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So what’s wrong with the TV show SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE

View all of Stephen Koester’s SYTYCD posts.

Last posting, I listed some of the many positives of the Fox TV network show SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE (SYTYCD). But not all is perfect.

1- The best dancer does not necessarily win – dance talent alone is not always enough. First, the women I feel are at a biased disadvantage in the voting. I am assuming that a majority of the voters are young women who I believe tend to vote more for the men – the attraction of the opposite sex. SYTYCD_jeanette_dance I also think that the voting can be more a popularity contest in terms of who is cutest and who has the most sex appeal and off-stage personality, which is not the equivalent to who is the best dancer. Last season was no exception. Jeanette in my opinion was clearly the best dancer and should have won or at least made it to the final show. She was a fireball on stage, able to do anything. It was obvious that the judges too were unanimously surprised and disappointed when Janette was eliminated. Evan on the other hand should not have gone so far, but he was cute, the boy next door and male.

2- At times, I find the judges hold a limited viewpoint as to what makes a good performer. The men must always be masculine, the women feminine and everyone must always be passionate and emotive. While the show is great at honoring a full range of dance styles, it does have a more singular performance aesthetic. I believe performers must be true to their personality, which means that they don’t always have to be smiling stereotypes.


3- The early auditions can be way too harsh. Obviously some who audition shouldn’t. They have neither the talent nor ability. The show tends to single out these contestants and I feel humiliate them. We are dealing with human beings who are putting themselves in a vulnerable position, regardless of how they present themselves. Dance is vulnerable in that the material of the art form is the body itself, placed front and center for others to judge. I’ll admit, there is a fascination seeing these people audition, but it’s a bit like watching a train wreck. It shouldn’t be seen as being there simply for our entertainment; there may be more serious and personal consequences and issues involved.

4- The dance numbers on SYTYCD cater to our limited attention spans, equivalent to the 30-second sound byte. Particularly when approached as an art form, dances often require more time to develop and achieve substance/significance. The dances on SYTYCD rely primarily on entertainment value and technical tricks, but there’s more to dance than this. The show in fact treads a fine line between art and entertainment. The dances are often presented as high art while in fact they really lie purely in the realm of entertainment. The show works best when it presents dance simply as dance, without labels other than stylistic identification. This allows the dances to be seen for what they are and allows the audience to see them how they will.

5- Finally, as with all reality TV, SYTYCD is far from real life. Everything we see on the show is highly staged, pre-planned and edited to garner ratings. I guess this is unavoidable. It is TV after all.

Follow the New Season of SYTYCD with Stephen Koester, Choreographer & University Professor of Dance

Stephen Koester

The first fall season of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” is underway. Happily for RedThread blogheads, Stephen Koester is watching, commenting, and answering questions about the show—its dancers, choreography, judges, costumes, lighting, and anything else you’re dying to talk about. Koester, who is the director of graduate studies in the Department of Modern Dance, has a long list of accomplishments: He was the co-artistic director of Creach/Koester, an all-male dance company based in New York City; he has received five consecutive choreographic fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts; his recent work has appeared in the repertories of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theatre, Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, Dance Forum, Taipei, among others, including his own company Dance Koester Dance, which has presented several Salt Lake City seasons. Koester regularly choreographs and teaches improvisation, composition, technique, and graduate seminars at the U. In 2002, he received the College of Fine Arts Faculty Excellence Award for creative research.

  • joan

    Dance seems so elemental and yet difficult to understand. I really have no vocabulary beyond what I’ve learned from the show. What would you recommend for the uninitiated as far as learning to appreciate it…or, should dance be approached as we do music, simply listened to (watched) and over time a more educated appreciation will be forged? I’m really looking forward to learning more through the blog.

  • Stephen Koester

    Dear Joan, Thanks for your e-mail and question. I think you answered
    your own question beautifully. Simply by watching dance, you begin to
    see things and understand things that you would not have before. One
    cannot simply tell you what to see. I think that people want to “get
    it” on a purely intellectual and logical level, which is not where
    dance lives. We need to approach dance from also a kinesthetic,
    metaphoric and imagistic sense.

    Things that may help you develop a vocabulary/understanding: Try to
    describe (put into words) the style of dancing/movement, quality of
    movement and what happened on stage? Just by describing we begin to
    see deeper. What most stood out to you? What was new for you and
    what was familiar for you? Did you like the dance or not, but more
    importantly, why? What do you think was the choreographer’s intent?
    What was the relationship between the dancers, spatially or
    emotionally? What was the dancers relationship to the audience.? Did
    they draw you in and why or why not?

    For each choreographer, dance is the language in which they interpret
    and share their world. Their perspectives are rooted in their
    individual life histories and physical stories. We all have our own
    life experience (and bodies) to bring to the dance and therefore each
    of us in the audience will see the dance uniquely and differently. This is the way it should be. There is no right way to see the dance; one may be captured by the movement, feel the rhythms, see relationships or sense narrative. Be aware of what strikes you the most in the dance. Dance is not simply what we think about it, but is experiential in how we feel it and sense it. It’s been said that art is something the creator begins and the audience completes. Therefore how an audience member enters, interprets and responds to the dance is essential to the experiencing of it. Dance can entertain us, but it can also take us beyond what we comfortably know. It can challenge, provoke and upset, but it also has that amazing capacity to creatively open our imaginations in order to expand our sense of self and the world about us. To allow this to happen, we need only to open our eyes, breathe, clear the mind and listen to our gut instincts.

  • joan

    I love this. With this one post, I feel my appreciation has increased ten fold. Kinesthetic, metaphoric, imagistic! Wow. This reminds me of when I started taking literature classes at the U. I always really loved reading, but I just didn’t have a vocabulary to express, hence, appreciate, what I was thinking/feeling. I mean try reading Ulysses on your own and then take a class and see how much more you get out of it. Interestingly, the entry into both disciplines are similar:go with your gut, write down your ideas, let what you like inform what you think. Perhaps the dance department has “appreciation” classes for your average Joan. Again, thank you.

  • Stephen Koester

    Dear Joan, Thank you for your comments regarding my blog. The Department has many non-majors classes all of which would develop a greater appreciation for dance. There is one class I teach in the Spring titled Demystifying Dance as an Art Form – What the Heck Does it all Mean?, which is particularly geared to provide the tools with which to better interact with dance.