Kate Ward
June 01, 2011 AT 10:30 PM EDT

So You Think You Can Dance‘s audition rounds can get confusing. And not just because of Lil’ C’s dictionary-bending vocabulary. No, sometimes it’s tough to decipher the judges decisions: Why does one dancer get turned away entirely while another seemingly similar dancer picks up a ticket? Why do the judges rave about one dancer while sending through another with cautionary advice? How can you tell apart the Melanie Moores (pictured) from the Danielle Ihles? For your reference, I’ve put together a guide to good dancing, courtesy my experience in both dance and the recapping of SYTYCD. (Note: Since I am a worse hip-hop dancer than cheese-denier, this list is skewed towards SYTYCD‘s contemporary dancers. Also: I know nothing about ballroom, other than it breeds good-looking Russian men. Come to mama, Pasha!) Without further ado, seven ways you know you’re watching a good dancer, after the jump!

Tear-jerking story: This one’s obvious. Unlike Idol — known to pull plenty of bait-and-switches on us gullible fans — pretty much every auditioning dancer who brings up a sob story will be ushered through to Vegas, even if they have to go through choreography first. See: Last week’s homeless-because-of-deadbeat-dad Ihle, a sloppy dancer who really needed a few more years of refined training in order to really become a contender. But that doesn’t matter. M.I.A. father? Vegas. House burnt to the ground? Vegas. Sick relative? Vegas. Hangnail? Only if SYTYCD gets really desperate.

Pre-dance rituals: SYTYCD is partial to showing b-roll footage of our dancers preparing for their auditions while they tell cameras their stories. Take a look at their stretching techniques — if the auditioner uses a bar, and can stretch his/her head to his/her foot, safe bet you’re about to watch a quality dancer. If his/her idea of warming up is through booty shaking, you’re likely about to witness bad dancing of Sex-like caliber.

Their feet: General rule of thumb here: The more disgusting the feet, the more gorgeous the dancing. Look for bandages, blisters, and bunions. Beauty is pain.

Wispy shirt + underwear = Vegas: Leotard and tights? Psh. That kind of dance uniform is a thing of the past. Though in my day, we donned unconventional wear like garbage bag shorts (yes, they actually resembled trash bags), SYTYCD has dictated that in-vogue dancing attire be a mixture of carefree and slutty. See an auditioner with a flow-y top just short enough to give Nigel Lythgoe a view of some tight-fitting hip-huggers when she developpés? She’s in. For an example, see this picture of season 5 winner Jeanine Mason.

Song choice: If you find yourself grooving to a relatively unknown tune by the likes of Dionne Farris or Roisin Murphy, you’re watching a good dancer. Sisqó or Britney Spears? Probably not. Dancers are a creative folk — they are likely to have unconventional, but sophisticated, music tastes.

Don’t get distracted by flashy moves: Yes, back flips and double pirouettes look impressive. But those will just get you to choreography — gymnastics isn’t dance, and pirouettes are far easier than they look. Look for extensions that appear as though they could reach as high as Jupiter, and jumps that look effortless. If you can’t tell that a dancer is transitioning to the next move — and doesn’t need to prepare before executing pirouettes — then they are bound to be Vegas-bound.

Muscles: Always works.

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Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

Read more:

‘So You Think You Can Dance’ premiere recap: The Hot Tamale Train is Back!

‘So You Think You Can Dance’: The 15 Greatest Routines

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