By Kristyn Burtt
So You Think You Can Dance has never made a big deal out of same-sex pairings because it’s done so often in contemporary, hip-hop, and jazz dance styles. When it comes to ballroom, you would be shocked at how infrequently viewers have seen same-sex pairings. Inside Dance conferred with FOX to confirm whether Sasha Farber and Emma Slater’s Jive was the first ballroom same-sex partnership in the history of the show. The answer is… well, it’s a little complicated.
TV audiences have seen two men dancing a stunning Rumba in Season 6 and a fiery Samba in Season 8 during the audition rounds, and Season 7 brought forth Robert Roldan and Kent Boyd’s “Malevos,” choreographed by Leonardo Barrionuevo and Miriam Larici. Ballroom purists know that this form of Argentine Tango isn’t technically part of the international competition world (it’s in its own category), so Slater and Farber’s Jive, danced by Keaton Kermode and All-Star Ezra Sosa, is the first same-sex Latin ballroom number performed in the series’ history (that’s according to our Inside Dance research, even though FOX isn’t categorizing it that way).
Slater pitched the concept to So You Think You Can Dance producers and she was “really happy” the concept stuck. “I found this great Elvis remix song by King Creole,” the Dancing With the Stars pro explained.” I thought, how cool would it be if there’s two guys dancing up there? I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought the payoff would be super worth it.” She had been inspired by watching the male pairing of John Whaite and pro Johannes Radebe on Strictly Come Dancing last season, and DWTS’ first female couple with JoJo Siwa and pro Jenna Johnson. “The dances they were able to create were phenomenal and really inspired me.”
The choreographers were thrilled to be paired up with Kermode and Season 16’s Sosa because they knew they were the right team to bring this idea to life. Slater praised Kermode’s “work ethic” in the rehearsal studio. “There weren’t enough notes we could give him, there weren’t enough questions we could answer — he wanted to know as much information as possible. He wanted to do the handspring over Ezra,” she shared. “He didn’t want us to adjust that in anyway and I’m glad because it looked amazing.” While Slater and Farber weren’t able to request their Dancing With the Stars castmate, they were excited when he showed up to rehearse with Kermode. “He’s super talented and he was a fantastic partner to Keaton. Ezra was a strong support in this Jive because it was an all-male piece and that help was needed,” she added.
Kermode appreciated Slater and Farber’s way of teaching, calling them “amazing” and he knew he was in good hands with Sosa by his side for the Jive. The Season 17 contestant felt like it was the perfect piece to do a week after he worked with disco queen Doriana Sanchez, who incorporated “bits and pieces of ballroom-esque partner work” and made sure he wore his ballroom shoes in her number.
Kermode’s eagerness to learn also showcases the message the ballroom community has been trying to get out for a while now — the style is about lead and follow. That’s exactly what the choreographers and Sosa worked on during rehearsal. “Keaton was already a strong partner and a strong lead, so it was a challenge for him to learn to follow. He is a true professional and learned to trust that I would be able to guide him through the dance,” Sosa praised his partner.
As for Sosa, this dance meant more than just coming back to SYTYCD as an All-Star since he competed on the show three summers ago. As someone who recently revealed publicly that he’s a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he was thrilled to be able show a same-sex partnership in the Latin ballroom style. “This dance means the most to me because I’m finally able to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” he explained. “Something I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to do, especially on So You Think You Can Dance as an All-Star for the first time. It’s been a dream come true.”
Photo: Michael Becker/FOX
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