Thursday, June 20, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance: My Take

I get asked A LOT whether I watch good old SYTYCD and my answer is "mostly no." In part because I don't have cable, in part because at the end of the day, watching more dance is the last thing I want to do, and partly because it gets me agitated and thinking rather than relaxing.  In other words, when I watch SYTYCD, it feels like work.  It is not fun for me. 

But, I watched last night. Season 10 Episode 3.  The Top 20 episode.  

The truth is I have a love hate relationship with it.  Love: because the dancers are incredible and the choreography is interesting and thought provoking.  Hate: (well hate is a strong word). . . Dislike: because I am concerned for the negative effects it may be having on the dance world as a whole. 

Now, some of you reading this are saying "YES!" and some of you are likely thinking "How can it be bad?" 

The problems I see are the following:

1.  Competition:  I personally dislike that there is a winner and every one else loses.  Dancers are already swamped with huge insecurity issues (and that is because most people have insecurity issues).  In fact, I think some dancers are attracted to dance because there is an impossible ideal and it feeds a need for external validation (applause, awards, selection for company, pieces etc).  Competing confirms that they aren't good enough as they are and that is problematic for me as a dance educator.

2.  This is going to be the BEST SEASON EVER!!!  How many times did I hear that during the 2 hour show?  Again and again, best, most crazy, most amazing, most fantastic, etc.  This sense of always getting better, perpetuates the sense of current dissatisfaction.  We are always striving for more, rather than finding joy with what we have and taking pleasure in the process of discovery.

3.  We are training our audience to be impatient, judgmental and unidimensional.  It is all about product. The end result.  The final performance.  The dances are 2-3 minutes of intense physical dance.  So what happens when we ask our audience to sit through a 20 min performance?  They are trained to lose interest.  They are also trained to judge, making connections in terms of better and than worse than performances. We are also training our audience to appreciate dance that is physically demanding, hyper expressive and purposefully entertaining.  Some dance is exactly that, but the majority of concert dance is not. 

I see the benefits too! More people are watching dance!  More people are interested in the art form.  And, SYTYCD is one of the better reality TV shows I have seen.  I mean, these dancers are not just personalities; they are performers, technicians and students.   The choreography is inspiring for me, I get lots of ideas about how to push the physical limits of the human body. . . But, actually I am not interested in pushing the limits of the physical body, so. . . I am being inspired to do something against my interest.  Strange.

I tried googling to see if there were other blogs about SYTYCD, and mostly I got just the promo materials. 
Here are a couple that I found interesting:
A literal play by play of the last 2 hour show by Lauren S. (Entertainment)
Essay from 2011 by Kimberley Peterson (Educational)

If you know of one, or have written one please share in the comment section below. 

What are your thoughts?

What do you get out of the show?
What do you learn from the show?
What concerns do you have for its impact on the dance world?
And if you teach dance, how does this inform/contradict your teaching?


  1. I agree. I also have a love/hate relationship with this show. Your concern regarding "the negative effects it may be having on the dance world as a whole" is totally understandable. People/The public thinks that dance NEEDS a trick or some flashy acrobatic concoction and landing in a split. but in reality, dance is not all about seeing, it's about the story, and the emotion, some dances may not be the most upbeat, energetic dance that you may see on tv. There's more to it. (Don't get me started tho bc I'll end up writing a paper... hahaha)ALSO, these reality shows are beginning to give, I believe, to contemporary dance, a WHOLE NEW meaning. In essence, contemporary dance is synonym to post-modern technique and due to these reality dance shows, they portray "contemporary dance" as a fusion of ballet and jazz, or what should be called "lyrical." I remember reading an article in Dance Magazine about the term "contemporary dance" and Mia Michaels mentioned that she wanted to call her dances "lyrical" but the producer insisted in calling it "contemporary" and so it was. As a contemporary/post-modern dancer, I feel almost offended for calling something that is not.

    RE: 1. Competition
    I, by NO MEANS, trying to argue or fight but Cat, Nigel, and others call the winner "America's FAVORITE dancer" which does not necessarily mean that the dancer is the best technician or dancer. I almost see it as those yearbook categories where people voted for best dancer, best hair, most likely to be a president, etc. but i DO understand/agree with students constantly comparing themselves with the dancers on SYTYCD. (and so do i! :P)

    oh gawd. I hope this post wasn't too long and obnoxious!

    1. Hi Fagoshee!
      I love your long post! This discussion warrants more than a sentence in response!
      You are right, it IS about America's favorite dancer! And, the judges make occasional reminder comments about contestants being a strong dancer and being a dancer who can win the show. Two different things really.
      In a way it would be so much cleaner on the psyche if it were just a measurable competition (like running, long jump, shot put etc.) Because then you either run the fastest or you don't. Instead, we have the challenge for the "whole package" which includes innumerable aspects of technique, performance, musicality, personality, good looks and charisma. So, the competition leaves room for the "under dog" to win. Which is a good thing! But, then it creates so much variety and unpredictability that there will always be heartbreak and disappointment. But so is life, right?
      Thanks for reading! I would love hearing more of what you have to say about dance!

  2. Thank you, Beth (and others), for offering your thoughts on this topic. I love to move/dance and love this show, but would not call myself "a dancer" by any stretch of the imagination. So the opinions I express are those of a dance appreciator, not a dance student or teacher.

    What do you get out of the show? I have learned a lot about dance by watching the show (different choreography styles, different dance styles, how to appreciate exceptional talent, the difference between performance/acting and dance technique). In other words, for me, watching this show is like taking an enjoyable dance appreciation class--without a teacher. It's all self-discovery.

    What do you learn from the show? Mostly I've learned that dance is hard work and takes huge amounts of physical energy and memory cells to make it look effortless. I've learned that someone can have exceptional "technique" but if he or she isn't accessible to the audience, then they aren't connecting with or "relating" to others and it makes a difference.

    What concerns do you have for its impact on the dance world? I can't speak to this, but I do understand the whole competition angle. I personally loathe competition (except self-competition and even that is a bummer sometimes). The truth is, I think the world is competitive enough without all these reality shows. But I'd rather have the show available to watch, than not have any dance shows at all. I really like The Voice because the coaches go out of their way to make constructive positive comments. SYTYCD is kind of the middle road--not totally positive and not totally negative feedback.

    Personally, I am very grateful for this dance show because it offers me a window into the whole world of dance. Granted it may offer a skewed picture, but I love it when I feel "moved" by a particular dance or dancer. So many evenings I've been transported into a different world by this show. And ultimately, I think this show has raised the level of dance appreciation in this country because the uneducated masses (I include myself here) tune in.

    That show has helped me appreciate your own dance concerts--and my only regret is that I didn't have more exposure to dance as a child. This body loves to move!!! Kathy

    1. Move That Body, Kathy!

      You are a great example of the benefits and enjoyment people get from SYTYCD. I love your openness and curiosity. Your self-directed discovery process is fantastic. I know you, and I know your investment in learning and self discovery.

      I have been reading some blogs and comments about the show. I didn't know that the bloggers rate the performances (without a rubric of course). Also, these blogs on Dance Spirit and Entertainment weekly are generating tons of comments. And, these contributors to the comment feed are adamant that they are RIGHT! That they know exactly who is the best and what piece was the best. They get in arguments over it at times. And, as an instructor of Dance Appreciation, I wonder, what is their background? What dance experiences are shaping their opinions? And are they willing to see things far outside their comfort zone and appreciate it?

      I know YOU with your openness would be willing to watch a longer show and have your ideas expanded and even contradicted through different aesthetics.

      I would love to see the SYTYCD producers support something on the opposite end of the dance spectrum as a nod to the scope of what dance can be.