By Kristyn Burtt
When Inside Dance spoke to So You Think You Can Dance executive producer Jeff Thacker in late March, he hinted that he would be bringing aboard new faces to the choreography team this season. That’s exactly what happened in the second episode with five artists making their first appearance as a choreographer on the show: Teddy Forance, Daniella Karagach & Pasha Pashkov, Dominique Kelley, and Mel Charlot.
Just like Alan Bersten in the first week, Karagach (who is the reigning Mirrorball trophy winner) and Pashkov came over from Dancing With the Stars to share their talents with contestants Alexis Warr and Keaton Kermode. The DWTS pros were approached by the producers of So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year about choreographing for Season 17, and Karagach shared that they were “super honored” to be asked.
Pashkov called it a “fun, creative process” working with the SYTYCD team because they had input on the lighting, music, costumes, and direction of their piece whereas on Dancing With the Stars, the pros only control the choreography of the dance. The duo designed a Cha Cha for Girls’ Night Out Week, which meant the partners performed the women’s style of dance. They were assigned a very familiar face from the Dancing With the Stars Tour: Alexis Warr, who was a swing during the winter production.
Warr revealed that having Karagach and Pashkov was the exact motivation she needed in the second week to take her stellar first-week performance to the next level. “They pushed me outside my comfort zone even though it’s my style,” she explained. “They are so good at communicating with dancers.” That also meant teaching her partner Keaton Kermode how to ballroom dance in two days, but he was so inspired by their encouragement that he “wanted to make them proud.” Kermode added, “They had so much trust in me, and I respected that, so I wanted to give back. The only way I could do that was to work my butt off and to work through it.”
They sang the praises of the contestants, too. Karagach gushed about Warr, calling her a “gem” to work with. “When someone is so invested in a piece and just pours their heart out — there’s no way it’s not going to look good,” she continued. They were also “blown away” by Kermode’s talent even though his ballroom skills involve two lessons before SYTYCD. “Cha Cha is not an easy thing to learn in such a short period of time, it requires technique and detail,” Pashkov said. “He was invested in understanding Cha Cha and dove full speed ahead in learning the dance style.” Karagach also noted that “the dance was supposed to be sexy” and both Warr and Kermode did more than deliver that heat.
They also loved the supportive environment created by Thacker, one that they called “fair” because each contestant gets the same amount of rehearsal time with their choreographer. There is no favoritism at play, which keeps the competition on a level playing field. “They are all being treated equally, which is great,” said Pashkov. They attribute that to Thacker’s hands-on approach to the series and the contestants. “He’s there from morning until night with the dancers. He’s so invested in them and he’s constantly making sure they have everything they need to succeed,” Karagach chimed in. “He’s like their dad. Jeff does more than a producer would typically do.”
The couple is now focused on the upcoming 31st season of Dancing With the Stars, which is moving to Disney + for the first time in the show’s history. If you’re looking for major spoilers on the changes the viewers might see, they don’t have that insight. In fact, they are still waiting for that call to see if they are officially back on the pro roster. “I’m not going to lie to you, we just do our job,” Karagach laughed. “We show up and we choreograph. We don’t have any idea how the move affects the show in any way.” So for now, fans and the pros will have to wait for further information, but Karagach and Pashkov’s strong choreographic debut on So You Think You Can Dance should only help their case.