So this year’s top 10-instead-of-a-top-20 So You Think You Can Dance turned out to eventually be a top 11, because they just couldn’t cut down from five classically trained male dancers to four. This makes eight of 11 dancers (more than 70 percent!) from the various classical training disciplines (ballet, jazz and contemporary), plus your token B-boy, ballroom girl and tapper so they can still claim to be a diverse dancing show and have the season’s usual array of patronizing commentary about “journeys.”
I can’t help but think that the reason the show’s taken such a stiff right turn towards classically trained dance is that the Vegas weeding-out portion has become so inflexibly forgiving of it. Consider that now it’s pretty much set in stone that hip-hop and ballroom get done first, and only then do the remaining rounds – usually contemporary, ballroom and group dance in some order – proceed. Now, if you’re eliminating dancers at every step, this means that the later rounds are “tougher,” and it means that dancers who don’t dance well are less likely to be forgiven on the basis of excelling in their styles.
In turn, however, this means that if classically trained dancers are always dancing out of genre in the earlier rounds, they’re thus more likely to be forgiven on the basis of dancing out of genre badly. The most recent Vegas episode Wednesday night made this fairly clear: Giselle Peacock, absolutely stunning in ballroom, danced poorly during the final contemporary round and got cut, whereas Adechike danced badly not one but three times in a row (his opening solo, hip-hop and ballroom) and made it through to the top 11 largely on his strengths as a contemporary dancer.
I don’t think this is the only reason SYTYCD has so sharply veered into a contemporary-heavy focus. After all, there are quite a few other reasons one could name – for example, the idea that promoting contemporary means SYTYCD can better distinguish itself from Dancing With The Stars and America’s Best Dance Crew, which exclusively promote ballroom and hip-hop, respectively. Or the reflexive need to promote the idea of excellence through dance education (culminating in the rampant idiocy of calling Legacy in season 6 “untrained,” because clearly anybody can do airflares and crabwalks when they so choose). Or the fact that of the regular judging panel, only L’il C comes from a hip-hop background.
But it’s certainly part of it, and if you follow the various fan-run SYTCYD message boards, it’s apparently starting to affect the audition process outright, because increasing numbers of hip-hop and ballroom dancers are supposedly passing on the opportunity to audition1 – because why bother if you’re just going to get patronized by Nigel Lythgoe while contemporary dancers are applauded for performing poorly in your area of expertise? Hell, this season, they’ve brought back Comfort and Twitch and Pasha and Anya among the “all-stars” in what seems like a desperate attempt to cover up the continuing lack of ballroom and hip-hop ability in the supposed top
Shorter version: Show needs to get right quick.
- Which would explain why this season’s audition episodes were so barren of anything other than contemporary and jazz dance; you could count the number of non-contemporary auditions in six hours of TV on both hands. [↩]