So You Think You Know Feet

Last week on “So You Think You Can Dance”, I was wholly underwhelmed at the performances, then dealt a punishing blow as two of my favorites, Carly and Serge, were eliminated instead of Casey (whose existence on this show I still have to be reminded of each week) and Jessica (aka Muggylicious).

This week, the top ten performed, this time being paired with All Star members of past SYTYCD casts. Perhaps the influx of exceptional talent explains why four of these dances truly struck me and only a couple struck me as duds. Trying to pick one number proved impossible, but I did manage to narrow my favorites of the week down to two. The first one might surprise you…

Yup, that’s right, it’s Jessica. And she is still entirely too muggy for my tastes. Just watch her and you’ll notice that, unlike her partner, her expressions don’t really flow. It is literally like she choreographed her face. “On two I am gonna look tough, on four I am gonna pout my lips, and on six I am going to open my mouth as if I have surprised myself with my own adorableness.”

You can find an example of how to make your face work in these character-based routines in her partner, the greatest participant in SYTYCD history, tWitch, who manages to still be adorable and charming even though he has fake gray hair and a pillow stuffed in his stomach.  The precision of his moments is astounding, but even more impressive is how they can be so sharp and yet so fluid.  Jessica, who is a jazz dancer by trade, does a great job of keeping her moves crisp and clean, but up against a lifelong hiphopper like tWitch, you can’t help but notice his groove is just unparalleled.

Both do a great job, but most of the kudos go to the choreographers, marrid duo Tabitha and Napoleon aka NappyTabs.  These two are some of my favorites on the show, because they can take a genre like hip hop and put it to 1930s style music, turning into a character piece that has more in common with a Looney Tunes cartoon than a dance to a rap song.Props as well to the costume designers, who help these two really channel their characters with some solid styling.

The second number I want to talk about is about as polar opposite from this first one as is possible. Labeled a “contemporary ballet” piece, this duo with Chehon and Jacque (she is the contestant, while Chehon is the All Star) is stark, minimalistic, and just stunning to fans of ballet.

So, if you’re not too into dance, this is probably too inside baseball for you. This is for hardcore dance fans who appreciate lines, musicality, and just watching people with exceptional technique show off their exceptional technique.

Rather than try to win you over to the greatness of this piece, let me instead explain why it is a big deal this is happening on the show. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, tap and ballet are incredibly precise dance genres. It takes a lifetime to master them, and, unlike other, less technique-based genres, it simply isn’t fair to ask the contestants to try and pick them up in the span of a week.

You’ll notice Jacque is on pointe (ie wearing pointe shoes). Believe it or not, you can’t really ask some of these girls to put those on, even if they are accomplished dancers. The tapper Valerie, for example, would likely hurt herself if she tried to do that if she doesn’t have ballet training.  

When I was eight or so, my dance teacher told me I was ready to start training for pointe. I spent the entire summer between second and third grade training my ankles in preparation, taking strengthening classes twice a week for three months before I put on my first pair of shoes.

The name toe shoes is deceptive. Yes, you are on your toes, but your toes are jammed into a hard box that makes up the front of the shoe. Many girls stuff that box with lambs wool or cotton or gel pads to reduce the pain, but it isn’t so much because your toes are bearing your weight, but because the knuckles of your toes are rubbing up against a hard surface, causing blisters. I pause to offer my one tough girl brag: by the time I reached my peak ballet dancing, I would stick my bare foot in my pointe shoe and go, no padding at all. This is why I can clomp around in very high heels all day with no problem.

Point (no pun intended) I am trying to get to is this: your ankles do all the work when you’re on pointe, so unless they are exceptionally strong, it is legitimately dangerous to stick pointe shoes on a girl without proper training. With that in mind, watch this video, look at Jacque’s feet, and notice how she makes these shoes, which probably weigh at least a pound each, look weightless. Also notice that there are several sections where Chehon is dragging her and then she rolls up onto pointe, which requires more ankle strength than you or I will ever possess. Also note that she is always completely on top of the toe of her shoe, the sign of an accomplished ballerina. Girls who aren’t as experience stand at a bit of an angle with the front of their shoe not completely on the floor. Watch this seven year old and you can see what I mean.

This is what being a dance fan turns you into…a foot fetishist.

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