22 mayo 2008

New season of So You Think You Can Dance? I know, I hate myself. But I have to say, anything that brings dance into the American consciousness as a form of art and culture is a good thing. For a long time dance seemed to have kind of disappeared, but now it's everywhere. Dancing with the Stars, America's Best Dance Crew, et al. DWTS I could never really get into (matter of fact, when The Metronome changed to the Cheryl Burke Studio I had to ask who she was), for two reasons. First, from what I understand it's ballroom based and that's just not my thing. But more significantly, I just didn't really see the appeal of watching non-dancers dancing.

Disclaimer: Not to dis non-professionals/aficionados of dance, who I can--and do--enjoy watching when it is done with great feeling, spontaneity and honesty. The nature of this show, however, deals with choreographed dance, which I think is intended as a visual art and exists primarily for the outside viewer, thereby necessitating, among other things, a strong technique and familiarity with the form to be effective.

SYTYCD, in contrast, actually has some really talented dancers from different disciplines. That, however, doesn't mean they can do everything well. B-boys struggle with quick step. Ballerinas struggle with krumping. This, I suppose, is part of the fun of watching. I guess it's a kind of schadenfreude in watching someone so talented in one aspect have difficulty doing something else. Personally, I don't enjoy watching when someone is clearly having a hard time, because I don't like to see their personal discomfort nor the awkwardness of the presentation. But it is great when you can see a dancer grow as the show progresses.

(Side note: we see this in tango all the time. People coming from other dances who begin tango and have the hardest time making it work. There is just something so utterly different about this dance, so contradictory to the familiar, so much the opposite of how things are supposed to be done. Tango is really the black sheep of partner dancing. Yet such a dance luminary as Martha Graham considered it the most beautiful dance in the world. Perhaps, in part, because it made its own rules?)

Watching the auditions can be a painful process. It's great when you see the ones who are really good, but I'm not a big fan of the segments where they show the rejects. I'm neither interested in watching the dance--or "dance" as the case may be--nor of watching the judges cut the performers down. One thing, it is pretty illuminating to see how common it is that lesser dancers are completely unaware of their caliber of dance. These people who claim to have studied so hard, that they have been admired so much, that they have had so much success elsewhere. And when they get the 86, how the judges don't know anything, how they were being unfairly maligned, yadda yadda.

Ego is a funny thing. Amazing how blinding it can be, how ultimately confining and isolating. And yet, paradoxically, it must be present to advance in skill and expression.

Much as I hate to watch the rejections, in a way I suppose it's a really positive thing. For one thing, art has to have standards. Otherwise, anything can pass for art. While I appreciate the diplomacy and open-mindedness of such a perception, I think I prefer to categorize art as something special, something exemplary and inspiring. And as certain prospective contestants in the show can attest, it was the rejection they received earlier that helped them to focus their attention in a way that helped their dance grow and mature.

I suppose it can be fun and a bit cathartic to imagine a similar process for certain people in the tango community, that certain problematic dancers could be called out and have their issues bluntly spelled out to them. Upon reflection, I think this would ultimately go against one of my fundamental perceptions about tango which is that it is, and should be, unique from person to person and that as long as it is communicable it is valid. The only tango that I truly disapprove of is one that is disruptive and/or dangerous, which is far more common than it should be. (Nuit's recent post is one particularly extreme and shameful example of this.)

One thing I can say that I *hate* about the show, but that I also have a car wreck fascination with, is when they put together an "Argentine Tango." On the occasion I've seen this the choreographer has been a supposed expert on latin dances, which conveniently included tango. And of course it is the most clichéd, mannered, phony conception you could possibly imagine. I can't blame the dancers because they have to do what they are given, and chances are they don't know any better. I do have a beef with the choreographer, though, for passing himself off as an authority on something he apparently doesn't know shit about. Of course I am coming from a very biased position, but I believe that Argentine Tango (and it's a shame I have to use the modifier) is probably the most misunderstood dance in the world, and to see it presented so fraudulently on such a visible stage makes my skin squirm. But I guess if people see it and like it, it has value. I'm cool with that, I guess. And we cognoscenti know what the good stuff--the real stuff--is ;P.


Frances R said...

At the beginning of every season of SYTYCD I say one prayer -- please, pretty please! No More Bad Argentine Tango! Spare us this time around.
So far, in vain :)

Malevito said...

Hi frances, how are you?

Yeah, I know, isn't it awful? I feel like the opera singer in The Naked Gun, tied down and forced to watch Frank Drebin massacre the national anthem in his name.

Then when it's over the judges make those comments... using words like HOT! and SEXY! and things along those lines. Ugh.

I guess I shouldn't take it so personally, but it bugs me to know that when I tell people outside of the dance about tango, most likely they are thinking about what they saw here, or in ballroom, or in True Lies or Moulin Rouge.

Oh well, I suppose I should take some pleasure in feeling like a part of a relatively small group who knows about the authentic form.

Malevito said...

BTW, here is the youtube clip from the movie:


Alex said...

Great post...

The Shmoopies said...

I had no idea you were a SYTYCD watcher! Love, love this show... and, of course, I always think of you when the "tango" portions come up and wonder what you would think. In fact, almost every time I see tango it reminds me of you! :)


La Nuit Blanche said...

i just saw a youtube clip of an "argentine tango" from that show.

i will never, ever, do that again. and especially not before lunch.


Malevito said...

Hey guys, how are you?

Alex: Thanks!

Shmoopies: Ah, you see, this is a good example of wondering what my non-tango friends think of as tango. I remember showing another friend a clip of Argentine tango and he couldn't see the difference from ballroom or what he'd seen in movies. But I remember watching Scent of a Woman for the first time and being fascinated by the dance scene, and that scene was actually one of the biggest reasons why I chose tango. Now when I watch that scene it is awkward at best, although I will say that it does have an improvisatory quality that is charming and I think it's this quality more than the movement that drew me in when I didn't know anything else.

Nuit: You know, upon reflection I think that the way they dance "Argentine Tango" on SYTYCD is a good example of why none of DWTS appeals to me. There is never anyone who is proficient in tango on SYTYCD, so basically what you have are beginners putting on a performance (put together by a hack, no less). I'd suggest, if you're going to watch that show, to stick with the solo performances (the dancers doing what they know best) or maybe the dances that are more familiar to our culture (esp. hip-hop).