautifully on the first try.

Both: Okay, people, see you in two weeks for the competition proper! Have a happy and a safe Fourth!

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Can Men and Women Be Friends?

A few months ago, I watched something or read something about When Harry Met Sally and in the end, wasn’t it saying that men and women couldn’t be friends, because the male-female friendship portrayed does end up in a romantic relationship?

So I was going to write a post about what I thought of that analysis of the movie and of the movie’s famous question about friendships between (heterosexual) men and women, but then, you know, I forgot to actually do that.

But with Nora Ephron’s passing, I thought I’d take another stab at it.

Harry posits in the movie, early on in the movie, when we are supposed to believe that he’s sort of immature and un-evolved, that men and women can’t be friends because sex always gets in the way, that even sexual desire without fulfillment gets in the way, and yeah, even if you don’t find your female friend attractive, you “pretty much want to bang” (“nail”?) her, too, so it’s always a problem. Later he posits that men and women CAN be friends, if they’re both involved with other people, because then the sex stuff can’t get in the way, but no, wait a minute, then your partner will suspect the sex stuff anyway, and let’s face it, you probably do want to have sex with your female friends, even when you’re in a relationship, so yeah, men and women can’t be friends.

Then he and Sally become friends.

I don’t really like the idea of their later romantic relationship invalidating their friendship. I think their friendship was genuine, and then there became the added aspect of romance/sex, which existed concurrently with their friendship, presumably for the rest of their lives.

Admittedly, the movie does not depict any male-female friendships that do not also include a romantic relationship, which is a problem, but I really do think you were supposed to conclude that, in fact, men and women can be friends. I think the Harry who said they couldn’t was supposed to be too immature to be taken completely seriously.

I also think that the way immature Harry posits the question rests on assumptions that male sexuality is, like, poisonous. That just the existence of sexual desire on the part of a man is enough to ruin a relationship. (He starts by using gender neutral language, but it becomes clear he’s talking about the ruinous power of a man’s sexual desire and not a woman’s when he says that Sally has never had a friendship with a man because he’s certain that man actually wanted to have sex with her.) It’s so powerful it even applies to women that man doesn’t find particularly attractive.

I don’t like that model of male sexuality. I know it’s prevalent, but I don’t like it, and in the end, I don’t think When Harry Met Sally does, either. Men can genuinely not want to have sex with the women of their acquaintance (I happen to know this as a fact, as a woman who has not been desired by more than a few male friends), and they can want to have sex with a woman of their acquaintance but still have a genuine friendship with her, too (and yeah, I’ve had experience with this, too). And it apparently goes without saying that women can do both of those things. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen that people sometimes more or less pretend to have only platonic feelings for someone in the hopes that one day, this person will turn around and have sex with them, and it’s only that hope that keeps them in the friendship. Sure it does. But I also think a lot of us want to have sex with people we genuinely like, and genuinely like people we want to have sex with, so the presence of one feeling does not necessarily negate the other.

Anyway. I thought I was going to be a little more articulate on this subject but I guess I’m not.

Ricki Cooking School, Chapter 4 – Panzanella

It is time.

It should not be time yet. Were I a good local/organic/seasonal cook, this wouldn’t be going up – or even be made – until August. But dudes, I crave this salad. I start making it as soon as I can vaguely justify the purchase of tomatoes in the supermarket. It is better if you wait. But I didn’t.

So, for a panzanella, what you need are:

1. Tomatoes

2. Bread

Everything else you put in is your choice. Actually, even the tomatoes are sort of optional; you can make a “spring” panzanella with, oh, say, asparagus and radishes (I have; it’s delicious) or a “fall” panzanella with Brussels sprouts and pears (I haven’t; I will). But the non-qualified panzanella is tomatoes and bread.

I wrote about how I do the bread here but I’ll repeat it in case you don’t feel the urge to click my link and give me another page view. And also because it’s the most important part of the panzanella. Now, this is not necessarily the traditional way to do it. A lot of recipes would just have you throw in slightly stale bread in chunks; some might have you toast it. But this is how I do it, and it’s delicious.

1. Get good bread. I like a sourdough, a Tuscan, a Country – something thick and dense and crusty.

2. Cut in thick slices. Lay slices on baking sheet. Set oven to Broil. (Or use your toaster oven.)

3. Drizzle bread with olive oil and sprinkle with good salt – sea salt is a good idea; kosher salt is fine. Not table. Never table. Why do you even still have table salt?

4. Put under broiler or toaster and watch it. When it’s nice and brown, take it out. This can take anywhere from 3 – 6 minutes; the key is, WATCH IT. Every variety of bread I buy takes a different amount of time.

5. While it’s broiling, get out a garlic clove and slice it so you have a good chunk to hold in your hand and a raw edge. I usually just lop the top off the clove; if it’s big, you can cut it in half.

6. When the bread is done, take it out and rub the garlic piece all over it. The bread must be hot when you do this, so be careful. Spear the garlic piece on a fork if you have to.

7. Flip the bread. Re-oil if necessary. Re-salt. Brown. Rub garlic. The browning will take slightly less time the second time around than it did the first. WATCH THE BREAD. Do not leave the kitchen.

8. For the salad, take the bread out, and, once it’s cool enough to handle, cut or rip it into large bite-sized pieces.

This sounds complicated but it’s not. Toast olive-oil-ed bread. Rub with garlic. Done. It is also completely delicious.

Okay, so what about the rest of the salad? Well, get the best tomatoes you can find. Cut them into large bite-sized pieces. What else? I usually like some cannellini beans. Or Great Northern, but, while I prefer Great Northern in my favorite pasta dish (with broccoli rabe and sausage – I’ll post that some other time), I prefer cannellini here. I almost always use basil leaves, too, torn into fairly large pieces or julienned all pretty. If I can’t get basil, or if I want more greenery, I use arugula. The last time I did this, I also used spinach, because I was trying to go super-green. Another lettuce – romaine, radicchio, maybe butter or Boston, although those are a little soft – is fine, too, if you want more green. Also very good are fresh, fresh, fresh cucumbers, either in thin slices or somewhat larger chunks, and/or raw red onions in slices. Capers, which are included in some traditional recipes, or even olives never hurt anything. I’ve been known to throw in mozzarella, cubed, although not lately, because, even with the oil-soaked bread, I like to pretend this salad is healthy. Although a few curls of Parmesan would be nice. I have, in the past, put in corn, either raw or briefly sautéed, but I’ve decided not to do that anymore. You don’t really need to dress this salad, but I usually swirl in a drop of olive oil or a nice nut oil or something, and a splash of champagne vinegar or lemon juice, plus (always) a grind of pepper and maybe a sprinkle of salt, although I keep in mind that the bread is already salted. I’ve seen people recommend topping with roast beef or fairly rare steak slices, or grilled shrimp, or maybe tearing up some prosciutto or what have you. None of these are bad ideas.

In fact, with this salad, nothing is a bad idea. Just put in what you like. I make this differently almost every time I do it. Here is the thing – it’s hard to screw up something when you’ve started with delicious, oil-soaked, garlic-rubbed, toasted bread.