Another Summer of Dance on TV (the Fall, too!)

For most of my life summer has been associated with dance-- from dance competitions when I was younger, to So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) on TV beginning in my mid-20s, and on this blog. This past summer it felt to me like dance was everywhere on TV, not unlike the summer of 2014 when there were also six dance shows on my DVR.

  1. SYTYCD- Just like in 2014, the winner (Lex Ishimoto) was pretty much a foregone conclusion from his first audition, but this was a really lovely season to watch. Several of the girls were great and the group numbers (especially with the All Stars) were very strong. This middle-aged lady, oddly, became all shippy about the relationship between Taylor and Lex as well...
  2. World of Dance- A new addition to dance shows this year and I doubt it will come back. The convoluted structure resulted in an unsatisfactory result (I thought). There were many SYTYCD crossovers, from dancers to competitors, but there was a link between Taylor (pictured above) and my favorite, Eva Igo. Both attend the same dance studio- Larkin! Must be something in that Minnesota water.
  3. Dance Moms- Notice that none of these top dancers have ever been on any iteration of Dance Moms. I've written before that I feel obligated to watch this show, but honestly the formula and the yelling had gotten so bad that I started fast forwarding a lot of it. Not true this season (Season *7*, how is that even possible?!). With Abby Lee Miller's legal troubles the whole format and show have been transformed, and for the better. The new teachers/choreographers make things interesting and t's fascinating to see these dancers take on new styles. And it must be said that I have loved Laurie Ann Gibson since Making the Band 3, so I love seeing some boom kack on my screen again.
  4. Bring It- Remember what I said about Dance Moms getting so formulaic I fast forwarded a lot? Well, I can now say that's how I feel about this other dance series on Lifetime. Which is a shame, because it had been more interesting in the past. (Wish Hit the Floor came back this summer, but I can hope soon!)
  5. So Sharp- This was basically my favorite show of the summer. The "girls" are older (all of them are in college, dancing as a Lousiville Ladybird). The coach, Todd Sharp, is clearly a fascinating character. The built-in dramatic arc of a national championship (the only competition we saw thankfully) and college worked well, and seeing so much practice put the attention on dancing and relationships. This show regularly made me laugh out loud (like, after seeing him do a very girly dance routine, Todd declares that anyone who sees him dancing should, "Consider yourself blessed."). He takes himself seriously, but with a wink and a nod. of course there is also some other dance show crossover, as there must be. Jill Vertes, mother to mom Kendall on Dance Moms, is also mom to Ryleigh on So Sharp (another older daughter also danced for Louisville). I wonder if we will see Kendall on this team in a few years? It would be good sign for her to go to college considering all the homeschooling the Dance Moms girls do now...
  6. Making the Team: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders- I'm late to this bandwagon, but I am all in now. I watched Season 11 on my iPad and was fascinated for so many reasons (more on that another time). This current season has quickly become one of my must-watch shows. The whole cult of the Cowboys, and this team, is compelling to watch. With some many contestants it's hard to keep track of everyone (but I do get bummed when a multi-season competitor gets cut), and I now sense there is *so much* behind the scenes drama that I kind of desperately want more of (examples: Holly P. leaving the team [the redhead pictured below] and an audition favorite who was spotlighted, who danced for Louisiana and had dark hair that "needed a makeover", just not at training camp and no mention of her ever again). The multi-generational ties is also really interesting as well...* I wonder what dance shows the summer of 2018 will bring!*

Jump! Bigger than the ropes

I can now say that thanks to a Lifetime reality show something I wrote is a little bit less true. The four-episode Jump! about a double dutch team in New Jersey showed me that jump-roping has more to do with teamwork than I previously thought. Jump-350x228

In Chapter 1 of Playing to Win I detail the historical evolution of competitive children's activities. I write, "By the 1960s more adults had become involved in these organizations, especially parents. Parents and kids spent time together at practices for sports that were part of a national structure: Biddy basketball, Pee Wee hockey, and Pop Warner football. Even nonteam sports were growing and developing their own formal, national-level organizations run by adults. For example, Double Dutch jump-roping started on playgrounds in the 1930s; in 1975 the American Double Dutch League was formed to set formal rules and sponsor competitions."

While the facts are true (many of which I took from Howard Chudacoff's 2007 book Children at Play: An American History, in Chapter 5), I learned by watching the Floyd Little team compete that double dutch is actually an "extreme sport for teamwork." That's because the turners and jumpers have to work together and communicate in order to succeed. That communication occurs not just in terms of their bodies, but often their language as they call out commands and counts to one another.

I learned a bit about double dutch by watching Jump!, but I was also left with many questions.

In many ways Jump! is similar to Bring It! (though I still have love for the show, it got very stale and formulaic this past season). Beyond the obvious-- that both activities are portrayed as being primarily made up of African-American girls who sport t-shirts with unique nicknames on them-- the series showcase a style of athletic dance that many outside of the subcultures don't know much about. As I wrote that I wasn't sure about "technique" in majorette dance, I don't know much about double dutch technique beyond the obvious "Don't step on the rope!" Because double dutch is difficult I would have loved to learn how both speed and tricks are taught, especially the timing. How much cardio do the jumpers do to prepare for two minutes of speed rounds? We primarily saw two categories of competition on the show, but are there others? And what about team sizes? Much more to mine here beyond the four episodes and the inherent drama of moms, daughters, coaches, and competition.

Some other observations:

*Teams wear uniforms for competitions, but no sparkles, which seems deliberate. Avoiding a non-athletic label? (Note that in NYC double dutch is considered a varsity sport) Given that I was surprised there isn't an accepted "double dutch" shoe or sneaker. How do competitors decide what shoes they like best? Learn to tie knots in their shoes that they are sure won't come out while jumping?

*Loved that they showed a girl (and her mom) wearing hijabs. Unlike many other girls' activities the lack of uniformity in dress and appearance may make this a more welcoming option? On a similar note, how much thought goes into hair styles when considering jumping; are braids heavier, no big hair, etc.?!

*As populations have migrated out of urban settings, has double dutch (originally a street game so strongly associated with cities) also migrated? We only saw urban teams on the show; do they dominate or is there an inequality we weren't shown?

*If Lifetime picks up this series for a second season they will have lots of drama to mine with Coach Quaniee daughter being on the team, and being one of the best. The old rivalries angle was also interesting. I assume the majority of coaches were themselves competitive jumpers in the day? If so, how many turners go on to coach?

*I wonder if Coaches Quaniee and Layla got their public school teaching jobs back?

This is the most I have seen since Disney made a 2007 movie called Jump In! starring Keke Palmer and Corbin Bleu. I'm wondering if it will spark a revival, especially given the potential health benefits. The combination of rhythm, dance, athleticism, artistic expression, teamwork yet individual distinction, and competition make it an appealing activity for both kids and adults interested in childhood well-being, including doctors, teachers and parents.

I for one would jump at the opportunity (yes, pun intended) to learn more about this world and hope someone can answer some of my questions!

Catching Up on TV, Part 2: The Summer of Dance

Last week I looked at stage moms on TV this summer, this week it's specifically the DANCE stage moms, some of the worst offenders on TV no doubt. It was interesting to look back over the past two summers and see what's changed and what is the same in the world of dance on TV. Sadly Bunheads and Breaking Pointe are gone and Dance Kids ATL didn't return. With SIX dance shows airing during the Summer of 2014 though, dance seems more popular than ever, especially over the summer.

1) The mainstay is of course So You Think You Can Dance, aka SYTYCD, or simply "So You Think." Back on June 29th I tweeted that Ricky Ubeda would win Season 11 and I was right. I mean...


Despite the foregone conclusion I enjoyed this season. I like the two hours per week because it makes it all seem like less of a commitment. I also enjoyed all the guest judges this season (especially Misty Copeland, and even Tara Lipinski who for the rest of my life I will never forgive for Nagano and Michelle Kwan!). Am curious for how many more seasons they can last though. If you notice almost all the top contenders are 18 or 19-years-old. They seem to have exhausted the crop of "older" dancers. It's really freaky to hear that people like Ricky have been dreaming of competing on the show since they were EIGHT. Time sure flies when you are older.

I found it interesting that the show has come so full circle that one of Ricky's teachers, Victor, was on SYTYCD as a contestant. I loved his line that Ricky was sent to them from the dance gods. Of course, Victor's studio was the subject of the unsuccessful Dance Moms Miami spin-off. Further proof how incestuous these worlds are...

2) Dance Moms- Oh, wait, I have more proof! Lucas Triana who was on Dance Moms Miami is part of the Candy Apples Team, where his mom still causes trouble. I find the show, which finishes up tonight, so disturbing at this point I'm not sure what else I can say. I will add that the new DwTS link (Abby appearing in the spring and Maddie last month with Allison Holker from STYYCD) is even more proof of the small world of dance on TV. Allison put Maddie to shame during Chandelier, but I was disturbed by Allison's weight.

3) Abby's Studio Rescue- On that note, I simply can't BELIEVE Abby got not one, but TWO spin-offs. Is she really that popular? Like Dance Moms this is highly scripted. Only a few episodes aired over the summer, then the show appeared to be canceled, now a few more aired. The best thing I can say is that the show portrays her in a slightly more positive light. Abby does know to teach her students terminology and I like that she gives them exams. It also exposes the wide range of studios in the US, that ANYONE (dance mom, "teacher," former dancer) can open one, and should make the case for more regulation. Needless to say, product placement awkward.

4) Raising Asia- If you can believe it, yet another spin-off of a spin-off from Dance Moms. Asia Monet Ray was on the first season of Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition. She then appeared on Dance Moms, then she got her own show on Lifetime. I found this to be the most interesting dance show because it captures and lays bare so many of the issues with these shows. It shows the sacrifice, the homeschooling, the deprivation the children cry about (friends, family time, even food). Kristie, the mom, seems to think she can tell the cameras when to stop rolling and that she can try to walk off set EVERY episode. It's just not true, as her husband tries to explain to her. The producers must have LOVED it every time she did it. Kristie gets mad at her daughters (the dynamic with the youngest is so, so sad), the producers, her husband, her sister, her mom-- she would get mad at her friends to I am sure if she had any time to see them. And that raises the question: What is the end game here? Raising Asia shows that dancing might help get you attention, but it likely won't make you FAMOUS. You will always be in the back. If you only want to do dance then you must choreograph (like Anthony Burrell who has now done Dance Moms, Abby's Ultimate, AND Raising Asia) or join a professional company or show. Asia's parents want her to be a pop star, a mini-Beyonce, so singing must come. But Beyonce likely wouldn't have done a reality show. The money and exposure aren't worth it if you are a hack later because of it. Nick or Disney could come, but who knows. This raises the question of the end goal for someone like Maddie on Dance Moms who doesn't go to school and gets dance jobs, but not a PROJECT. She'll never join Cedar Lake-- what is her end game? So much time and money invested and education missed in ways you can't even say for many sports, which can lead to college opportunities. I guess it is all the fame game? In any case, Asia and her parents come off as brats. Someone please rescue Bella Blu.

5) Bring It!- I've written before about how much I like the message of this show. But, oh, the "technique" or lack thereof. Dianna is now calling this "majorette dance," and says it is growing. It is, but it shouldn't at the expense of kids' bodies. Whenever I see the bare feet on gym or concrete floors, I cringe! One of the coaches from another team even admitted he has absolutely no dance background. Ugh! And, yet, I like this show. It's a different demographic, it's warm (I loved when Dianna let Sunjai go to her prom and didn't give her an awful time about it). They are "sexing" it up a bit with the Baby Dancing Dolls and Momma Dancing Dolls routines for TV, but that's ok. Even with poor technique I'd rather a tough and loving teacher for my kids than a tyrant Abby.

6) Hit the Floor- The only officially scripted show of the bunch. It's a total soap, there is lots of sex, but there is also lots of good dancing. Of course the stars aren't the best dancers on the team (though Ahsha is ok, her acting isn't great so I can't quite figure out how such a wooden actress got the lead, whereas Jelena's face and body explain it all), and in more incestuousness, Allison Holker also appears here (along with Courtney Galliano, another SYTYCD alum).

Overall Asia, Allison, and Anthony tie for three dance shows apiece-- but I give the win to Holker for doing a scripted show as well.

I wonder what dance shows will return next summer, and what new ones will come along in the meantime!

Teaching for a LIFETIME: My thoughts on Dance Moms, Bring It!, and Kim of Queens

Welcome to the world of Anti-Abby Lee Millers... Ironically brought to you by the network that made her famous, Lifetime. Building off the success (or infamy) of Dance Moms (a show I've written about quite a bit), the network debuted two new series this year: Kim of Queens and Bring It! Given the descent of Dance Moms into madness (it's one of the few "reality" shows where I believe some of the cast members truly hate one another, as evidenced by the arrest of Kelly Hyland), I guess it makes sense that someone had to be waiting in the wings and the network doesn't want to come off like Bravo, only creating drama-filled shows to make people famous. Dance Moms has become so divorced from reality with parents engaging in such egregious behavior that you have to think their contracts are so lucrative/ironclad that it's not worth stopping, or the only way to get off the show is to commit assault. In any case, I can't believe the show has made the players into stars,  as opposed to the negative backlash caused by Toddlers & Tiaras for many families. I mean, they now show the Dance moms (even relatively sane Holly!) painting on abs and arm muscles on their girls-- how is this any different from spray tans? I've asked this before because there are so many similarities between dance competitions and child beauty pageants for young girls, but so many more do dance that by sheer numbers it's not as marginalized as kiddie pageants. On top of the musculature-enhancing make-up, this year/season the girls often wear costumes with enhanced bust (though some are hitting puberty), which is also uncomfortable to watch at times. Also, the fact that sisters Maddie and Mackenzie (oh, excuse me, Mack Z!) are now homeschooled shows how far off the priorities have become and they are truly not kids living a competitive life, but performers 24/7. Despite all this drama, the show has managed to become boring because it's so formulaic. I for one would never want to go to a competition where the show is filming (for fear of rigging, delays, privacy issues, etc.); although I will admit that the show did give me a glimpse of one of my dance crushes, Blake McGrath, even if he did take a presumably large paycheck to work for Crazy Cathy, so I'm grateful for that

When Kim of Queens started I was initially a bit turned off-- and assumed they were looking to create a new Abby (and to fill the void creating by the cancelled Toddlers & Tiaras). With Kim Gravel portraying herself as country I thought she was trying to horn in on the Honey Boo Boo crowd as well. If that angle drew viewers initially though, it wasn't what made them (or me) stay because despite having contrived story lines and bring a bit silly at times, it became extremely clear that Coach Kim loves all her Pageant Place girls and truly wants the best for them. Her big heart (and voice and personality) and tears made for compelling viewing and her emphasis on growth, loss, and the long-term goal/win as opposed to the short-term win/title/crown was a refreshing message.  I of course know the show was staged-- especially so many of the gags with her own family-- and I disliked the way Kin of Queens brought in new girls all the time because the recruits didn't stick around often and it created extra drama when the natural story was more interesting. But overall it was a nice message, and for that reason the series hasn't been as big of a hit. I know Kim isn't always PC, but her comment about clogging being "tapping with hooves," made me laugh. Her aversion to clogging (even trying to transform it into Irish dance) is one example of her outsize personality and wackiness coming from a place of helpfulness and not pure egotism.


Dianna Williams of Lifetime's other new series, which has done well enough to warrant to additional episodes at the end of its run, including a sit-down reunion special, is similar. She is much tougher and even less diplomatic than Kim Gravel, but her students, the Dancing Dolls, face even bigger challenges (the fact that one of the girls' moms became a grandmother at 28 gives you a sense of the challenges in this community). I love that Dianna says she is preparing her "girls" for life and trying to teach them life lessons, which as you know I believe is possible through competitive activities and competitive dance, if done in a healthy way. Bring It! features a hop hop majorette team, which is a style of dance associated with the African-American community and affiliated with many Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The producers often defined dance terms and moves, which even differ from more "traditional" dance. At times I thought talk of "technique" was a bit of a stretch but chalked it up to a different style; but in the finale when a dance team aficionado who was judging complained about the lack of pointed toes I realized the Dancing Dolls were a bit lacking. That said, it was interesting to learn about a new type of dance and all the different categories of competition. The "stand battle" was the biggest component, but there were field dances, captain's dances, burlesque, character, etc. I am sure it is much more complicated than the show let on even so I'd love an insider's perspective! The other refreshing thing about the show was that the body was portrayed in a much less self-conscious way. Compared to the thin Dance Moms girls who paint on muscles, the Bring It! girls embrace their bodies whatever their size and dance with energy and enthusiasm as well (note that this is well known to be more common in the African-American community and black girls/women have fewer incidences of eating disorders and body image problems). I didn't always understand the costume selections, but there is clearly a tradition there. However, my biggest pet peeve was the ripped fishnet stockings and the dance tights showing over the top of the costume pants. That said, the fact many of the girls had to wear "nude" stockings for a different skin tone shows that dance companies should make colors in a wider variety of shades.

While Dance Moms is now so popular it is basically never on hiatus-- constantly doing clips specials and now creating a second team, and a THIRD series starring Abby!-- I'll be tuning in to the shows that feature more positive performance coaches with a more realistic and valuable message. Be sure to check them out, especially if you don't like Dance Moms!