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Meet the Dance Judges

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Wannabe stars are going toe-to-toe on the new FOX reality show So You Think You Can Dance, vying for the title of best all-around hoofer in America, a $100,000 prize and the use of a New York City apartment for a year. And, as on show creator Nigel Lythgoe’s American Idol, the series is as much about the judges as the contestants. PEOPLE caught up with the five choreographers putting the dancers through their paces.

Mia Michaels
Specialty: Jazz
Celeb connection: New York City-based Michaels, 39, has choreographed for Madonna, Prince and Celine Dion. She also has her own dance company, Mia Michaels R.A.W. (Reality at Work).
Front and center: “Dancers have a tendency to hide behind their dance steps,” says Michaels. “It’s really interesting to see who is vulnerable and who will allow themselves go to a place where you can see who they really are inside.”
Tough love: When she had to cut one competitor, she also cut a little too close to the bone. “I said, ‘That was a really long walk across the room, wasn’t it? It’s going to be a really long walk back because you didn’t make it.’ I was that cut-and-dry. Later, on the plane, I was mortified that I said that.”

Dan Karaty
Specialty: Hip-hop
Celeb connection: The New Yorker has choreographed for Jessica Simpson, ‘N Sync and Kylie Minogue.
Hurts so good: “I tell them, ‘If your thighs aren’t killing you by the end of my class, you’re really not doing it right.’ “
Tough love: “After hearing one dancer say, ‘This is what I want more than anything else in the world,’ I had to look her in the eyes and say, ‘You don’t have what it takes.’ She worked extremely hard, but she just wasn’t talented.”

Alex Da Silva
Specialty Salsa
Celeb connection: Da Silva, who lives in Los Angeles, has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Will Smith and Gloria Estefan.
Dance fever: “I think more people will start taking classes after this show is on,” he says. “Every time there’s a dance movie my classes double in size.”
Tough Love: “The dancers were scored 1 through 10, with one being the lowest score. It was really tough giving someone a 1, but somebody had to get the low score.”

Brian Friedman
Specialty: Hip-hop
Celeb connection: A former child dancer on Kids Incorporated, the L.A.-based hoofer, who’s 27, now choreographs for Britney Spears, Beyonce and Ashanti.
Judging style: “I’m as honest as Simon Cowell with my critiques,” Friedman admits. “But it’s coming from a genuine place because I want them to learn and go further.”
Tough Love: “I had to ask one dancer to sit out. It got to a point where the group couldn’t move forward because I was spending too much time with this person.”

Mary Murphy
Specialty: Murphy owns the Champion Ballroom Academy in San Diego and is a U.S. ballroom and Austrian national champ.
Strictly ballroom: “More street dancers, and even the trained jazz and ballet world, think ballroom is not as technical or difficult to do until they try it and deal with another body there in front of them that they can’t control,” says Murphy. “It’s a whole new ballgame then.”
Tough love: “This is ballroom, not barroom. Go out, wash your hands, brush your teeth, and for Christ’s sake, if you’ve got any deodorant, use it.”