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Ahead of Emmys, 'So You Think You Can Dance' choreographers want the craft to get its due
Mandy Moore is an Emmy Award-winning choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance." - photo by Kelsey McNeal, Fox

Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" is no stranger to Emmy Awards — the show has won eight in the outstanding choreographer category alone. This year, "SYTYCD" has been nominated for four out of the five slots in that category, so it looks promising that there might be another win.

Choreographers Mandy Moore and Christopher Scott are among the nominees. Scott has been nominated twice before and has a long career of choreographing for television and film, including movies such as "Step Up 2." Moore has been nominated many times, and finally won her first Emmy last year, for "Dancing With the Stars." She is most known for choreographing "La La Land," which won eight Academy Awards in 2017, but the Oscars don't have a choreography category.

Choreographers are often neglected at major awards shows. The Emmys choreography category is not televised; even the Tonys give out the choreography awards during a commercial break, despite choreography being a major part of musicals.

"Choreography is kind of this elusive art form for people in our industry," Moore said.

While every film or television show needs a director, a lighting designer and an actor, she said, they don't always need a choreographer. When one shows up on set, people don't necessarily know what to do.

Scott confirmed that though choreographers can be responsible for up to a third of the content in a musical movie, they are often unknown and thus forced to prove themselves every time.

"I think that's the biggest downfall of being underappreciated is we have to fight so hard just to do our job," he said.

Choreographers are becoming more known in the pop culture world, however, thanks in part to shows like "SYTYCD."

"A show like 'So You Think' is the kind of thing that put choreographers in a bit more of a mainstream conversation about dance," Moore explained. "I think we're on our way to being taken a bit more seriously."

Choreographing for 'SYTYCD'

Though "SYTYCD" is a competition show, Scott said the choreographers are more supportive than competitive. When he was brand-new, the show's more experienced choreographers took him under their wings and helped him get through the added visibility and pressure the show gives choreographers.

He has since learned to appreciate that the show makes him more recognizable. He said he'll have truck drivers stop him on the street to tell him how much they loved his dance numbers.

"I think the coolest part about the show," he said, "is being able to reach people and give them that moment of entertainment and moment of connection through dance that they wouldn't normally have."

In addition to increasing recognition for choreographers, "SYTYCD" also forces them to improve their craft. They have to quickly create lots of televised, competitive dances over and over again. It's an atypical environment for choreography.

Scott called "SYTYCD" an "intense" platform, as the choreographers work with dancers who aren't professional, but full of raw talent. He often has to teach dancers a style they haven't been trained in.

"Our goal is to make them succeed," Scott said. "These kids work so hard, so in rehearsal all I think is, 'Get them through to the next week. Make them win the challenge. Support them enough that they can literally learn a style they've never done in their lives in a matter of five to six hours.' It's really intense. It keeps me coming back."

Moore called the show a "boot camp."

"You learn how to really succinctly create for craft," she said. "You have to know how to coach it quickly, what moves are going to look great, what the styling is going to look like for you — it's a really great way to hone in on what your brand or your style is going to be as a choreographer."

The nominated dances

Scott was nominated for an Emmy for his dance numbers "Prisms" and "Say You Won't Let Go." "Prisms" was meant to convey the idea of people being trained, Scott said. As he watched his friend training his dog to sit and stay, he thought about how society trains humans to stop at stop signs or raise their hands before speaking. He taught it to the dancers in one six-hour rehearsal, including the tricky use of boxes as props.

"There are not very many platforms that allow us to do stuff like people sliding around a bunch of boxes and maneuvering them to classical music," he said.

"Say You Won't Let Go" is a hip-hop dance Scott had to teach quickly to two non-hip-hop dancers. He said he came into rehearsal and ended up scraping everything he'd planned to do, reconstructing the whole dance on the spot.

"It really came together," he said. "I don't think any of us had an expectation that it would connect with people so much. It's just about showing a pure moment like love — a very sweet, genuine moment. That was our goal."

Moore was nominated for "Brand New," the dance she created for the 100 dancers who made it to the Academy on "SYTYCD." According to Moore, they shot it in one day in quick 20-minute segments.

"The amount of preparation and the amount of work that went on behind the scenes was 100 percent as amazing and gratifying as what they actually did on camera," she said.

"To Make You Feel My Love" was created from a personal, emotional experience in Moore's own life.

Though she's been nominated many times, Moore said she doesn't know the formula for getting an Emmy nod, but she can tell when a dance has reached that level.

"You kind of just know when something resonates," she said. "You know when you watch it and you go, 'Wow, that was really good.' You just have this feeling of, 'I remember that. I felt something when I watched it.' That's the mark of a good routine."

Twitter: mgarrett589
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