The Summer of Dance (on TV)

If last summer was The Summer of the Stage Mothers, this summer is The Summer of Dance (although if you watched Oxygen's reality show The Next Big Thing about Trapper Felides, a famous children's performance coach in NYC, you would know the stage moms are still lingering-- as are the Dance Moms on Lifetime). Actually since 2005 I've associated the summer with dance. Why? That's when So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) premiered.  While some might say Dancing with the Stars is responsible for the revival of dance on television if you look at the dance styles featured on the show I think it's thanks to SYTYCD.

While SYTYCD is the original and will always hold a special place in my heart, lately I've found it a bit predictable (not unlike its sister show American Idol).  In a sure sign of SYTYCD's success, one of its runners-up, Travis Wall (Season 2), now has his own show (although I feel like the show really jumped the shark last week when Nigel accused one of the choreographers of being mean like Abby Lee Miller and they then cut to a shot of her in the audience).  Like The Next Big Thing, All the Right Moves airs on Oxygen starting July 31.  Nick Lazzarini, the first winner of SYTYCD, also is featured on the show and I can't wait to see some of my favorite dancers onscreen again.

This summer I discovered some new favorite dancers thanks to The CW's Breaking Pointe (a real-life version of Center Stage [for the true pop culture fans out there, I laugh every time "Jody Sawyer and her bad feet" show up on my screen in Pretty Little Liars, my other guilty pleasure of the summer]), a docu-reality series about a set of dancers in Salt Lake City's ballet company Ballet West. I especially loved Beckanne Sisk; she also apparently appears in the dance documentary of the summer, First Position, which I sadly have not yet been able to see because of the Little Man, but I can't wait to see it! I mean, who wouldn't love these feet?

I found this article from Dance Magazine on Ballet West's decision to allow cameras in to be quite interesting-- and a commentary on the need for the arts today to find innovative sources of audience members and money in today's constrained environment.

While I love that I get to see Broadway star Sutton Foster on my TV screen once a week thanks to the new ABC Family Show Bunheads (not at all related to the book Bunheads by Sophie Flack I reviewed a few months ago) it's clear that TV and its money is still a draw even for the biggest stars of the Great White Way.  The show itself is a bit farcical, but I've enjoyed seeing the likes of Gary Janetti (who can forget the Les Mis flashmob he gifted his boyfriend Brad Goreski?!) and some talented young dancers/actresses. I only wish they would let Sutton do THIS more often:

Finally, that old standby TLC has been getting in on the dance action.  Last month they aired a new special on Irish dancing (not the fun documentary, Jig, I reviewed last fall), which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube by following this link.  [The New York Times Magazine got in on the act too last month, with this provocative spread on Irish dancers.] At their fall upfronts TLC announced they are filming their own reality show based on competitive Irish dance in the US.  And they're trying out a competitive kiddie cheer show.  Last week they aired Cheer Perfection starring the Dunlaps, who have been on Toddlers & Tiaras. Another crossover network star a la Honey Boo Boo Child, apparently. TLC doesn't have to pay for much show development when their shows just spin-off more and more interesting series... By the way, looks like these cheer moms in Arkansas give the Pittsburgh dance moms a run for their money in the crazy race, though they don't seem to approach the levels of the Texas cheerleader murdering mom. Yet.

While it's been my summer of dance thus far in less than two weeks most of my attention will be focused on Olympic sports. I'm especially excited about gymnastics, as you might expect-- though I wish that some of the gymnasts would learn some better dance skills.  What has been your favorite dance show of the summer and which Olympic event/athlete are you most looking forward to watching?

Shrinking and Pinking: It's All Greek to Me

It's a good time to be a female athlete. As the NCAA women's basketball tournament winds down, we are left with the stories and legacies of serious athletic stars like Elena Delle Donne (with her interesting and brave back story) and Stanford's Ogwumike sisters. Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins has emerged as a star who transcends the impressive boundaries of her sport.

Just as basketball concludes Olympic athletes in various fields gear up. For the first time ever it appears that every nation participating in the 2012 Games will send at least one female athlete to London. That includes Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar. This is a significant development to be celebrated-- as is the fact that certain sports are loosening restrictions on female athletic attire.  To the applause (and, I suppose, disappointment to some) women's beach volleyball players no longer have to compete in bikinis. Given how much grief we give beauty pageants for the swimsuit portion of the competition, it's amazing this rule change took so long and hasn't previously met with more resistance.

Just because women won't be playing in bikinis and skirts doesn't mean that they are any less tough-- or less girly for that matter. I absolutely loved this article on 22-year-old weight lifter Holley Mangold. Mangold, a 374-pound weightlifter (and brother to NFL star Nick Mangold), just qualified to represent the US at the Olympics this summer. While at the Trials earlier this month she rocked a "girly" hair-do and painted her nails using OPI color "It's All Greek to Me."

Given her Olympic-sized goal this seems a most appropriate choice. Holley, who describes herself as "extremely manly," says she can also be girly, which she chooses to demonstrate through small fashion choices like her hairstyle and nails (not dissimilar to Skylar Diggins' approach to her hair).

Female athletes clearly have some sartorial flexibility to demonstrate a range of femininities. But it seems that they may also have more flexibility to demonstrate a range of athletic skills as well.  This article on superstar two-sport athlete Melanie Baskind-- who plays on and co-captains both the varsity lacrosse and soccer teams at Harvard-- mentions that: "There may be a nascent drift at Harvard toward two-letter women. Four of Baskind’s lacrosse teammates also play field hockey, and a soccer cohort swims for the water-polo squad. Ivy League rules, which limit practices and off-season play days, make dual citizenship more manageable."  This at a time when two-letter men are becoming less common.  Is this a good or a bad thing for women? The cross-training would seem to be helpful in preventing burn-out in a particular sport (note that Elena Delle Donne, mentioned above, briefly gave up basketball to play college volleyball-- though never at the same time), along with injuries.  Or perhaps as more and more female athletes rise up through the ranks two-sport collegiate females will go the way of two-sport collegiate males?

One school where collegiate female athletes haven't made a big enough dent is Texas A&M. Would you believe that they have never had a female cheerleader?  It's true-- though their definition of cheerleader is a bit different. "Yell leaders" are all men who cheer from the sidelines (and, yes, Rick Perry was one as an undergraduate). They are voted on by the student body, so junior Samantha Ketcham waged a very public, vocal campaign, which received a lot of press.  Despite her loud voice, she didn't win. Perhaps next year there will be even more candidates... rocking some OPI red nail polish.

Shrinking and Pinking: Cheering on female athletic heroes

During this time of year, we know that heroes are among us and "ordinary" people do extraordinary things (like "layaway angels"). Sports figures tend to be inspiring heroes to many throughout the hero, whether that adoration is deserved or not. One female athlete who definitely does deserve to be called a hero-- for her performance both on and off the athletic stage-- is world champion sk- jumper Lindsey Van.  As I wrote about back in April, Van donated bone marrow to a man she has never met. When asked recently to donate again, to the same man, Van didn't hesitate (even as the donation process impacted her training for the World Cup season).

Van's long-held supremacy in ski-jumping may be coming to a close, as an up-and-coming American ten years her junior just won the first women's World Cup ski-jumping event. Sarah Hendrickson, at only 17, also qualifies as a Pint-Sized Phenom.

It will be exciting to watch both Van and Hendrickson battle it out in the years leading up to 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the first year women's ski-jumping will be included in the Olympics (Van has previously sued to get it included, so I hope she will be able to compete in a few years)!

Another exciting teen phenom is Kelly Cobb, a freshman soccer player at Duke. Cobb has emerged as a soccer star, albeit from an unlikely place: Alaska.  A recent profile in The New York Times included some great tidbits-- like the horrible sunburn she got in NC because she's not used to playing outside, the time a moose interrupted her team's soccer game by standing in front of the goal, and an encounter with a black bear during an icy run.  I have a feeling we'll be hearing much more from Cobb in the next decade or so.

While we all might cheer Cobb, Hendrickson, and Van from our couches, another group of women (some of whom definitely qualify as athletes) often cheer from the sidelines. Cheerleaders remain popular companions to male team sports like basketball and football.  With the rise of competitive cheer many are considered athletes in their own rights.  And now an organization wants to show you that they are brainy as well. "Science cheerleaders" are a group of current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who also hold science degrees and/or jobs in science.  Check out their website to see how they promote science education through sports and cheer. I think it sounds like a neat organization that can positively impact young girls in a number of ways.

As cheerleading continues to evolve in interesting ways it's important to remember that barriers to participation by sex still exist in cheer, and in other sports.  A cheer team in Michigan was recently disqualified from a statewide competition for having male cheerleaders. In this case having boys on the team isn't allowed, even though there isn't an option for males who want to participate.   This is the opposite of how things work in Massachusetts (funny enough, MA is now my home state, though MI is where I grew up), as I've written about before. Boys are allowed to play on girls' field hockey teams and swim teams, which is sometimes met with resistance.

What do you think? Should girls be able to play on boys' teams (as often happens in wrestling, for example), and vice versa, when similar opportunities aren't available for both sexes?