Oh, for the love of dance! Or, you catch more flies with passion than with talent

19 Sep

When it comes to inspiring others, what’s more important: passion, or talent?

There were four finalists on the So You Think You Can Dance finale last night, two girls and two boys. There’s no story with the girls; they were technically similar (although it’s cool that a ballerina won). The guys, however, were on opposite ends of the spectrum.

One was a highly trained dancer and the other was an animator/Dubstep[per?] (from Atlanta, HOLLA) with no training whatsoever. Those kind of dancers usually get kicked off early, but Cyrus was so full of personality, sincerity, and charm that he was never even in the bottom. Also, his moves were SICK. This is me every time he freestyled: shut up. SHUT. UP. shutupshutupshutup!

Then judge and producer Nigel Lythgoe, who had been Cyrus’s #1 fan hitherto, made this comment on the last voting show: “I just can’t vote for you tonight. I have to support Chehon for my own personal reasons.”  It was so odd that even the Chatty Cathy twins (judge Mary Murphy and host Cat Deely) were at a loss for words, and awkward silence ensued. His personal reasons, boiled down, were that Chehon was a real dancer and Cyrus was not. Chehon went on to claim the title.

Let me stop here to ask a question to my non-dancer readers: What is your impression of dancers? Go on, you can say.

Snoots, right? I bet you even bristled a bit at the term “non-dancer,” like it’s some secret club that only certain people are allowed to join. People with certain body types, certain innate abilities. People whose parents can afford 14 years of dance classes. I hate this ugly stereotype, because guess what, it’s still mostly true. Thanks to stale attitudes like Nigel’s.

His off-the-cuff comment is yet another manifestation of dancer elitism. The producers of this show, Nigel included, are always talking about how we need more arts in schools, more young people in dance instead of on the streets, yadda yadda yadda. He championed Cyrus throughout the season as a beacon of such rough-hewn artistic triumph. But when it came down to it, he sided with the person who had essentially “paid his dues,” as if his training automatically made him more deserving of the title (which, by the way, is America’s Favorite Dancer–not America’s Best Dancer). Plus, people got kicked off earlier in the show for being all about the technique and lacking the spark. The judges waffled all season over which was more important, and the answer depended on the person they were judging (or maybe the day).

My opinion? It should depend on the mission. Is it to broaden the audience, bring in some new dancers and dance lovers? Or is it just another artist masturbatory session? Listen: I know. As a dancer and a performer, it is so. frustrating! to see somebody with hardly any experience become an overnight sensation, while folks with BFAs and 3-page resumes are still waiting tables. But when it comes to a show like this, pure talent has to be secondary to the ability to inspire. Who is more likely to make kids–especially those at-risk kids rich artists are always pretending to care so much about–get up and dance? Is it the ballet dancer who’s suffered for years to reach the zenith of physical skill? Or is it the Cinderella story who can move like a robot to hot music?

Chehon is a freakin’ amazing dancer, and Cyrus is only passable at any style outside his own. But the bottom line is that Chehon was leaving me cold (and I’m a total bunhead). Dancers like Cyrus make me excited all over again about the possibilities of movement. If we want a new golden age of dance, a modern resurrection of the Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire glory days, we need to keep moving. We need to branch out of the smug, self-satisfied dancers club mentality and let that fresh air in. The fact that these two completely different dancers were the finalists is a step in the right direction, but attitudes like Nigel’s only perpetuate that aura of impenetrability and snobbishness of the dance world.

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