If anyone thinks there’s a single formula to becoming a great dancer, they’re wrong. Watching SYTYCD this week reminded me of the many attributes that must be finely balanced against each other, a balance probably different for each dancer. To become a dancer is to personally answer endless questions for which there are no universally correct answers.
• What is the right mixture of technique and performance personality? Technique without performance is lifeless. Performance without technique is physically unformed, unfulfilled and at it’s worse, self-indulgent.
• How much passion should a dancer display? Too much passion becomes unbelievable and seen as overly emotive. Too little and the dancer can appear vacant and removed. If a dancer becomes too passionately involved when dancing, then some viewers feel left out – the dancer ignoring the audience. This was the judge’s comment to Thomas, the last to audition in Atlanta. This leads to other questions, do you perform to or for the audience with the dancer’s energy radiating outward, or do you become intimately involved in your own physical universe, which can have the ability to pull the audience in? Do you exhibit the movement, clearly and cleanly showing it, or embody it, allowing the audience feel and taste the movement?
• What role does dance play in the dancer’s life? Dance must be supremely important, but if it becomes too important then one loses perspective; it becomes more about the dancer and his or her needs, not about the dance and dancing.
• As a dancer, how much do you defend your personal aesthetics and dancing, and how much do you listen to outside criticism and suggestions? Whom do you listen to? Clearly there were some dancers last week who were not willing or able to hear that they were not quite as good as they thought they were.
• What role does gender expectations play in a dancer? Most of us hold stereotypic notions that women must have great technique with leg extensions up to the ceiling, and be light and beautiful; men must be athletic, strong and high energy. Last week we saw some of these gender distinctions blurred with some of the men fully embracing “female” technical abilities, and women incorporating “men’s” gymnastic based tricks into their auditions.
• For the judge, what is the correct balance of support and criticism? When be nice and when mean? Last week I came down on Tyce Diorio as being unnecessarily critical, but at times to penetrate a dancer’s defenses in order to hear outside opinions, the judge must be confrontational or direct enough to allow for growth and change to occur. The question then becomes, is the judge being “mean” to help or hurt the dancer?
For me, one of the highlights of the show was the audition with the woman who had lost her hand and part of her arm to cancer. It raised the issue of our willingness to see and include others who are not “perfect,” particularly in our media-driven society that worships thin, beautiful, young and hip. The dancer herself was not the best, but I applaud SYTYCD for bringing these issues up as I felt my own discomfort in trying to answer the question, can I get past this dancer’s limitations.