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SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE (SYTYCD) – Las Vegas. Athletes, Doctors and Lion Tamers.

The dancers were again in Las Vegas where the pool was cut to 37. We actually didn’t see much dancing; the show was more about the audition process, part of which had the dancers choreographing a routine. I wondered why, as the show is about the best dancer, not choreographer. But a lot can be gleaned from seeing the dancer in different roles. Personality and the ability to work together become apparent. To become a great dancer, I believe you go beyond just being a performer. The opportunity to teach, choreograph and converse about dance can all add greater depth and understanding to one’s performance.

Why is it that athletes and sports are so revered in our society while dancers marginalized? Sports=macho, dance=sissy. I don’t buy it. The physical ability, strength, training, conditioning and commitment for a professional dancer can equal and surpass that of any athlete. When the show DANCING WITH THE STARS has athlete contestants, they all state that dance is the hardest thing they have ever tackled. Just look at the shirtless ballroom dancer from Utah who looked as if he came straight off the cover of Men’s Health magazine. OMG, those pecs and abs! Perhaps the popularity of sports is that there are known rules. You don’t have to think too hard as a spectator. In dance and art, you must think a bit harder and form personal opinion, which many of us would rather avoid. Dancers also express ideas and emotions; again something we avoid.

In medicine, few doctors are general practitioners but instead specialize in one area, as the amount of information for each specialty is so vast. The same can be said for each genre of dance. SYTYCD is really not about America’s best or favorite dancer, it’s about the best generalist dancer, one who can do it all. Those who are specialists, spectacular in what they do, can fail in this competition. I was sorry to see the blond Latin woman ballroom dancer who auditioned in Utah get cut, a victim perhaps of being only good at one thing. SYTYCD purposely tries to balance the genres in its final twenty. A dancer may be cut who is really good, simply because there were too many of that style auditioning.

As a choreographer, how do you best teach a dance – with whip, shouting and toughness like a lion trainer or with words of support and kindness like a horse whisperer? Personally I don’t get why piss and vinegar work. It seems an outdated method, a holdover from traditional notions of master and children. I was surprised at the young black woman choreographer at the beginning of the show who was so abrasive. Perhaps she was being “street,” but you can’t shout a dancer into being better. Either they are self-motivated or not; those at this stage of the audition certainly don’t need motivation.

The highlight of the show was the solo by Billy Bell, which brought Adam Shankman to tears (a bit melodramatic). But Bell’s controlled abandon was truly amazing. Great dancing can be emotional, a reminder of the magnificence of the human animal, able to do incredible feats.

  • audiencemember

    I too wondered why the dancers were suddenly thrown into the roles of choreographer. It may add ratings- dancers in the dark, working late into the night…will they finish?- but the task has other merit as well. SYTYCD is growing up, and perhaps it is asking its dancers to grow up along side. Dancers who create dances that are an orgy of high kicks and body rolls often do not have the artistry to succeed in an increasingly versatile and adult art form. By seeing how dancers created movement to show off their own talents and at the same time understanding that dance is something emotional that should not be taken advantage of (with, say, jazz hands), the judges might be able to discern who has ‘grown up’ enough to join the show.
    So maybe the audience should be ready for even more artistically and viscerally gripping pieces in the season to come. It’s time for the audience to mature too.