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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Hundreds of hopeful dancers line up outside Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City to audition for the Fox TV show "So You Think You Can Dance" in February.

Maybe it's something in the water. Or maybe it's something in the culture.

But Utah definitely has had more than its share of dancers on TV shows in the past couple of years, which is a big part of the reason "So You Think You Can Dance" brought its auditions to Salt Lake City back in February.

After all, not only was last year's winner, Sabra Johnson, a Utahn, but Utahns Allison Holker and Jaymz Tuaileva were both finalists two seasons ago. Not only did Utahn Marie Osmond finish third on "Dancing With the Stars" last fall, but sometime Utahn Apolo Anton Ohno won it a year ago. And don't forget that his partner, Julianne Hough, is from Utah. She's won it twice (with Ohno and with Helio Castroneves).

Other Utahns who've danced with "Stars" include Hough's brother, Derek, Ashley Del Grosso, Louis van Amstel and Andrea Hale.

Utahn Zack Wilson was a member of the winning team on "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann"; Utahn Mariel Sarangay was a member of the losing team.

"I guess because of the weather and all those kinds of things, you do kind of practice dancing, I guess," said Cat Deeley, host of "So You Think You Can Dance." "To be honest, I have no idea what it is."

(There's nothing official at this point, of course, but don't be surprised if a finalist or two emerge from the auditions at the Capitol Theatre.)

But isn't that sort of odd that a state that has only about .85 percent of the total U.S. population has so many TV dancers?

"It doesn't strike me odd when you see people starting at such a young age here," said "So You Think" judge Mary Murphy. "They're getting very good training starting out young. Ten years ago in this country, you didn't see that so much."

"I think it also has something to do with the Mormon society," said Nigel Lythgoe, who's both a judge and the executive producer of "Dance" (as well as "American Idol") "That you have got a community and you've got families where dancing together is not (frowned) upon."

He said that in "a lot of other areas," people don't grow up dancing together. But in Utah, "They can actually take each other into each other's arms and it's not classed as being bad. And that's something that I would like to see coming back far more, because it does help with communication in this world. Great thing to do."

"I know it's a great dance community and a varied dance community across the board," said supervising producer Jeff Thacker. "It's nice to see an area where it is supported."

The producers of "So You Think You Can Dance" have been so impressed with the talent they've seen from Utah that they came here specifically because they wanted to make it easier for locals to audition.

"We're hoping that by bringing the auditions back here, that maybe we'd catch a few people as well who wouldn't necessarily travel and go to a different place," said Deely. "It seems as though we've got some really gorgeous people here, too."

Which is a sentiment echoed by the show's judges.

"You have some really cutie patooties here, in Mary's language," Lythgoe said. "Some very attractive young ladies with talent."

"And some hottie patoties," Murphy added, referring to the male auditioners.

It isn't just looks, however.

"Technically, they're trained very well," Murphy said. "There are some great schools here."

"And also far more partner work here than we've seen anywhere else," Lythgoe said.

February marked the first time Lythgoe, Deeley and other members of the "SYTYCD" team had been in Utah, but Murphy is familiar with the state and its dancers.

"I know BYU has one of the biggest dance programs," Murphy said. "And I think it was one of the first universities that offered a ballroom dance degree. And so it's just wonderful when I come here and judge dance competitions that I see hundreds of kids partner dancing. Doing the tango, doing the cha-cha. It's so much fun for me to see, I can't tell you."

Not that the judges were completely blown away by the dancers at the Utah audition.

"There's a certain lack of performance here, which I'd like to see more of," Lythgoe said.

And a certain amount of sameness. Like dancer after dancer who mimics wiping off lipstick at some point in her (or his) routine.

"It's because they go 'round and they do these big dance conventions and they all learn the same steps," Lythgoe said. "And then they all go back to their own areas and their own studios and they just do the same choreography. And all around the country, you get the same choreography."

"We get a lot of the same thing," Murphy said. "And that does get old for us."

And then there's the whole hip-hop thing, which Lythgoe finds "very strange."

"Hip-hop is not a style, it's a cultural way of life. And it's generally very urban," he said. "And then you just get a lot of white people, to be frank, who come and say, 'I'm doing hip-hop.' And there's no feel behind it. There's no texture. And they're teaching other people!"

"They learn it off of television, I think," Murphy said. "That drives us crazy."

While "So You Think You Can Dance" is a dance competition, it's also about the personalities of the competitors.

"With dance, people don't know what's good or what's bad," Thacker said. "So this type of show is very much about — who are you going to pick up the phone and vote for?

"We will never find America's best dancer. I don't think there is such a thing as America's best dancer. We are looking for America's favorite dancer."

In other words, it's not just about dancing, it's about charisma.

"We hate seeing people who have all the charisma in the world and then no dance technique whatsoever," Murphy said.

You've got to have a certain magic. As to what exactly that magic is, well ...

"If I could tell you that, somebody would have bottled it years ago," Lythgoe said.

"We'd sell it," Murphy added with a laugh.

If you watch

What: Fox's reality/competition show "So You Think You Can Dance"

When: Premieres Thursday at 7 p.m.

Channel: Fox/Ch. 13

The episode featuring the Utah auditions is tentatively scheduled to air Wednesday, June 4, but that is subject to change.

E-mail: [email protected]