Like many dancers or, in actuality, any aficionado that enjoys a sport, art or leisure activity we look forward to the chance to see our chosen art displayed, performed and enjoyed.  As many dancers continue to enjoy the shows DWTS and SYTYCD, it is not surprising to see these shows spin off some acts and shows of their own.  After all, celebrity especially in the dance business is fleeting, and it is not surprising to see people take advantage of it.  While Fred Astaire’s name may still be widely recognized, there are fewer and fewer people that relate to the movies he was in, the music that was played, or the style that he exemplified.  In fact our currently most favored English style judges would not likely even think to recognize Fred and Ginger’s style let alone mark their steps, technique and moves.  It was Fred who first made popular the idea that more and more of the dance needed to face the screen, even if in his world it was the big screen.

What the producers of the Big Band big screen and later even the Dance Fever, and later genres of dance performance recognized was that to make a show required a plot.  No matter how thin something needs to tie it together and then a backdrop or scene that however loosely would allow the music to play a new song, the dancers to shine once again and the audience to be drawn into the spectacle once again.  Certainly no one who has ever watched a dance movie found the plots intriguing.  Normally it is a guy who should not meet girl, meets girl anyway and through dancing captures her heart despite the characters’ other ongoing or previous relationships, status or lives.

That is one advantage of the competition format so prevalent in “reality” TV shows where competitions are offered for everything from baking to design to singing as well as dancing.  This format suggests a desire to find the best, an ever noble pursuit, as reason enough to have a show.  The necessary conflict came in the generally clever choice of a variety of personalities, ages, and talents.  Now ever increasingly it seems the pros are the personalities that matter.  This may backfire for producers if and when the stars and celebrities, with their own significant egos we are sure, figure out that it is no longer about them nor is the show able to enhance their image, reputation or future job potential unless they happen to win, which most don’t.

The latest show we went to see was an example where a dance show is now more about seeing the celebrity pros than it is about the quality, style of even expertise of the dancers.  I noticed, when printing the tickets, the suggestion to be there an hour before the show starts.  I thought they knew of a parking problem as sometimes happens downtown and were helping us out so we would be able to get in.  When I got there the lobby was milling with people of all ages.  Most came with their husband, wife or significant other.  Some studios obviously had groups and many independent teachers were there with their students.  A short line to the bar reminded me that dancers of today must be more athletic than the old days, when the line to the bar would extend across the lobby and the smokers would be puffing away with drink in hand.  Relatively speaking this was a healthy looking group, certainly drinking less and carrying more bottles of water.

What amazed me most were the announcements before and during the show that tickets were available for sale for the “Meet and Greet” that was going to follow the show and at a cost considerably higher than the tickets themselves.  This was equally apparent for the VIP packages needed to get good tickets at the DWTS show recently held at another local venue.  Gone are the days when the staff of a show would come out after the show to say thank you for attending the show.  Celebrity is expensive, at least for the patrons.

The show itself was entertaining in its own way.  The choreographers have determined that movement across the stage and as much a possible laterally filling the stage provides the biggest effect.  Kudos to Fred once again who knew to play to the screen even in a dance that would normally just flow around a dance floor.  However, I felt the show relied too much on music that was way too loud and also rhythms that were repetitive.  Most people move in their seats when a good Samba or Latin rhythm is played.  The show used it time after time to get a big effect.  The show offered breaks for the dancers featuring Idol singers, but unlike the TV dance shows in most cases, no dancers helped fill the stage.  Most disappointing for me were the electronic large screen backdrops.  In many cases there were none, and in others the overly busy video scenes actually took away from the dancing.

The efforts at audience participation need some better planning.  Collecting questions from the audience as they waited in the Lobby and posting them on screens would provide a much better chance to get questions that would interest many, and get the audience involved in the show in a whole new way.  Asking for questions on the spot does not give people a chance to ask anything but the expected.  How is ____ to work with and will Max be a judge next season?  I am sure the celebrities feel they are in touch and sharing with the audience but to many it just looked like they were filling time.

All that said, everybody in the audience including us had a joyful experience.  I guess the cost is fair as long as they can fill the seats.  The dancing was energetic, the mood festive and colors bright.  Hopefully these shows can add a story line that ties in the themes, connects the pieces and informs the audience a bit more of the heritage, culture and even history of the various styles and dances.  Then and only then will the shows provide a lasting impact on an audience.  Now it just enriches those involved in the show, and just as with older competitors the fall from grace is inevitable without a legacy of bringing something to others.  That is why most people will remember their local dance teacher’s names long after they have forgotten the stars.  It is fun to see it on the stage.  I just hope it still inspires people to take it up as a hobby.

Michael S Reichenbach

Published in Dance Week

February 27, 2015

Vol. XXXVIII No. 14

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *