Monday, August 29, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance… Contemporary

Last fall I wrote about how I was supremely bored with competitive reality television and wondered why, as the talent pool has improved over the seasons, these shows have become so boring. This is particularly true of the last couple of seasons of So You Think You Can Dance, which recently closed its eighth season with Melanie and Sasha, two incredible dancers, as the final two.

Melanie & Sasha in “Heart Asks Pleasure First”

While the seventh season was plagued with injuries (mostly due to the fact that there has been a marked uptick in the number of dances these contestants are expected to perform on a weekly basis), which impeded any real enjoyment the season’s progression, the eighth season was relatively injury free. And, yet? Sort of boring.

I think I’ve identified the problem. Despite the fact that this show has become extremely demanding in one sense, in another sense these dancers were extremely coddled. While this was somewhat discussed regarding Melanie, it actually applies to almost all the dancers, who were far less challenged outside their style than dancers in earlier seasons. Gone are the days when one drew a different style and partner out of a hat every week. (And, producers, no one actually believes these dancers are drawing their style out of a hat, so why don’t you give up that farce right now.)

If you compare the dance styles assigned in the first five episodes (those with the most dancers) of Seasons 2-4 with those of this season, the reduction in ballroom is stark. Seasons 2-4 are pretty consistent, with an average of 43% ballroom dances, 33% contemporary (including jazz and broadway), 23% hip hop, and 1% disco. But, by Season 8, the majority of dances (51%) are contemporary, with only 26% ballroom, 19% hip hop, and a couple of stray styles like African jazz and Bollywood.

Allison & Ivan in Season 2's “La Cumparsita”

As an example, by just the fifth episode in Season 3, we had seen all ten formal ballroom styles* as well as other ballroom dances such as Argentine tango, mambo, salsa, and West Coast swing, sometimes more than once. On the other hand, Season 8 saw far fewer ballroom styles, with many of those quite watered down technique-wise. When the only great ballroom number is in the “Meet the Top 20” show (with “Ten Dance” world champion Iveta, before they kicked her off for younger, contemporary blood), you know there’s a problem.

This is a shame, given some of the superb numbers we’ve seen in the past, for example, Heidi & Benji’s mambo, Allison & Ivan’s Argentine tango(s), Lacey & Danny’s samba, Melissa & Ade’s rumba, Karla & Vitolio’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” quickstep, Caitlin & Jason’s “Minnie the Moocher” foxtrot, Janette & Brandon’s Argentine tango, Jeanine & Brandon’s “Matrix” paso doble, Ashleigh & Jakob’s cha-cha, and Mollee & Jakob’s “Ordinary Day” waltz.

Jeanine & Brandon in Season 5’s “Tetsujin”

One can only hope that this imbalance will be corrected next time around because I think having so many contemporary pieces became fairly repetitive, or at least seemed that way. Even if some of the dances were quite beautiful, I’m not sure they will stick in my mind as well as Travis & Heidi’s “The Bench,” Jaime & Hok’s “Hummingbird and Flower,” Courtney & Mark’s “The Garden,” Randi & Evan’s “Koop Island Blues,” Kayla & Kūpono’s “Eyes on Fire” and “Gravity,” Jeanine & Jason’s “If It Kills Me,” Melissa & Ade’s “This Woman’s Work,” Ellenore & Jakob’s “Tore My Heart,” or Ellenore & Legacy’s “Machine Gun,” to name just a few.

Still, tune in tomorrow for the awards!

*The ten dances include the five Standard dances of foxtrot, quickstep, tango, Viennese waltz, and waltz, as well as the five Latin dances of cha-cha, jive, paso doble, rumba, and samba.

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