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Oh Right, Now's When So You Think You Can Dance Ruthlessly Eliminates Children

The elimination stage is upon us. Which means that for every adorable dancer, we'll get one heart-wrenching elimination. Gotta start somewhere.

So while everybody else in America was watching the circus come to town in Cleveland last night, FOX was hoping you might want to distract yourself by watching little kids dance for their lives, before one of them gets ritually sacrificed to the gods of reality-competition elimination structure.

Honestly, just when I was warming up to the idea of watching these kids dance and learn and grow -- it's not my classic So You Think You Can Dance, but it's something I could live with -- there was the elimination at the end of the episode to remind me that, at their age, these children have no business anywhere near an elimination-based popularity contest. It was there on Daniela's face as soon as she was told she was eliminated. It crumpled into a frown, and she buried her face into her coach, Jonathan. (To be completely fair, it would take a lot less emotional trauma to get me to bury my face into Jonathan, but that is an entirely different conversation, thank you very much.) By the time they'd returned from her goodbye clip package, Daniela was off the stage, probably being comforted by her parents. It was only due to Cat Deeley being a superhuman TV host that things weren't even more awkward. Still, this isn't exactly the great TV we were promised.

Meanwhile, the judging situation is kind of a mess. Nigel can't use half of his dance vocabulary, mostly because his go-to critiques ("go harder" on hip-hop; "explore your sexual chemistry" on ballroom) are pretty much verboten when applied to kids. So he's punching with one arm tied behind his back. Paula is back to being loopy again, making comments like, "Remember the 'f' word: fun!" and "There's never a right way to do the wrong thing, and there's never a wrong way to do the right thing." That last part was in response to a now-annual tradition of a routine about bullying. Which is WRONG. Just listen to Maddie Ziegler tell you that bullying is bad from her perch on the judging panel that she got because she was on Dance Moms. VERY BAD.

The dancers were paired off among each other, and those pairs performed two routines together. Here's how they ranked.

5. JT & Emma

Even with a dancer from another pair going home this week, I still liked these two the least. I suppose I get the logic in pairing the littlest boy up with the littlest girl, but in practice, it makes them look like juniors to even the other juniors. They did a hip-hop routine with Napoleon and Tabitha and a Broadway with Spencer Liff, and in both JT looks out of his element, working on a routine that was too grown for him. And he'll keep dancing too-grown routines until he's eliminated in third place in several weeks. Sigh.

4. Daniela & Sheaden

Poor Daniela, you guys. But she really struggles with confidence this week, so maybe she knew she was in trouble. She frets all through her Latin ballroom rehearsal with Sheaden, and while the final result isn't a disaster, it's still pretty steps-y. Their Broadway routine features a double-throne prop that I was reeeeally certain was used for Danny and Neil's superb "Two Princes" routine in Season 3 (until I looked it up and realized they had two separate thrones). Still, what if, right? The history that sat on those thrones! Neil Haskell's buns alone!

3. Jordan & Ruby

Kind of a nondescript week for these two, despite how strong I think they are. They draw African jazz with Sean Cheesman, which is perfectly fine. Then they draw a contemporary routine that revolves around a credenza, which is honestly the first time I have ever seen that. They perform it really well, though, which makes it easier to imagine the routine as a tongue-in-cheek examination of two college roommates, neither of whom picks up her own laundry.

2. Kida & Tate

I like them both a great deal, but I found myself resisting them, mostly because they're being pushed so hard to win, and I bristle against presumptive favorites. Kida really outshines Tate in their hip-hop routine, though they're more evenly matched in their neon jazz dance. Don't worry about either one of them, they're not going anywhere.

1. Tahani & Jake

I'm as surprised as you are! About the Jake thing, at least. I'd already come around on Tahani by the time the Top 10 was announced. But as much as Jake's performed precocity bothers me, as goofy/dorky as their "Jailhouse Rock" jive is, and as preemptively unimpressed as I thought I was going to be when Bonnie Story mentioned that hers would be a bullying routine -- not to mention one set to a DANNY GOKEY SONG -- I have to admit, Jake and Tahani dance the week's most gorgeous routine. It overcame every piece of this cynic.

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