BWW Column: My Unabashed Love Note to SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE
There has not been a TV show over the past decade that has consistently brought me more pleasure than SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. The sheer joy of the artistic creation and expression that has been displayed on that stage over the past 12 seasons has been unlike anything else that you can find anywhere on TV. While it might seem hyperbolic, no show, potentially ever, has done more to advance the public consciousness of the power of art, let alone dance, than SYTYCD. I know that there have been dance shows since the dawn of TV, and I know that ABC's DANCING WITH THE STARS still out-performs SYTYCD in the ratings, but not DWTS, not SOUL TRAIN, not SOLID GOLD, not AMERICAN BANDSTAND, no show has effectively brought the transformative power of dance (and in turn, the fine arts in general) to TV viewers more than SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE.
I am not a dancer, I am not a choreographer, I have no connection to the dance world, but since I started watching SYTYCD in Season 2, I have developed a deep appreciation for the story-telling power of dance that I had hardly even realized existed beforehand. Before SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, I foolishly thought of narratives in dance as solely being a ballet conceit; and while I admire the power, discipline, and skill in that form, it has never spoken to me individually. However, the breadth of emotion found in the contemporary pieces on SYTYCD, the humor in the hip hop numbers, the power in the Latin ballroom routines, has opened my eyes to beauty that I otherwise would have overlooked. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined about specific dance techniques and styles, and most importantly, I have routinely been moved to tears by the emotion that the dancers and choreographers have been brave enough to lay bare on that stage.
I know that SYTYCD hasn't been a ratings hit for FOX in a long time, but, frankly, the show's impact is far greater than that. I know that it has faded to the back of the public consciousness over the years, as all shows eventually do, but the fact that it continues to chug along year after year, like The Little Competition Show that Could, gives me hope that it will continue to impact artists young and old for seasons to come. I don't have the data in front of me, but I would be shocked if there was not a direct correlation between when SYTYCD debuted in 2005 and dramatic increases in dance classes around the country. Those new artists that came to dance because of this show are as great of a legacy as any program can ever dream to have, and one that will continue to impact the world and countless artforms in waves for decades and decades to come.
During last night's season finale, judge and Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe coyly mentioned that perhaps we could see a sequel to a specific routine during next season. While Uncle Nigel has never been shy about publically campaigning for the show's renewal, I am optimistic that this means that discussions with FOX (or potentially another network, if need be), have thus far been positive; because frankly, I think America needs this show.
I didn't sit down to write an article on the decaying state of Arts Education in America, or the educational significance of a Reality TV show, but I will say that for many young people, arts programs just aren't an option in their schools, so perhaps the only opportunity that they have to be introduced to the arts is through the media. Depending on your preferences, TV series and movies can obviously be artistic, as can popular music, but those mediums are glossy and polished; the dance on SYTYCD is raw, authentic, and a gateway drug to a whole other world of arts appreciation.
Another reason why I love SYTYCD is the ability to follow the careers of these young dancers after they have been on the show. Sure, a handful of singers have graduated from AMERICAN IDOL and THE VOICE (and NASHVILLE STAR, I still remember Miranda Lambert) to become superstars, but unless they have massive careers, you never really get to see them again. One of the joys of watching SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE is turning on a music video or an awards show or another dancing show, or going to a dance-themed movie or a Broadway musical and seeing your favorite former contestants living their dreams. As dancers, they don't need to be up front (and often aren't) to have successful careers; after all, that's kind of the point of A CHORUS LINE, isn't it? From Travis Wall winning an Emmy to Melanie Moore starring as Chava in the upcoming Broadway revival of THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, not to mention like half of the original cast of NEWSIES, the contestants that make a mark on SYTYCD continue to share their passions with the world in such a truly wonderful way.
I will admit, that the impact that the show has had on me has lessened over the years. The routines that take my breath away are fewer and farther between (either because of changes in choreographers, me becoming immune to their power, or I am just becoming jaded in my old age), however, the creativity displayed on a segment by segment basis on SYTYCD, is still unparalleled on TV today, and should serve as an inspiration to anyone who watches.
While I did not feel as personally invested in any of the dancers as I have in years past, Gaby Diaz, Jaja Vankova, and Broadway-alum Virgil "Lil O" Gadson have been my three favorites from the beginning of the season (with JJ Rabone mixed in), so I was glad that they all made it to the finale.
Virgil is an incredible showman, who very well could have a career like that of Fik-shun or Team Street Captain tWitch, if he dedicates himself to learning more outside of his natural genre. Jaja was actually one of my favorites on Season 11, only to be cut on the "Green Mile." The growth she showed this year to transform from an animator to a well-rounded dancer into a fully-realized performer was magical.
Despite obviously being well-schooled in multiple disciplines, Gaby might have had the biggest disadvantage of any contestant all year. Other than in her 15 second solos and on the performance finale, the tapper never actually got to perform in the style that she is most comfortable (and theoretically, the best). For her to be able to not only succeed, but to win, shows just what an incredible performer she is. I have no idea if she can sing, but based on her dancing and her obvious acting chops, I think Bernie Telsey would love to see her at a New York audition in the future.
Also, I knew Jenna Dewan Tatum had started her career as a dancer before breaking out in the first STEP UP movie, but the number she did with Travis was shockingly impressive. You go girl! It may or may not have led me to Youtube videos of Jenna dancing for the better part of an hour after the show. Check out the routine below:
So, in closing, I don't know if SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE has another season left in its run, but I hope it does. Not only to fill a massive gap in my summer TV-viewing schedule, but more importantly, to continue to provide new generations of artists with the inspiration and reassurance that, if you work hard, your dreams, no matter how far away they seem, are obtainable. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE is special, and I am grateful to, thus far, have had 12 seasons of dance to serve as a reminder of the beauty and life-altering power of art.
Has SYTYCD had a similar impact on you as it had on me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" challenge, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter. Also, don't forget to follow @BWWTVWorld on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for all of the latest TV news, reviews, and recaps.
Photo Credit: Adam Rose | FOX