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So You Think You Can Dance?

I resisted hard. But I have the fever.

By Elaine Corden 28 Jun 2006 |

Elaine Corden writes about pop culture for the Tyee. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio, and in The Georgia Straight, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Magazine, Time Out, Victoria Times-Colonist, Monday Magazine, FFWD, The Hour, North Shore News, Shared Vision and some papers in Florida, Texas and Oregon she forgets the names of. Until recently, she authored the music column "Band Geek" for WestEnder, where she also acted as Arts Editor. She maintains the pop-culture obsessed blog Trifective, and is currently working on her first novel.

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Dances circles around 'American Idol.'

I confess -- a journalistic mea culpa -- that I didn't go into Fox's So You Think You Can Dance with an open mind. I expected it to be trashtastic, yes. A mix of American Idol and "nobody sticks Baby in a corner" at best. But hardly the kind of fare to which I would commit two-and-a-half-hours a week. But here I am. Addicted.

For those of you unfamiliar, a primer: this is the second season of So You Think You Dance, brought back after an enormously popular first run last summer. It was created by 19 Productions's Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe: the real brains behind the stunningly popular American Idol franchise (and if you thought the brains was acerbic Idol host Simon Cowell, just look at his two cancelled shows -- Cupid and the woefully miscalculated American Inventor -- for proof that he is not).

The premise is simple: dancers of all styles are culled from cattle-call auditions across the U.S. The most talented (or marketable) are selected for a final 20 (10 boys, 10 girls) who are then paired up, with no regard for their previous respective disciplines, and asked to perform routines in different styles each week. On Wednesday nights, they perform and get critiqued by the judges: choreographer Mia Michaels, filling the Paula Adbul role but playing it smart; Shane Sparks playing the Randy Jackson spot as lovely, articulate and soft; and producer/former choreographer Lythgoe (Cowell on Ativan). At the end of the show, America votes on a bottom three couples, with the results delivered the next night for another show, this one thankfully just an hour long. The bottom three couples temporarily split and perform solos for the judges, and then the judges make the final call of who will be booted off, possibly splitting up a couple.

American Bandstand, Solid Gold
Electric Circus leaves me cold
Dancing with the Stars got Nick Lachey
Nia Peeples has gone away
Gong Show, Star Search -- all dethroned
Dance 360's only for the stoned

I've never really been interested in dance shows before. Sure, Lisa Wong and I used to play Dirty Dancing in third grade, but I was a foot taller than her, and I always had to be Swayze.

But here's the thing with So You Think You Can Dance: unlike so much "reality" fare out on screens right now, this show actually has talented individuals onstage. Folks who have worked hard, trained their whole lives and possess alarming amounts of athleticism and skill. And whereas its closest cousin, American Idol, produces a winner who arguably sounds like most of us would if we drunkenly karaoke-ed Joe Cocker, few will watch the standing splits and six-foot leaps performed by the kids on SYTYCD and think, "He dances like my Dad at a wedding."

Flashdance dreams wrapped up in Fame
I will watch, I have no shame
Simon Fuller sucks me in
Who's the bestest, who will win?
Dirty Dancing, lubed with Grease
Two-and-a-half hours of my precious week

While there's still a bit of "cult of personality" type antics going on with this show, it's quite likely the most legitimate talent competition on air right now. The judges seem to respect that, and thus the critiques are less "You are ghastly and should be eaten by wild dingos" and more "You, hip-hop dancer, did an amazing job learning ballet in three hours."

I enjoy that there are no gross stereotypes beyond what would normally come in the dance world. For once, we are not subjected to the conniving black diva, the unscrupulous homo, the vain cheerleader, America's sweetheart-who-is-actually-a-bitch or any of the other reality TV archetypes producers insist on jamming down audience's throats.

What's more, unlike American Idol, I don't think a winner would have to hide their sexuality or past as an exotic dancer.

No, SYTYCD is pure talent, what the American dream is supposed to be: success based on merit, not fame based on contestants' willingness to humiliate themselves.

So call me a sucker, call me a pawn, but I'm watching, and I love it.

Swayze, Hines and John Travolta
So You Think You Can Dance is not so revolta
Beals, and Kain and Newton-John
Wednesdays and Thursdays with my TV on.

Elaine Corden is a Vancouver-based writer. She writes the Trifective blog.

In related Tyee stories, Elaine Corden wrote about Canada's Next Top Mishap, Shannon Rupp asked if TV really is evil, and Rupp also wrote about how soap operas are one of the best places to find good new music on TV.  [Tyee]

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