Gender-expression 'masterpiece' one of most powerful routines in 'So You Think You Can Dance' history

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

In one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the 15 seasons of So You Think You Can Dance, top six finalist Darius Hickman took on the topic of gender expression in Monday’s episode and performed a contemporary routine that judge Twitch said “transcended the competition” and described as “literally a work of art. In one word, it’s a masterpiece.”

“We have seen some amazing routines on this show and amazing dancers, but that is going to be right up there in all of our memories,” said show hostess Cat Deeley. Through tears, judge Mary Murphy said, “It will always be burned into my heart and in my memory bank.”

The controversial, conceptual number, set to Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice‘s “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man,” paired Hickman with returning Season 14 contestant Taylor Sieve, and had the two dancers depicting an internal war between the conflicted feminine and (toxic) masculine sides of a single queer person. Hickman began the routine dressed in a billowing skirt and corset, defiantly staring down the camera lens in his heavy makeup. He then battled the angry and aggressive Sieve, who was androgynously attired in a T-shirt and jeans and forced Hickman to wriggle into similar clothing. But at the end, Hickman strutted away and reapplied his pink lipstick, thus reasserting his unique identity and self-acceptance.


The routine was choreographed by openly gay SYTYCD Season 2 runner-up Travis Wall, who was inspired by his own painful coming-out experience. “This piece hits home for me, because when I was trying to come out of the closet, I was bullied,” Wall said. “People can be very nasty, and society conforms us to be a certain way.”

“I relate to this piece on so many levels — being bullied, being called names,” Hickman said. “Things that become normal for society to say to you when you are not ‘normal’ in other people’s eyes. You have to let those things go, and you have to be comfortable in your own skin.” He later told Deeley, “I never thought I would have to open up like that. I’m glad I did.”

Taylor Sieve and Darius Hickman on “So You Think You Can Dance.” (Photo: Fox)

“I am so proud of Travis for choreographing this routine,” said main judge Nigel Lythgoe. “I am so proud, Darius, of you, because I’m sure you and Travis both relate to this routine so much in your lives. … It’s incredible to think how brave you have to be to be your own person nowadays, and it is wicked that you should have to be that brave. And I can only say it’s really important to judge a man not by what he is, but by who he is.”

Lythgoe even declared Hickman his favorite dancer of Season 15, which made it such a shock when later in the episode, Hickman, along with top six contestant Jay Jay Dixonbey, was sent home — based on last week’s public vote. Had viewers had the opportunity to vote for this magnificent piece, Hickman may have made it into this season’s finale. But judge Vanessa Hudgens, who was “legit shook” by this performance, assured Hickman that he’s still a true winner, telling him, “No matter what happens on this show, I feel like you have a long career ahead of you.”

And speaking of long careers (and winning), it’s likely that five-time Emmy nominee Wall — who has been choreographing for SYTYCD since 2007, won a Best Choreography Emmy in 2015, and is up again this year for his “Change Is Everything” and “Strange Fruit” routines — will earn another Best Choreography Emmy nod in 2019 for the bold and risky “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man.”

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