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‘Dance’ choreographers step into spotlight

Show's teachers emerge from behind the scenes

Tyce Diorio, one of the principal choreographers for “So You Think You Can Dance,” has a much more complicated and nuanced test each week than simply coming up with new routines.

“You could get a dancer who only does hip-hop, and they need to do something that requires more technique and a ballet-based training like jazz or contemporary,” Diorio says. “The job of the choreographer is to find a way to marry the dancers’ gift with your style.”

The success of “Dance” choreographers like Diorio and Mia Michaels in meeting this challenge has not only generated entertaining television, it has turned the choreographers themselves into stars.

“Thank goodness they are finally being recognized,” says “Dance” judge Mary Murphy, a choreographer and ballroom specialist, adding that the profession has gone “under the radar” for years.

Even if it’s belated, the public’s fascination with “Dance” choreographers doesn’t come as a surprise to Murphy.

“Dance creativity is a very personal journey,” she says. “You are taking a step into the choreographer’s mind and life. It’s a very emotional ride for the audience and the dancers who have to produce the work.”

Watching contestants struggle to perfect various dance routines in genres including contemporary, ballroom, jazz and hip-hop in a matter of hours has been enough to keep viewers glued to the screen.

But when first approached about “Dance,” Murphy was less concerned about teaching viewers choreography 101 than the time constraints placed on the dancers.

“I thought that it could be quite comedic,” Murphy admits. “I just didn’t think people were going to be able to pick up a different dance genres in 5½ hours, but I was going to love watching people try to do it.”

To her surprise and subsequent delight, contestants didn’t fall on their faces. They thrived, and audiences reveled in watching the process.

“People may not know every technical (dance) expression, but they are definitely picking up stuff,” says “Dance” co-executive producer Jeff Thacker. “Viewers are becoming mini dance critics, which is great, because that means that we are not just entertaining, but we are also informing.”

While Diorio, who choreographed Katie Holmes’ “Get Happy” number for the 100th episode of “Dance,” admits that putting his work in front of America is nerve-wracking, he says that having one or two days to prepare the routine and then just a few hours to teach the contestants can be “difficult on one hand but a great working tool on the other.”

But it’s the dancers, not the choreographers, who matter the most, Diorio says.

“Yes, the choreography will help,” Diorio says. “It can push a dancer into the top four and maybe into being one of America’s favorite dancers, but the choreographers are only the guides, and what we provide is only a tool that helps show the dancers’ growth.”

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