I used to watch a lot of reality TV back in the day, but lately I have culled many of shows from the roster. Gone are most of the Food Network shows, Project Runway (yes, I am still that salty about Jeffrey Sebelia), Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother, The Voice, and even The Amazing Race unless there is a compelling All-Star season.
What remains are just five shows: Two Real Housewives franchises (OC and NYC), MTV’s The Challenge, Top Chef, and the mother of them all: So You Think You Can Dance.
I’ve written before about my love of dancing, so this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone who knows me. This show isn’t just great because I like dancing though. It is one of those reality TV shows that is very rarely about the production and the BS and the politics. These are people who have legitimately trained their entire lives for this opportunity and the hard work comes through as they perform an array of exceptionally difficult routines.
Each week, I tend to have one number I obsess over, watching numerous times, marveling at the choreography and the dancers’ artistry, be it bringing it hard in a hip hop number or remaining gleefully chipper during a nonstop Bollywood routine. In the past, I’ve tended to post them on FB or Twitter, but for my non-dancer friends, they may not understand just how hard something is or why it is so impressive.
Just the other day, I was talking with my friend who is also a fan of the show about one of the contestants, Valerie. First of all, this girl is the stinking cutest thing you’ve ever seen and her face is just magnetic when she performs. Her “genre” (each of the dancers gets defined by their specialty) is tap, which she excels at. Thing is though, while she is a great performer, technically she is most certainly the weakest in the bunch when it comes to the other genres. This isn’t surprising. The skill set to be a good tapper does not easily translate into other types of dancing. You carry your weight in a very unique way, transitioning it up and down depending on the steps. You keep more weight in your feet than you do in genres like ballet. To excel at tap, you also have to remain relatively loose and fluid in order to make sure your feet make all the correct sounds. In tap, you can hear when people are wrong.
When I explained to my friend that Valerie lacks the sharpness of the other competitors, she was surprised. I told her to watch more closely next time and see that her arms are never quite in the right place, she rarely knows what to do with her fingers, and moving at the torso, something relatively unfamiliar to tappers, proves difficult for her.
She was shocked, but interested, so I thought I would try something new with my SYTYCD obsession and explain why I get obsessed with these routines and point out things non-dance people might not notice. For example, this week, my favorite girl competitor Carly nearly broke her leg and no one spoke a word about it.
The video above is a mini group number from last week choreographed by Travis Wall, who is normally a contemporary choreographer, but pulls off an incredibly staged jazz piece here. First, just watch it through and take in how he takes advantage of the entire stage with the movements, plus how he choreographs with the camera in mind.
On the second time through, I want you to pay very close attention starting at the 0:56 minute mark. The girl being hoisted in the air is Carly. First off, can I just point off how much trust you have to have in these people to do what she is doing? When you do a lift like that, all of your tension is from the knee down because that is the part of your body being held by the lifters. She is letting her knees go to jelly and just has faith they will push her back up and not drop her.
Okay, as they are coming out of that trick, keep your eye on Carly and the tall white boy, Teddy, who was the one holding her feet during the lift. As the group splits into the next formation, note that the two of them appear to be fighting. This is not the choreography. What happened is Carly’s foot got caught in the top of Teddy’s jacket. Unaware she was stuck, Teddy took off for his next location, dragging a hopping Carly behind him. He has the presence of mind to drop his jacket and release her, while an unflappable Carly still manages to make it to her spot and kick her leg in the air 180 degrees followed by a flawless double pirouette.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this chick very narrowly avoided a serious injury and did so without missing a beat. And that is why she is gonna win. Sorry, Tanisha.
You know who else is gonna win? This scruffy fella Ricky who starts the number off. If you have the patience to watch this a third time, don’t take your eyes off him. The judges have said this and it is true–this boy is on a whole different technical level than the rest of the field. When he is airborne, look at the control he maintains of every muscle in his body, then ask yourself if you would have any control whatsoever if two dudes flung you in the air as hard as they could.
None of this is easy, so even the worst contestants on this show are still miles better at dancing than I could ever dream to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t play along, be a critic, and keep telling myself I think I can dance.