Elena Tsagrinou of Cyprus at the first semi-final in Rotterdam. Photo by EBU/ANDRES PUTTING, Courtesy Eurovision

The Dancing to Watch for in the Eurovision Grand Final

Get ready for the schlocky love songs, the pyrotechnics, the wind machines and the global tour de force of pop music choreography.

Eurovision Song Contest is back after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, and the over-sequined extravaganza is easier to view in the United States than ever.


In the pre-internet era, Eurovision launched Abba, Celine Dion and Riverdance, although in recent years, few winners have become global superstars. Yet the 65th competition got a major publicity boost from last year's Eurovision Song Contest rom-com, which starred Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell as a surprise hit duo from an Icelandic fishing village. Molly Sandén, the Swedish pop singer who dubbed vocals for McAdams, may have been denied her chance to sing "My Hometown" at the Oscars, but she earned a cameo at Eurovision 2021. Like Sandén and the movie, the contest is poised to ride a wave of popularity beyond the pandemic.

Eurovision producers have announced plans to launch "The American Song Contest" later this year. Like Eurovision, it will first pit entries together in local contests, then semi-finals, followed by a grand final decided by voters.

B-boy Redo performing during Semi-Final II

Nathan Reinds/NPO/NOS/AVROTROS

On Saturday's Eurovision Grand Final, performers hailing from 25 European nations (plus Israel) will vie for a crystal microphone trophy and a lifetime of YouTube fame. A Dutch balladeer named Duncan Laurence won in 2019, giving the Netherlands hosting rights for 2021. Saturday's event will be performed mostly live from Rotterdam, with a handful of nations phoning-in their performances from home. In the U.S., viewing options include NBC's streaming platform Peacock, Sweden's SVTPlay website or clip-by-clip on YouTube.

Sadly, due in part to COVID-19 restrictions, fewer countries sent song-and-dance extravaganzas to Eurovision; about a third of the numbers feature solo performers surrounded by bombastic projections. That's not to say Eurovision 2021 is devoid of memorable dancing. Semi-Final II opened with jaw-dropping performance by Redouan Ait Chitt, aka "Redo," a b-boy who uses two prosthetic limbs. The interval act was a poignant duet for Ahmad Joudeh (choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) and bicycle acrobat Dez Maarsen (choreographed by Marco Gerris from ISH Dance Collective).

With a warning to expect a large amount of vamping in sequined body suits, here's a rundown of dance highlights to watch for during Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final, which begins at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Lithuania: “Discoteque” by The Roop

In a just and perfect world, these Lithuanian pop stars would bounce away with the Eurovision trophy for this ode to dancing at home during the pandemic. "Let's discoteque right at my home. It is okay to dance alone," they sing, always moving to a staccato beat. The song begins with lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius arching his eyebrows in 4/4 time. The Swim, the Bunny Hop and "Walk Like an Egyptian" are among the social dances that make cameos as the quintet of performers rocking lemon yellow suits make a case to keep moving, no matter how geeky you may look.

Sweden: “Voices” by Tusse

Congolese-born singer Tusse swaggers onstage with a quartet of Afro-Swedish backup dancers. Aided by strobe lights like David Parson's iconic solo Caught, their movements occasionally appear frozen, bending backward in agony or running toward utopia as Tusse appeals for "a million voices" to sing together in the rain.

Cyprus: “El Diablo” by Elena Tsagrinou

Cypriot singer Elena Tsagrinou is the most skilled dancer singing at Eurovision. "I fell in love, I fell in love, I fell with El Diablo," she repeats, her gams turned out and ducking down into grand plié with each "fell." Tsagrinou may win Eurovision if the criterion is who can belt while dancing backwards and in heels in an extremely skimpy beaded bodysuit. Natalia Gordienko of Moldova would be the runner-up.

Israel: “Set Me Free” by Eden Alene

Several female singers will appear in the finale surrounded by a small corps of male dancers. The best crew came to Holland with Israeli singer Eden Alene. Her versatile quintet follows her around like a harem, able to execute both smooth spins and angular isolations. Regrettably, when Alene belts "Set me free!" before a climatic key change, the guys pull off her dress. "I'm awesome, come and get some!" she sings, because unfortunately some Eurovision voters love a hyper-literal skin reveal.

Malta: “Je Me Casse” by Destiny

If Bob Fosse choreographed for Lizzo, the resulting number would look a lot like this body-positive crowd pleaser. Four pink-clad lady dancers belly up to a barre like they're about to break into "Hey Big Spender!" Destiny's lyrics convey the opposite intention, however. "Hell no! I am not your honey. Hell no! I don't want your money," the chanteuse taunts, wagging her finger and hips before joining her dancers to do a graceful backbend at the barre.

Azerbaijan: “Mata Hari” by Efendi

Azerbaijani singer Efendi commits some serious cultural appropriation sins in "Mata Hari." One would think that subject matter—a Dutch dancer killed by the French for allegedly spying for the Germans during World War I—would be a bit on the nose for a Eurovision contest in the Netherlands. But Efendi plunges ahead with the comparison. "With an army of lovers, I start a fire: Mata Hari," she wails. A hissing cobra appears on the background projections, and before you can say "Bayadère," Efendi and her backup dancers are performing Bhangra-style hand gestures.

Iceland: “10 Years” by Daði og Gagnamagnið

Remember when indie rock band OK Go produced a music video with Pilobolus? This song is like that, but without the professional dancers. In a contest chock full of aspiring sexpots, it's great to see six Icelandic musicians commit so fully to their choreography while wearing matching sweatshirts. Yes, sweatshirts. "10 Years" is the perfect pandemic disco bop. "We've been together for a decade now," the song begins, with the quintet appearing in silhouette. Simple tendus, sways and struts match the sincerity of the lyrics about how to keep a relationship going. "We've got a good thing going," is the catchy refrain, and would be the truest lyric of the competition, had one of the band members not been diagnosed with COVID-19. Their rehearsal video, airing instead of live performance, is still pretty darn good.

Bonus: “Rock the Roof”

Saturday's final is the 65th in Eurovision history, and to celebrate without adding extra bodies in the arena, past winners will perform from rooftop stages across Rotterdam. Expect a grape-stomping good time when 2005 champ Helena Paparizou of Greece reprises "My Number One" with backup dancers performing a folk-fusion jive.

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May 2021