Do clothes make the dance

Do clothes make the dance

I will first admit I am getting older.  It is true that many people will immediately toss out any elder’s opinion regarding fashion, style and dress as old fashioned.  However, in keeping with Oscar de la Renta’s long ability to show that true style had to be neither gauche nor gaudy and looked good on stars of all ages, I will offer my opinion.  It is also true that when I first started in the dance business, International dancers were still wearing old fashioned full crinolines under shorter knee length ball gowns.  A great deal of training went into how to get into closed dance position so that all would appear as it should and subsequent training included dancing around with an LP or its cover between partners to insure that contact was maintained.  This may all still be familiar to Len Goodman, who, I believe, deserves much credit for keeping “couple’s dancing” as the important ingredient in DWTS, but I have to wonder why the show seems to be pushing towards Las Vegas style attire and look rather than dance attire or even clothes that might compliment the dance as well as the person.

Not being able to remember or comment on back to when or if I might have been good enough looking to go without a shirt, I do remember how a full evening of dance, whether at a competition, a school dance, country club or nightclub resulted in more sweat, perspiration or as some in the South say, “Glow” than a woman would want to or should have to endure.  In fact jackets whether the Miami vice casual, the pin striped Roaring 20’s or the full regalia of uniforms have long spared ladies from offensive body odors, sticky fingers and unnecessary trips to the powder room to wash off the offending remnants.  Leave alone the current trend that men should be hair-free and likely greased down with spray tan to be able to show off that they too were once babes without hair and therefore want to regress to a natural state of nudity and purity.  After all it is only that mindset that would assume it helps rather than hinders the performance.  We are all sure it is not about ego, aren’t we?

Trying to look at all possibilities, it is important to consider possible budget constraints.  After all, clothes do cost money and one might want to assume that cost saving is necessary.  Just as in corporate business, it might provide more profit to those on the top and allow for greater pay raises for the grips, workers and staff of the production company.  This would leave the male dancers as mere objects to be used and thrown aside for the benefit of the rest.  Very socialistic, sounds good, but considering the dancers mostly start with shirts, albeit evidently with few buttons, and then look for just the right moment to throw it into the audience, we really have to assume it is not a budget issue.  That there is likely some young girl in the audience who desires to collect shirts speaks more to fan idol than dance idol.

A look at what the ladies wear offers options as well.  First I was reminded of my ongoing argument with my friend Chip as to whether competition dancing should be considered an art or a sport.  Looking at the ladies, one would have to go for sport.  After all you haven’t seen that many bathing suits off the beach since the last summer Olympics.  And they were certainly engaged in athletic activities where they could move a lot, get very wet, this time from the pool, and if winning end up taking a prize.  I understand that in diving and other water sports they can get graded on style, entry, angles and shapes (at entry) and more so this should all help prove the athletic character of dance.  I have not noticed if the judges are as colorful at a pool, but assume that some of them also have vast experience in other popular past times having nothing to do with swimming.

I was then reminded of the Las Vegas connection.  After all, doesn’t DWTS, the show have a show in Las Vegas?  It was in Vegas, where one can see so many beautiful girls wearing at least part of a bathing suit, the bikini bottom, along with great headdresses, fancy lace and many exotic colors.  The last two already sound familiar, so the ladies of the show may have something to look forward to.  You too can be in Vegas.  Having to admit I was in the Navy, there was this “girls dancing around a pole activity” that required even less clothing but still attracted a lot of attention, but I can’t remember a pole in the TV show yet, can you?  It is true the “kicks” show up as more like the Rockettes if you are wearing the similar outfit, but is that for the dance or just to add some sex in the show?

Then we have the shoes or lack of them.  Barefoot, maybe reminds some of the sock-hop days, but in fact the only reason socks were required in those days was to make sure the attendees did not mess up the court for the basketball players.  Why is it that we now have dancers dancing barefoot or in ballet style shoes?  In track and field improved track times and distances are largely due to improved equipment, and certainly attire and footwear have been and continue to be streamlined, aerodynamically designed and made lighter, bouncier and stronger with improved design and materials.  Dancers have promoted the Latin shoe as a better way to achieve the needed pitch to accommodate the movements needed in Latin.  The ballroom shoe still affords great agility to allow the free foot a clean swing while the working foot goes from heel to toe.  I guess the only thing improved by being barefoot is balance if you happen to have wide feet to throw her around (one type of movement) or more likely you can add to that whimsical modern dance image of running through the flowers as you dance.

Whether you consider dance a sport or an art is immaterial.  Most people who enjoy dancing and watching it, enjoy the wide variety and character of the moves and steps.  These come from the music, culture, style and traditions when first introduced in America, or maybe from the mix of those same music, cultures and characters that epitomize American society today.  To belittle these noble aspirations with lacy underwear, bathing suits, and Chippendale dancing does nothing to encourage others to engage our pastime.  It serves only to offer a snapshot of the individual beautiful body most no longer have rather than the full movement offered by flowing gowns, however sheer, extended and continued movement offered by fringe and dress and a more guiding, caring and protecting image conveyed through a gentleman’s attire from any generation including today’s.

It is likely true the dance community owes more to the DWTS show than the show owes to the dance community.  However as the show looks to flashy legs and a great body as the picture to sell, and sex to keep ratings it may lose the very people that would most help it stay around.  The young, couples and singles that spend money and are the advertiser’s best customers still want to see themselves as possibly in a show and not just watching it.  The same has proven true for all the singing shows.  They always feature at least one home grown singer making good as a favorite.  Instead of just more people looking better, wouldn’t it be nice to really see someone just dancing better.

Michael Reichenbach

Published in Dance Week

December 19, 2014

Vol. XXXVIII No. 10

Leave a Reply

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