Now that Dancing with the Stars has started, it is a good time to look back and see what has happened with So You Think You Can Dance and how that might relate.  As I occasionally travel and speak to dancers, teachers, and professionals in studios and at competitions there is no doubt that Dancing with the Stars has a much bigger fan base among the ballroom crowd.  America’s fascination with “stars” might be an even bigger draw than the dancing and that alone gives DWTS an obvious edge.  Whether that will translate into an ever bigger audience, in my belief, has as much to do with whether the producers can draw ever bigger stars to the show, but more on that another time.

SYTYCD apparently developed under the same concept that has propelled American Idol, another of Nigel Lythgoe’s very successful involvements.  That is that Americans love to have a hand in who is the best and that competitive nature is exemplified by the voting and results shows.  In music and song, sales of singles and then albums used to be the scorecard.  Regardless of how many DJ’s played what songs, ultimately the consumer would have to lay out a few bucks to get the song and that was what counted.  Gold Albums, Platinum Songs meant something, and for whatever reason it seems less tangible with downloaded purchases though the cost of a single download doesn’t seem to be much different from early 45’s, and I know I am showing my age.

The newly discovered band or singer has always carried with it that Cinderella aspect of having been found almost by chance and developing into a wonderful story with a happy ending.  Maybe it has been the many idols of film, stage and tabloid fame that have gone on to have such unhappy endings, most often self inflicted, that now makes discovering and making our own stars more appealing.  This way when something goes awry and we hear about it in the tabloids, we can just go and find a new Cinderella.  SYTYCD has never promoted itself as finding the best dancer, only America’s favorite.  This allows for personality, charisma and even charm to matter.

What does not make sense is their ever increasing desire to push the edge.  I agree that artistic dance can provide a powerful venue to express any emotion, and even to argue many causes.  In addition, stage productions and plays as well as poetry and literature can and do express opinions that people may not have considered, long ignored as irrelevant or are uncomfortable facing.  In this vein it seems that SYTYCD is wanting to depart from the generally expected goal of allowing the audience to pick and celebrate dance as they do so many other sports and skills through competition and voting for their favorite dancer and are using the contestants to promote the choreographers and judges as the true stars that have the ability to deliver the Emmy and critical acclaim to the show.

This may be a wise move on Mr. Lythgoe’s part as there is still a much larger market for I-Tune downloads of song than video downloads of dancing, which so far are all free on You Tube.  A non-dancer I spoke to recently told me that he would not likely recognize a dancer dancing back-up for a singer anyway and that was the best he could see the SYTYCD dancers getting as a gig.  It is true that dancers like Fred and Ginger, John Travolta, Gregory Hines, and even most likely Barishnikov gained fame through their exposure in movies and or television long after they gained their skills as dancers.  For the winners to gain fame, the featured dancer will have to have to get more.  $250,000 as a prize is small change as compared to a Las Vegas show or a Broadway dance show that might make a career or life changing difference.

Maybe the producers think that using accomplished choreographers over and over again and then adding previous season’s dancers to dance with current season’s dancers will produce a better dance, or express a higher emotion.  It will likely make stars of the choreographers that reappear time and time at the expense of the dancers competing for the prize.  What it will not do, is allow the audience to compare apples to apples so to speak and choose a favorite dancer that can themselves become a star.

As much as I like the show another fear I have is that the numbers and productions are straying further and further from what the regular audience might recognize as dance.  To most of America dance is still a social activity I can share with someone I know at some level, no matter how painful for the lady.  Emotional suffering, while altruistic is not celebrated.  We are lucky if it is recognized and yes it should be dealt with, alleviated when possible, and comforted when needed.  Suffering in general should not be glorified.  Another issue that I take with the show is their attempt to broaden the culture of the show.  While Bollywood dancing is lively, energetic and displays much of what dancers say they like about dance, it is not music or a style that is familiar to the audience and will detract from an audience’s opinion.

The apparent departure from couples dancing, its familiarity for the audience in general if for no other reason the music and the energy that comes from a couple working it through is probably best demonstrated by Mary Murphy’s failure to appear as the Ballroom judge for most of the season.  The replacement of judges with those so intimately involved in choreography has to make the audience suspicious.   It is much easier to compare, or pick when you know the rules, and couples dancing together to songs we have heard and enjoy.  This will allow the audience to once again be a part of the experience instead of just being a spectator to it.

Michael S Reichenbach

To Dance Week


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