On Wednesday morning, the world woke up to the heartbreaking news of the death of Stephen “Twitch” Boss, the 40-year-old dancer and actor who was best known as the former DJ of The Ellen Degeneres Show. Twitch (who styled his name “tWitch”) became Ellen’s permanent DJ in 2014, after debuting as a guest DJ in 2013, and remained until the show ended in May of this year. (Generally, he played music and was Ellen’s go-to guinea pig for games and challenges, but he also guest-hosted a few episodes of his own). The Ellen Show faced quite a bit of controversy in recent years, after its staff alleged they faced sexual harassment and workplace abuse on the job. While public opinion on the show’s host waffled—the contrast between her vocal dedication to kindness and these behind-the-scenes tales was a lot for people to swallow—fans’ love for Twitch never faltered. Whether he was participating in wacky games, embarrassing himself for the sake of fun, or making himself present for more serious moments, Twitch was, by and large, one of the show’s most beloved stars.
Degeneres became notorious—though some people enjoyed it—for dancing, in a way that sometimes looked awkward, with the guests on her show. But people who didn’t watch The Ellen Degeneres Show might not realize that there was lots of purely great dancing on there, too—and for that, you often had Twitch to thank. Twitch first came on our TV screens via the dance reality show So You Think You Can Dance. He auditioned for the show’s third season in 2007, but failed to make it from the audition rounds into the top 20 that would compete in the live shows, and came back the following year. In season 4, Twitch had greatly improved, particularly in his showmanship. He always had the moves, but his ability to keep the crowd in the palm of his hand had increased tenfold. His freestyles were comedic and awe-inspiring, making crowds laugh one moment and “ooh” or “aah” the next. But Twitch also was a master of the groove, of sitting in the hip-hop pocket—when you weren’t oohing or aahing or laughing, you were making that grimace, that “stank face,” that you get when a musician or dancer is really on.
In 2008, during season 4 of SYTYCD, Twitch not only made it to the top 20, but also ended up in second place for the entire competition. His dominant performance throughout the fourth season produced some of the show’s most revered routines in its 17-season run—some so legendary, they were given nicknames inspired by their central props: the “Bed Routine” and the Emmy-nominated “Door Routine.” In that one, Twitch matched the contemporary style of his dance partner, Katee Shean, by adding more jazz fluidity to his hip-hop moves. The routine also showcased his pure athleticism, with Twitch picking Shean up and tossing her around—when he wasn’t launching himself into the air, that is.
Though Twitch didn’t win his season, he became the most well-known contestant in the history of SYTYCD, due to his recurring appearances as an “All-Star.” A show tradition introduced in season 7, All-Star dancers were SYTYCD alumni that would be paired up with current contestants, based on the contestants’ random draw of dance genre. One of Twitch’s most notable performances in that capacity was his season 7 turn as an All-Star with ballet dancer Alex Wong, who surprised America by killing it in a hip-hop routine to Lil Jon’s “Outta Your Mind.” The finale of SYTYCD always consists of the contestants dancing the season’s most notable dances again, but Wong injured himself before the finale, unable to reprise his mind-blowing performance. But the show must go on! Degeneres secretly rehearsed the dance with Twitch and performed alongside him, filling in for Wong in the finale, in a surprise that fans of SYTYCD still talk about.
That preparation for this performance in 2010 was the first time Twitch and Ellen met. Twitch slightly simplified his moves in the synchronized portion of the routine to complement Ellen, so that the effect was a bit less hard-hitting than when he was paired with Wong. Then the beat drops, and the routine becomes even more simplistic, letting them both go wild.
Just before he debuted on Ellen, Twitch had branched out into film, working mostly with the director Jon M. Chu, who (besides directing the better-known Crazy Rich Asians) has amassed a lengthy resume of musicals and dance films inside and outside the Step Up franchise. In 2010, Twitch appeared in Chu’s web series LXD (Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), which became beloved in the dance world. In its third film, Twitch entered the Step Up franchise as a supporting character, who would often be a key player for the protagonists’ dance crew in the bigger sequences. He reprised his role in the fourth and fifth installments, and when the Step Up franchise ended with its fifth film, Twitch had locked down his permanent spot as Ellen’s vibes-master, taking up residence on our TV screens for nearly a decade. But he still dabbled in film, landing a role in Magic Mike XXL in 2015—which Ellen helped him prepare for.
Of course, his position on Ellen was not only as DJ, but also the in-house dancer-on-call. Though her own dancing could come off as dorky, Ellen built a reputation as a lover of dance—this is why her surprise performance on SYTYCD with Twitch made sense, and why dancing became a core part of her talk show. Ellen danced a lot with guests, the audience, and Twitch, and she consistently had dancers on the show—whether they were promoting new seasons of dance competitions or had garnered some level of internet virality. Twitch was her number one dance partner and the most vocal supporter of the dancers Ellen had on the show. Since he was a legend in the dance community, dancing with Twitch was the dream of a lot of the dancers Ellen highlighted, and he always obliged.
Upon Twitch’s death, people I didn’t even expect to know of him—people I assume have only seen a couple of episodes of Ellen in their lifetimes—were messaging me (historically, an incredibly vocal Twitch fan) about their sadness at this massive loss. I don’t think anyone has showcased the joy dance can bring, in an era when dance is everywhere, on our screens big and small, as well as Twitch did. His enormous talent was impressive, but his personality and charm made any environment feel like a party, and any person feel like a dancer. Fans of Ellen may have had to stomach quite a few unpleasant revelations in recent years, but Twitch’s vibes were always positive and lively. His dancing communicated a sense of ease and love, telling us that he was building a safe and fun space, for anyone willing to join him.