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The real competition on ''So You Think You Can Dance'' begins, with the 20 finalists pairing up and getting out of their comfort zones

POW, MIA! Lacey rocked a typically tumultuous Mia Michaels routine
Image credit: Joe Viles/FOX
POW, MIA! Lacey rocked a typically tumultuous Mia Michaels routine

''So You Think You Can Dance'': Couples only

Now that the auditions are over, our first look at the top 20 dancers as they partnered up and got out of their comfort zones came last night. (Your regular SYTYCD handicapper, Adam B. Vary, will be back and fresh after a two-week vacation. To give you the eight-second rundown on me, let's just say I'd rather dance than do most other things in life. Current obsessions are flamenco and Latin dance, but I've done quite a bit of Irish dance — I could identify with that clogger who disappeared after auditions — and bits of contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop. I pretty much love 'em all, so I may get a little picky here and there with what I see. Then again, I may just be bursting with pride at every stepper who raises the barre.) Here's how the pairs rolled:

Jaimie Goodwin and Hok Konishi Jaimie, a contemporary dancer, admitted that ballroom and hip-hop were kind of foreign to her. Dancing Shane Sparks' hip-hop routine next to Hok, who spends a good part of his life upside down on his hands, could not have been easy. But square old judge Mary Murphy really had her lingo down: Jaimie could be a little bit tighter and hitting it a little bit harder. Nigel disagreed and thought Jaimie held her own against Hok.

Anya Garnis and Danny Tidwell Anya, 25 and originally from Russia, has been a professional ballroom dancer for 17 years. (I think the Kremlin has stopped pushing gymnastics and is favoring the foxtrot instead.) This was the dancer Nigel dubbed ''hot'' during the auditions. She's still pretty smokin' if you ask me. At least we learned a bit more about her partner, Danny, who's the brother of last season's Travis Wall; he was adopted when he was 12 by Travis' mom, Denise, a dance-studio owner. Anya and Danny learned the jive from Tony Meredith, who looks a lot thinner standing up than he does hosting ballroom-dance competitions on public television. Great and surprising pairing of style of dance to song: Avril Lavigne's ''Girlfriend.'' Overall, a good performance, though I was too distracted by Danny's low-waisted black skinny jeans and the white belt and slowly untucking black shirt; I was wondering why he didn't wear one of those ballroom-dance shirts that are attached to the underwear. Wardrobe needs to get on that ASAP! Also, he seemed to be pointing his toe a little more than necessary. If I were Anya, I would ask the producers not to pair me with anyone who had better legs than I do. Dan called it ''effortless looking''; Mary said, ''You guys took my breath away,'' and that the hot-tamale train had just pulled up; Nigel called them a couple to be reckoned with.

Lacey Schwimmer and Kameron Bink Swing and ballroom dancer and a professional krumper — seems a natural combination, no? Lacey is little sis to last season's winner, Benji. I'd like the producers to interview their parents — how did they raise such incredible dancers? She was the stronger of her pairing, though the complimentary hair was a nice touch: Kameron has red stars in his hair (in the dark lighting, I kept thinking he looked like a rooster); she had red streaks. Dan thought Kameron was merely a prop, and Mary wasn't certain what she was supposed to feel about the lyrical performance, choreographed by Mia Michaels: ''Some kind of internal struggle going on there — I'm not sure what's going on in Mia's mind.'' Nigel wanted more of the story and compared it to seeing The Sopranos and missing out on the end. First-round impressions? Is it just me, or does Lacey seem a little bit too cocky for her own good? I'd say viewers like their dancers with a little humility.

Sabra Johnson and Dominic Sandoval Sabra impressed the judges when she told them she'd only been dancing for 4 of her 19 years. She and Dominic, a breaker, tackled Doriana Sanchez's disco routine to classic Donna Summer. They did some pretty cool lifts, but I felt it lacked a certain amount of flow. Nigel reminded a finicky Dan that Sabra and Dominic learned in a matter of days the lift that took Baby and Patrick Swayze all summer to learn. Then Nigel said what I'd been thinking: Dominic is a dead-ringer for John Leguizamo.

Ashlee Langas and Ricky Palomino As soon as they showed up on Alex Da Silva's doorstep, I could see what the main problem was gonna be: Ashlee towers over her partner. Not exactly ideal conditions for Argentine tango, where the man really has to look in command. Explaining the move called the gancho, where he gets a flick from Ashlee in between the legs, Ricky seemed a little nervous. (Guess his weird graph-proportional theory of dance doesn't really help when the family jewels are endangered by an Amazon.) Dan said it looked as if Ricky were dancing with his mother. Nigel chalked up their lack of chemistry to the height difference. Nigel knows how to get a laugh when he wants to: He played dumb and called the gancho a gotcha.

Sara Von Gillern and Jesús ''Chuy'' Solario Jesús gets my vote for most heartwarming backstory: He used to pick grapes with his mom in California; since they didn't have much money, he was only able to keep studying dance thanks to donations from his neighbors. They did Wade Robson's contemporary routine, and Wade did a much better job explaining the meaning behind his routine than Mia Michaels did. Vagabonds from the early 1900s ''break into these sort of mini-cabarets'' and perform for their imaginary friends. Yep, you don't hear of that concept every day. Set to a song from the Triplets of Belleville soundtrack, it was right on. Or as Mary aptly commented: twisted, demented, and spectacular. Nigel complimented B-girl Sara on her adaptability.

Jessi Peralta and Pasha Kovalev I can see Jessi already cleverly hyping her appeal to voters: Vote for me and rescue me from a terribly boring desk job, America! The event planner from Florida was fond of her props during audition time (I remember her as baby oil/suitcase girl), but waltzing to Norah Jones' ''Come Away With Me,'' she didn't need any — she relied on her beautiful extension and rise and fall (from a hip-hop girl, no less) and did beautifully. Pasha, normally a Latin dancer, led her nicely.

Faina Savich and Cedric Gardner Poor Faina. The ballroom dancer who nearly passed out in Vegas, sister to Stanislav, who was the first to be cut last year, drew the short straw with having to do hip-hop. Cedric is the rubber-band-like hip-hop guy who Nigel thought would screw up all his partners. Whoever dances this style with Cedric is just going to pale in comparison. Dan said their dancing was soulless and they didn't feed off each other; Cedric was ''ridiculous'' in a good way. Yup. Her hot pants may increase her votes, though.

Lauren Gottlieb and Neil Haskell Lauren, thank goodness, finally ditched her sweat socks and put on a sexy dress and heels for Alex Da Silva's salsa routine. She had fantastic Cuban motion. But the judges let poor Neil have it. Dan basically whacked him for not being into such a hot partner, and Mary said Neil was more like a cheerleader, with body movement all in his torso rather than in his pelvis. Nigel let it be known that Lauren is one of his favorite female dancers.

Shauna Noland and Jimmy Arguello Dancing Tyce Diorio's Broadway-style routine to ''Ease On Down the Road,'' from The Wiz, Jimmy was the perfect Scarecrow. But I'm totally in Nigel's vibe tonight, 'cause I thought Shauna's un-Dorothy-like white dress was drab and unflattering too, and next to Jimmy, her dancing was just so-so.

If I had to hazard a guess as to who's in danger of going home, on the girls' side, I'd say Shauna or Faina; for the boys, Ricky or Neil. What do you think? Who's going to be sent packing? Who's your favorite couple? How do you rate the judges' criticism? And what style do you think it's hardest to cross over to?

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Originally posted Jun 14, 2007