Tag Archives: so you think you can dance

SYTYCD Reflection #2: So You Think You Can Choreograph?!

As I’m watching the show this week, my housemate comes up to me and starts our common bashing of the show after we hear Nigel talk about technique and pointed feet like the two are mutually exclusive to each other. But this time, I was like, “ Nah, stop it, I’m too tired to be having all of this animosity tonight, sooo let’s not even go there this time.”

And truly I didn’t want to go there. I had my say last week about the structures of the show that get on my nerves. So this time, I was looking forward to sitting back, eating my nachos, and watching some good ol’ dancing (And to see some people I’ve met through Hiphop battles test their skills in the competition. 3 of them made it so shout out this week goes to Kenya Standing O Sutton, Benny Eaz, and Roderick Crider- congrats y’all!)

So anyways, towards the end of the show, an auditionee comes on to the stage. Her name is Gaby Diaz. She’s one of those people who decided to show her grit and audition twice in-a-row because she didn’t make it the first time. At first I was like, ‘Oh no, here we go, why is she doing this to herself?’ But, then I listened to what she had to say during her interview.

She claimed that she got cut in Dallas because her solo was like a run-on sentence. The judges didn’t enjoy the fact that she didn’t allow her solo to breath with stops and punctuation. So, she came back with a vengeance in Detroit to, I believe, a new song and a new routine. From the very start of her solo I could tell that the girl had skills…and she does…she ended up getting to Vegas with her second attempt.

But this brought up the question for me of why did she get cut in the first place? As I said, I could tell within 5 seconds of the solo that the girl could tap dance. Nigel is a bona fide tap dancer, so I know he could tell as well. But she got cut because she overcomplicated her solo.

This just got me thinking about how this show judges a dancer’s choreographic ability as well as their movement prowess, but only when it comes to “stage” dancers. Most “street” dancers don’t even choreograph their routines in the first place. And yet, the judges give Hiphop dancers the benefit-of-the-doubt all of the time. For example, we heard Nigel constantly complain about how Hiphop dancers weren’t moving through space well in the premier episode of Season 12. However, that didn’t stop most of the street dance auditionees from receiving a ticket– because they could see the talent of the dancer regardless of their choreographic capabilities!

Yet, there’s a clear double standard established as this dope stage dance tapper receives the boot because her amazing sounds were done too much and too fast. Now, don’t get me wrong; I understand that a good presentation of ones’ dancing skills is key. But, just like a great athlete may not be a good coach, a great dancer should not have to be a great choreographer. And the judges should have a responsibility to distinguish a talented mover from a talented choreographer, especially at this beginning point in the competition.

I’m really proud of the girl for coming back, because she is really talented and the judges almost missed out on a potential tapper– a style that has a small pool of auditionees to begin with. So, props to Gaby Diaz and I’ll be rooting for you because I’m all about the underdog… and you’re pretty cute. Good for you for showing that you can dance and choreograph!

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The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty through the World of Dance

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After a few years of teaching Hiphop dance, I’ve come to realize how complex the form is. I constantly push myself to find creative ways to break down the fundamentals of Hiphop dance, and I can tell you that transferring the basics to the average student is a difficult thing to do. I’ve found that there are many complicated body patterns within something even as “simple” as grooving to music!

I’ve gathered a new appreciation for all of the dope Hiphop dancers who haven’t had a day of formal training in their lives, yet contain this kinesthetic awareness that allows them to move with such virtuosity! From bboying, to popping, to waacking and more…Hiphop dance is tough! There are so many subtle nuances within each style that these dancers constantly train to maintain and improve. There is a word that people use in ballet and contemporary to describe the execution of fundamentals within their own dance forms…technique.

Yet, I rarely hear the word technique used to describe Hiphop dance. Instead, I hear quotes like, “[We’re] putting together the sort of untrained world of Hiphop with the formally trained…”- Nigel Lythgoe (Director of the television series: So You Think You Can Dance).

Thinking this may just be one person’s bias, I did a little research. First, I typed in “Dance Technique” in google and received these images…
"Technique"

Mostly all of them were in sync with Nigel’s description: long legs and arms, lean bodies, straight lines, pointed feet, flexible muscles, etc. You may think I’m generalizing, but seriously, look for yourself in the pages of google and see what you find. In the same SYTYCD interview, Nigel is asked, “How long does it take for you to tell that this person is great [at dance], or this person is not very good?” and he responds with, “You can basically tell very very quickly…you notice that legs aren’t straight or toes aren’t pointed or the lack of technique is noticed pretty soon.” So, in educating the masses of America (and the world!) about dance, certain leaders– and I would argue many leaders– of the community are instilling an idea of beauty through movement based off of euro-centric ideals. All that is to say, apparently, we Hiphop dancers are untrained, and without technique…ouch.

Yet, that very thought was what I based my value as a dancer on in the beginning of my career. Training within academia, I constantly take classes with bodies that do not look like my own; and, therefore, it is hard not feel frustration at the fact that I am a muscle-bound, flat-footed mover. I have injured myself trying to force myself into splits, faced embarrassment as teachers tried to get me to do something that my body literally won’t do, and wreathed in frustration because, no matter my efforts, I felt as though I was not living up to the idea of a technical, beautiful, mover.

So, this got me thinking…if a Hiphop dancer does not have technique, then what do we have? I did a little more research and typed in, “the antonym of technique”:

Ignorant. Impotence. Inability. Incompetence. Ineptitude. Lack.

…………yea.

In the movie Malcolm X (1992), there is a scene where Malcolm’s mentor in jail is showing Malcolm the definition of black and white in the dictionary during the 1960’s. The definition of “white” had words such as innocent, pure, and harmless while “black” had words like forbidding, foul, wicked and others that exuded negativity and evil. Now, maybe I’m reaching too far…but maybe I’m just connecting dots…why are dance genres that derive from European’s sense of beauty the ones that get the claim of being professional, scholarly, and specialized (synonyms of technical)?

Many people before me have said this, but with this post I’m just here to repeat it: Hiphop dance, as well as every other dance genre that derives from the African tradition, is a technical form. I’m sick and tired of leaders in the industry inferring that the movement that I identify with is inferior to any other. Technical ideas such as groundedness, broken lines, SWAG, isolations, undulations, release, flexed feet, and many more all have value and are technicalities in dance that many “technical dancers” don’t have.

So, to end, I just encourage you to question anyone who talks about a mover having or not having technique. Maybe it won’t do a thing, but I believe that the more we question, the more we become aware, and the less conventions will exist that separate the value of peoples in our nation and in our world.