Melinda Sullivan got the farthest than any tap dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance” before her elimination Thursday night (July 1).
It’s a bittersweet distinction, however, considering judges Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman told her they wished they had eliminated her the week before and kept Cristina Santana instead. Ouch.
Then again, Sullivan had been in the Bottom 3 for three weeks in a row, so she’s not too surprised about the results. In fact, in the interview immediately following the show, she sounds downright positive.
She discusses how she hopes this experience will open new doors for her, such as acting, which we’re not at all surprised about considering her stint as playful twin Zoe on “As the World Turns.”
She got on the phone Friday to talk more in depth about “SYTYCD,” her dance background, mentor Harold Cromer and which all-star she would have loved to have been paired with for a certain style of dance. (Hint: It’s not salsa.)
What’s your background in dance?
Melinda Sullivan: I started tap dancing when I was four. My mom put me into ballet/tap combo class at the local studio. I hated the ballet, but I loved the tap. I was sort of a tomboy. I still am a tomboy. I loved making music with my feet. I loved that I got to wear those shoes with metal on the bottom. I just became hooked. When I was nine, I was introduced to rhythm tap and tap being music. You’re a musician when you’re a tap dancer, you’re really a jazz musician. I learned about improvisation and started working with jazz musician and learning about time signatures and training, the music side of it. That’s when I realized this is what I want to do. I’m so inspired by the fact that I’m moving through space but I’m also making sounds. It’s just more stimulating to me than other dance forms.
How did you meet Harold Cromer?
Sullivan: Harold Cromer is one of my mentors. I have many inspirations, but he’s very dear to my heart. I met him at the New York City Tap Festival in 2003. We were backstage in his dressing room and he was just spitting out so much knowledge. He’s worked with everybody. He was friends with Sammy Davis, Jr. He worked with Billie Holiday, the Nicholas Brothers, Sarah Vaughn. He took a liking to me because I really want to be a complete entertainer. I sing and I act and I play instruments, and he’s all about that, about being a complete entertainer like they had to do back in the day. It was the era of Vaudeville when everyone had to do everything.
It’s been a tough season for the women. Do you think there’s a bias?
Sullivan: In general there’s probably a certain demographic of people who watch the show, a lot of them being young girls. That might play into them voting for the boys. But I think every season is different. This is the way the cookie’s crumbling this season. It is unfortunate there are only two girls left, but those two ladies are strong dancers. I know this week they have two routines to do, I’m very confident that they will represent. They’re really amazing athletes. It’s just the way it is. It’s different every season. There’s been guy winners, there’s been girl winners.
Tappers haven’t done as well on this show. Is there a disconnect with the audience?
Sullivan: The thing I wanted to do with the show was make tap dance more accessible … Being a tap dancer, you are a musician, and it can come off sometimes a little obscure when someone is just making a lot of rhythms. It’s like listening to a drummer solo. You don’t go just to listen to a drummer solo, you listen to him play with a band. That’s more accessible for people. Also what I think about tap dance on this show the sound quality of it. What’s so important to tap dancing is also the floor that you’re dancing on. It’s like again with the drums, you have your stick, but the actual drumhead is important, it’s the vibrations for both of those materials hitting each other. So you have the tap on the bottom of your shoe, but you still have to have some really nice wood so you can get that sound, that rich vibration that you can feel when you’re watching tap dance. I think part of the reason why you lose some of the edge of tap on a show like this is you’re not dancing on a wood floor. You’re not hearing the sounds live, it’s through — they mic me up with lav microphones down my legs and they hook it up to my tap shoes, so you can get the audio feed for television.
Do you think you could have done anything differently?
Sullivan: No, I have no regrets. I gave the competition my all — mentally, physically and emotionally. I was really proud of my how focus I stayed. I came into the show with a pretty high work ethic. I have been working professionally since I’ve been 15 and I think even more now I’m more focused. I’m able to pick up things quicker. My rate of learning has been sped up.
Watching back your performance, do you agree with some of the judges’ comments?
Sullivan: In general the sort of rejection that you see on the show it’s just like any audition. When you’re a professional performer, you audition all the time and you get used to that rejection. I knew technically I wasn’t perfect. I had to learn these routines very quickly in styles I’ve never done. There’s a lot of things that I did accomplish in that short amount of time. Even the choreographers and Pasha would say, “In the ballroom world, you don’t even learn these things until your third year of training.”
Is there an all-star you wish you had a chance to work with? A genre you wish you could have tried?
Sullivan: I really wanted to work with tWitch. tWitch and I were actually on “Star Search” in 2003 against each other. I was tap dancing in a group. He wasn’t even tWitch yet, he was Stephen Boss. It was fun to be reunited with him for the experience and hang out with him backstage and stuff. It’s all good. I’m sure we’ll work after the show. I would have wanted to do hip-hop with tWitch.
How hard is it to not defend yourself with the harsh criticism?
Sullivan: On a show like this and in life you have to be respectful of whoever you’re dealing with. I have to be respectful of the format of the show. It is a competition. I am a contestant and those three professionals are the judges. It’s their opinion. I know that sometimes what’s even more important than the dancing on the show is my character on the show and how I portray Melinda, who I am as a person. Actions speak louder than words.
But didn’t you think it was uncalled for when Mia and Adam said they wish they kept Cristina inst
ead of you?
Sullivan: I think part of the reason why I can stand back and look at it for what it is is that I have been in the industry for a while. At the end of the day, it is a television show. It is about the dancing and what we’re doing on stage, but people want to be entertained. Sometimes what the judges say can be a little more exaggerated than what they feel. It’s entertaining. It keeps the viewer hooked. I hope to work with Mia, Adam and Nigel after this and I don’t take any of it personally.
If you’d pick a musical or movie to do now, what would it be?
Sullivan: I think it’d be fun to do a biography on someone like Ann Miller, who’s a tap dancer so that way I can combine my singing, my acting and my tap dancing all in one and pay tribute to tap dance as well.
After the exhausting show and press, how are you going to relax?
Sullivan: I’ll go back into yoga class. I love doing bikram yoga class. I take it a few times a week, but I haven’t been able to because of the show. It will be nice to get into that, to focus and get my body back to where it was.
You need to get together with Jose to do yoga together.
Sullivan: I know, right?
Photo credit: FOX