Judging the Judges of the Judges of So You Think You Can Dance

Lady Gaga cries on So You Think You Can Dance [Source: Showbiz 411]

Elaine Stuart sat in with some professional dancers based in New York while they watched and discussed So You Think You Can Dance. Since it reveals the gaping chasm between concert dancers and popular dance at a time when many concert dance companies seem to be unable to connect with what is clearly an international dance boom, I thought it might be worth a friendly critique, not of their criticism, but of the presentation of their criticisms out of context by a journalist!

This gathering of dancers comes in the wake of Bill T. Jones’ recent comments regarding such shows as “obscene”, in part, due to turning dance into a sport and disregarding what he seems to believe is its essential nature as a “subtle art form.” In addition to disregarding a wide range of dance and the reasons people dance, this is an interesting statement given that he has appeared on So You Think You Can Dance Canada due to the marketing potential.

They probably cut him a hefty check as well so, despite his strong statements, he seem capable of pushing his integrity to the side to make that money. Toe that bottom line, baby!

The gathering for one of New York’s most well-known local papers was held in Brooklyn because most dancers really can’t afford to live in Manhattan now that they’ve pushed out the poor and middle class.

Here are some of the criticisms of the show followed by my responses which I know you’re just dying to hear!

“‘It’s exciting that it’s bringing it into living rooms,’ Ms. Marcin said. But while grateful for the exposure, these dancers bristled at the show’s watered-down presentation of the art. ‘Because it has that kind of power, I think they have the responsibility to educate,’ Ms. Dorrance said. She and the others said the episode they watched failed to verse viewers in the nuances of dance.”

Say what? Mass media is supposed to educate? Uh, not even the news is real journalism. I think that’s a bizarre expectation for mass media at this point in history and it makes me wonder if they actually watch tv or think critically about the things they do watch outside of dance.

“‘If they move with a little bit of flavor, it’s thrown in the hip-hop category,’ Mr. Rue said while watching the routine commended for swagginess. He lamented the lack of locking and popping — the funk-era foundations from which modern street dance emerged: ‘This is hip-hop light.'”

These statements actually speak to the larger success of hip hop dance forms that don’t follow the standards of the breakdance subculture, aka bboying, which has become surprisingly rigid and constrained in its short history and somewhat off-putting in its purist attitude regarding those who don’t share its values.

All five were baffled by the omission of classical ballet and tap from the routines, while the jive and international rumba are included.

No need to be baffled by the obvious. Ballet and tap require such specific techniques to appear halfway competent that it’s highly unlikely a mass media production that’s not out to humiliate performers would put performers in that situation.

“Following the contestant Marko Germar’s impassioned contemporary number, the group was surprised to see both him and Lady Gaga in tears. “This is totally for ratings,” Mr. Rue said as Mr. Germar’s eyes watered.”

But the seemingly savvy statement that Lady Gaga and one of the performers is doing something for the show’s ratings seems unlikely.

That statement implies that the show’s producers told them to cry and that they agreed. The dancer is doing a very personal performance and may be somewhat of a drama queen. He’s also a young dancer having a peak moment spotlighted on tv, something these critics probably haven’t experienced. Of course, Lady Gaga does what she wants and building a personal rapport with everyday people is part of her skillset. Booking Lady Gaga is what they did for ratings, not telling her to cry.

“‘Who wants to hire somebody like that — that’s going to cry every time they have to do an emotional piece?’ Ms. Peck asked. ‘That’s the thing,’ Ms. Marcin said later, before posing what may have been the night’s most trenchant question. ‘Are they grooming professional dancers?'”

“To Mr. McMurray this signaled a shift in the show’s direction. ‘The first season the prize was money and a rent-free apartment in New York so you could audition,’ he noted. ‘The next year it was like a show with Celine Dion, and now I think they get to be in a commercial for Gatorade.'”

This is yet another point where the dancers seem to be confused by what the show actually is as opposed to the initial marketing for the show. This is a televised dance contest inspired by American Idol. It’s touching Middle America’s heart in a way these professional critics will never experience.

It’s not about getting jobs. It’s not about grooming dancers. All statements to the contrary are marketing fodder designed to make the show seem meaningful in a way that they initially hoped would capture audiences. They dropped it when they realized audiences aren’t really moved by winning a year’s rent in New York and that it was a lot of money to put out for performers that didn’t necessarily have New York on their agenda.

I remember when I first heard about the year in New York it sounded odd to me for such a show. Clearly my intuition was correct in that it was dumped after the first season. It should also be noted that prizes like appearing in a Gatorade commercial is likely a paid placement and so contributes to the revenue stream of So You Think You Can Dance.

The professional critics also express their mixed feelings about the fact that the show doesn’t meet their standards yet clearly is building an audience for dance, including young men, some of whom have pressures keeping them from dancing. They also make it clear that, like Bill T. Jones, they would all perform on the show for marketing purposes!

Stuart closes her article with the statement she says “summed up the consensus”:

“These dancers wouldn’t stand up to dancers in New York.”

So I’ll close with the question that matters:

Does anyone outside of the New York concert dance scene really care?