Travis, Heidi, Benji, Donyelle

Travis, Heidi, Benji, Donyelle

As I write this I am watching “So You Think You Can Dance”.  By all accounts, I am watching with a few million other people.  Dancing has been around since some Neanderthal first decided to move around while some other cave man decided to beat two sticks together.  It has been part celebration, often a ritual, and often a way for man and woman to meet enjoy and develop into …, and well you get the idea.  Dance competitions have been going on for just about that long as well.  Early on as endurance contests and now with Judges to tell us what is good, and what is not.  Being part of that industry of dance, it is easy for us to decipher, decide, second guess or even opine what should be.  We have been told to leave that to the truly high muckety-mucks that have attempted for so long to explain to us why dancers have to endure such a long journeyman’s apprenticeship before they are allowed to reach the top ranks.

So if nothing else has been learned, two things seem evident.  First of all youth should not be a handicap, and second that all styles of dance merit attention, and deserve recognition.  Ballet dancers and modern dancers have long looked down their noses at ballroom, swing, and hip hop dancers.  The latter group has considered the former archaic relics of a bygone age that belongs in a museum, but not in the real world.  Dance venues have not seen or attracted this big an audience of young people since Dance Fever.  Even with Hip Hop, where the dancers are young, the dancers often danced more for their own enjoyment than for an audience.  If viewed at all, it was as back-up to singers and that is where Hip Hop became noticed as a valid dance style.

One can only imagine that the producers wanted good looking young people in the audience.  It is after all the young people that drive TV, its advertising and its stars.  That part was probably a lot easier to do than most people imagine.  Get rid of seats, make the audience stand, and get rowdy, and carry signs and even the most seasoned and avid dance spectator would stay away from all that noise.  A few seats were noticeable, but seemed to be reserved for choreographers, and other special people.  No special roped off section with people delivering drinks and fawning over your every wish here.  Get loud, have fun, and be beautiful.  I don’t know if the audience was chosen for its looks, and age but it doesn’t really matter.  The producers were after youth and they captured it, controlled it, and made it work to produce a wonderful show.

The variety of dance styles offered was another plus for youth.  Being malleable, open to instruction and choreography, as well as physically strong, flexible and unafraid are traits of youth.  Shifting styles, changing partners, supporting each other during the event are admirable at any level, but can you imagine seeing seasoned dancers so willing to try new things, be with different people and trust in the choreographers provided?  And all while changing partners, music and choreographers every week.  No it is the innocence of youth even if some weren’t all that young, that allows the audience to see the change, enjoy the personalities, and be in awe of the tricks, steps and moves that came up each week.

Even those that have fought to include or exclude Dancesport into the Olympics would never have though of including the classical styles.  Setting an early standard of pair dancing, couple dancing, and solo dancing evened out the contest where the ballroom dancers looked weak doing their shine steps over and over, and the classical, modern and hip-hop dancers had to decide if the partner in front of them was friend or foe.  An observer of dance, Dancesport, its participants and politics like myself might be inclined to view these choices as luck, but I choose to think that the producers were motivated by capitalism, and profit rather than willing to succumb to tradition and monopoly and were ready to move way past the establishment and look for things that a real audience would like, and what would make the show work.

Even on tonight’s final show, it was remarked that Benji had the edge in personality, and Travis the edge in technique, but both had obviously captured the audience, and the votes.  Benji’s win is truly a testament to how far dancing has come.  Ballroom and swing dancer meets point shoes, bare feet and conquers.  Travis’ solo spins, jete’s and leaps drew shouts, screams and votes from the masses.  Heidi and Donyelle did their part too.  A variety of partners, different styles, even different bodies, and still they looked good, and made the men look even better.  It was announced that the tour of the top 10 is sold out, and I can confirm that in Pinellas County it sold out in a heartbeat.  Whether this will translate into more people learning, and enjoying dancing or just more watching it bodes well for the sport.  Hopefully the new movies, shows and TV shows will continue to show the world that dancing is a sport and activity that they too can enjoy, whether as a social dancer, competitor, spectator or call in judge.

Michael Reichenbach

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