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!*

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!

Move Over Child Beauty Pageants: Another Summer of Dance (on TV)

Last year I proclaimed my love for the summer of dance-- and it's true again this year! It's also been a summer full of "morning" sickness for me, which means less time to write and more time prostrate in bed trying not to move. But one of the perks of being in bed so much is watching various TV shows and movies, which explains how I've been able to watch all these shows and movies... Seems like dance is really taking over our screens. Even Alana Thompson, aka Honey Boo Boo, has moved on from pageants to dancing (as seen on a recent episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, though thankfully NOT the scratch and sniff one...).

At this point I feel like Lifetime's Dance Moms bring much more crazy than Toddlers & Tiaras. I swear, the show has become so ridiculous (especially with Candy Apples nonsense) that if I didn't feel like I *had* to watch it for my work, I wouldn't (I know I'll feel the same way when Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition returns in the fall). You have to assume these moms are under strict contracts, getting insane amounts of money, or it's all scripted for them to allow their children to be in these situations.

So I didn't have high hopes for TLC's contribution to kids and dance, Dance Kids ATL. But, actually I was pleasantly surprised! Sure, there was some suggested momma drama, but I liked that the focus was more on families and on the kids (as the name implies). The style of the coach/choreagrapher reminded me more of the failed Dance Moms Miami and less of Abby Lee Miller. I also appreciated that it showed competitive hip hop (both in a cypher and in a competition-- though I'd love to see the kids at an actual hip hop competition and not just at a general dance competition) and a dance demographic not always recognized as serious in its own right by those who are "trained." This shows how the kids do learn counts, stretching, etc. I hope this gets picked up as a full series; I much prefer it to TLC's closest version, Cheer Perfection.

My other favorite reality dance series, Breaking Pointe, returned and it's interesting to get the updates on those featured last year-- especially the men with injuries. However, I had read that this season would have less personal drama, and that is definitely NOT the case thus far. So, please, more dancing and explanations of how companies work and less romantic entanglements! (FYI- that article I linked to is also interesting for the discussion of how being miked impacted friendships and how not all dancers in the company were happy to participate-- though I imagine the show has done wonders for Ballet West's ticket sales.)

During the worst of my sickness I rejoined Netflix and got to watch a ballet documentary that was similar in some ways to what Breaking Pointe does. The 2006 documentary Ballerina, about the Vaganova Ballet Academy and the company that performs at the Mariinsky was fascinating, showing different stages of a dancer's career-- and how much harsher teaching is in Russia! The women are absolutely beautiful in every way, so it's worth it for the clips of their practices and performances. It was strange to see the 10-year-old girls try-out for the Academy topless (surely cringe-worthy for a Western viewer), but interesting nonetheless. Here's the trailer:

(Of course I am DYING to get my hands on episodes of Australia's fictional version of their own national ballet academy, Dance Academy Season 3. If you love dance, you will become ADDICTED to this great series, and warning you will cry a LOT in Season 2!)

With all this dance on TV I still watch the old stalwart of So You Think You Can Dance, though not as obsessively as in other summers. My favorite guy is Tucker Knox (can't figure out why the judges don't like him more, but they also didn't like Danny Tidwell, one of my all-time faves, so...). Tucker Knox, SYTYCD

My fave girl is Amy Yakima (a fellow Michigander, it turns out!):

Amy Yakima, SYTYCD

It's been fun watching for SYTYCD alums Allison Holker and Courtney Galliano on VH1's new show, Hit the Floor, this summer too. Here's an interesting interview with them. Sadly, we lost another dance-based scripted show this summer, as ABC Family's Bunhead's was just canceled (and I love me some Sutton Foster).

Despite that cancellation, the world of dance on TV has rarely looked brighter-- despite the upcoming Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition, of course.

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?