So I Thought I Could Dance

I'm about to admit something embarrassing. Last night, I went with my family to see a live performance of the reality television show So You Think You Can Dance. They're fans of the program, and I love my family, so I went. No, I don't watch the show — I've never even seen it — but I'm not above reality television. For evidence of this, feel free to go back and read my post about The Bachelor, one of my more contentious entries, wherein people expressed major disappointment that I am not immune to, um, America.

So, while some of you were suffering through what sounds like a horrible Emmy broadcast, I was living inside of a television world and witnessing the mindset of the television viewer.

For those of you who don't know, So You Think You Can Dance (which from here on out will be known as SYTYCD) is a reality TV program wherein dancers from all genres come together and perform choreographed material in front of a live audience. Hip-hop dancers must learn to cha cha cha, ballroom dancers find their way into a breakdance routine, and modern dancers learn to do something other than float, flutter and hug themselves. The dancers pair up and things get sexy. Or "sexy."

Portland was the second stop on the SYTYCD Season 4 tour. The performance took place at the Rose Garden, our giant sports stadium, which will also host an upcoming Celine Dion concert, as well as the Ice Capades. The first thing I noticed once we got to our seats was that, even though this was a live event, we were still essentially going to be watching TV. Like, the whole time. A Jumbotron provided the audience with season highlights, interviews with the cast members and a Brady Bunch-esque segment with questions like, "Which dancer likes to put ketchup and ranch dressing on everything?" In case you were wondering, the answer to that one was a dancer named "Comfort."

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A life-size "Snuggle" from Snuggle-brand fabric softener helps us feel like we're still watching TV:



No surprise here, but the entire show has been branded. Each dancer has his or her own look and personality. There's the wacky one, the intense one, the crybaby, the "this show saved me from my crappy life" guy, and so on. And when the dancers introduced the performances, they each came out in SYTYCD gear, of which there were copious amounts. And it was all for sale! There was even an intermission that seemed less about giving the dancers a rest and more about giving us a chance to go and purchase some of those souvenirs. I took the opportunity to buy a $4 bottle of water.

And, finally, there was the dancing itself. I really wanted it to be exciting. Some of these people don't just think they can dance; they really can dance. But, sadly, each piece was designed for our short, pitiful attention spans, which apparently give us about 45 seconds. All of the performances were culled from the TV show. The emcees would say, "Remember when Kate and Joshua did their piece that involved a bed?" The audience would scream. "Well, here it is!" More screams. And then Kate and Joshua would dance on a bed in a piece that was supposed to be about breaking up but made me feel about as emotional as I do about picking up dog poop. Most of the choreography told stories about love, as if all romance were merely an extension of a 14-year old girl's imagination. The dances hinted at sex and flirtation, heartache and manipulation, but through a Disney-fied lens; magic, and magically sterile. The strangest moment — here is the music part, music-blogger purists! — came when one of the couples danced to the Mirah song "The Garden."

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You'd think the live SYTYCD show would be an opportunity to prove that reality TV is sort of based in reality — that, in real life, the dancing is better than it is on TV. But when I looked at the stage from our swanky floor seats and then peeked at the Jumbotron, the dancing really did look more exciting on the Jumbotron. Somehow, even, more believable.

Most of my disappointment came from wanting to be part of something that seems surprisingly popular, to experience people enjoying an art form as unlikely as dance. In my naive hopes, I imagined more people buying season ballet tickets and checking out local dance troupes. Instead, however, I was reminded that what SYTYCD popularizes is not dance, but television, and bad television at that.

On the way out, I saw a guy whom I felt summed up the whole night. Wearing baggy gray sweatpants and carrying a program for the show in one arm, he had managed to stuff a 16-ounce paper cup of Coke into his right pants pocket. The straw hung out, dripping little bits of brown soda onto the floor. Other people's sense of satisfaction is a sadly beautiful thing.


The audience as the show came to an end. A packed house, no less.

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Mirah?!!!! I can't imagine that song in this context. Weird.

Sent by Dominique | 8:36 PM | 9-22-2008

I didn't know they even did those tours. It really is a shame (I'd say kind of pathetic, and I don't say "pathetic" very often... no offence to you or your family) that people are shelling out what I assume is quite a bit of money for what is essentially a live version of the TV show. I have seen the show a few times (I live in Canada and reruns are on several times a day on Much Music) and to me it comes off as incredibly mindless entertainment. The dancing can be impressive, but like most similar shows the best episodes are the first few. There's something really entertaining about watching clueless people make fools of themselves.

Sent by Adam | 10:02 PM | 9-22-2008

You should have taken a picture of that guy.

Sent by Claire | 10:06 PM | 9-22-2008

This looks horrific. Reality TV is, for the most part, horrific. A friend of mine got through to the second to last round of the UK "Pop Idol" and was asked to make a sob story. "You're black, gay and single", they said. "Yeah, but I'm happy," he said. He never did hear back from them.

"I was reminded that what SYTYCD popularizes is not dance, but television, and bad television at that." - too right. The winners of these shows just end up going on reality TV shows about winning. That's the peak of their success.

Sent by leah | 2:52 AM | 9-23-2008

Hey Carrie - the arguement I hear incessantly from my friends who work up here in Seattle at the Century Ballroom (the mecca of formal dancing in Seattle) is that shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars inspire people to take an interest in the art of dancing, whether they latch onto ballroom, salsa, square dancing, etc. While the shows are typically looped into the reality tag, if they inspire folks to go dance, how can I argue its benefits?! Just sayin'...I mean, who knows - it might spark sales and interest in ballet, modern dance, etc. Just because I geeked out over The Knack - Get The Knack record when I was a pre-teen doesn't mean I'm going to mimic to a t what they did (thankfully); moreover, it got me interested in considerably more interesting bands like The Cure, Joy Division, etc. I think Dancing With The Stars is no exception (or so I think).

Sent by joshuuuua | 5:15 AM | 9-23-2008

'Branding'-that's what was missing from S-K!

You could have 'Cheap Tricked-out" your images and made zillions!!!!

But seriously, my reaction to what you're describing is just, 'eeeeewwwwwww'.

Sent by budd | 9:16 AM | 9-23-2008

Part of me likes to think that they are working on Broadway after the show ends... Part of me knows that they are not.

Sent by Amy | 9:34 AM | 9-23-2008

Watching a made-for-TV performance is always better when experienced in the comfort of one's own sofa, where the fridge is only a room away.

One of the most painful musical experiences I ever had was a taping of Lindsey Buckingham on "Sound Stage." So tedious, so long. No concessions to get a drink. Playing each song twice is not fun to watch when the musician is playing to the camera and not the audience. Waiting for the makeup lady to powder Lindsey's forehead between takes. Ugh. Even hard core Buckingham fans were drooping.

Watching it back on the one hour broadcast was far superior.

The same goes for televised sports, especially the NFL. Go to a game. So much down time because essentially the time outs are made for the TV viewers to find out that a new episode of House is coming or that so-and-so is going to be interviewed on 60 Minutes. Perfect time to go get more nachos and beer in the kitchen!

TV's for watching at home. Being in a studio audience is a trial.

Sent by Tim | 9:55 AM | 9-23-2008

"he had managed to stuff a 16-ounce paper cup of Coke into his right pants pocket."---i wish i had pockets that big sometimes.

Sent by steph | 10:12 AM | 9-23-2008

"The strangest moment -- here is the music part, music-blogger purists! -- came when one of the couples danced to the Mirah song "The Garden."

wow, i had to go back and read that sentence twice.

Sent by karissa | 11:52 AM | 9-23-2008

Here is the youtube video of the "mirah bit"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45AtlQEz8pU
Is this like when Ian Sevonius was on the cover of Sassy?

Sent by Megan | 2:24 PM | 9-23-2008

"Why jerk my neck around like a goon when Tyranno-Vision decides what I should look at." - Homer Simpson

Sent by Nick L. | 3:51 PM | 9-23-2008

I could see how one, or two, could dance to "The Garden". It's still weird to know that a Mirah song was on a show like that.

Sent by Jaime | 3:51 PM | 9-23-2008

This is a great post, and I indulge in some reality TV myself, but with all due respect, with your real talent, can't you be using this time and energy to help write albums and perform great songs? I really like this blog, and sorry if this comment isn't on point, but isn't this all an excuse to not face the painful realities of creating new frontiers in rock?

I really love the blog, and the insights it gives to not only you, but also the subjects it covers --yet I can't help but feeling that we're all missing something. There's more people to reach with your music.

Sent by Chad | 5:39 PM | 9-23-2008

i know one dude danced to chris garneau's "baby's romance." its a fave song of mine, so i youtubed it and it was weird... he was trying to fit every single dance move he's ever known into 45 seconds, but its a slow song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwjnlVPW0R8

Sent by Lauren | 7:42 PM | 9-23-2008

I must admit
I was one of the ones who was... a bit shocked to know that the mighty Carrie... is indeed "american" and watchines "real"ity TV...

But now after knowing you even went to a LIVE "real"ity show...

I no longer feel ashamed to have gotten on TV some years ago holding up a sign for an unpopular wrestler at a live WcW Nitro event...

quote " Other people's sense of satisfaction is a sadly beautiful thing."

that was a great line... and such a true statement.

I remember the last time I saw Sleater-Kinney... the Lollapalooza show, a man near me was yelling out "Little Mouth" the whole night, and after the show, he seemed very bummed and unsatisfied because he did not hear it... like wise, im sure there was someone in the crowd, who had the greatest night ever because you did play Turn It On to end the show... Ive always found that amazing how some people can LOVe or HATE a concert, simply by ONE song played... you could play the greatest set of your life, and every song you possibly know, but if you managed to skip Little Mouth, hed still have been bummed...

Much like you would have been bummed if they didnt do the bed dance im sure...

Sent by Kramer | 12:01 AM | 9-24-2008

That giant Snuggle bear reminds me of a little story. I finished my undergrad at the Univ. of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where Pillsbury is based. Because of the cool/cold weather there, the university has a series of tunnels that connect the buildings. Once, I was walking to work in one of them, and at the foot of the stairs, a giant Pillsbury Dough Boy was standing there and waving, as a start-of-semester promotion. So any giant, well, *thing* like that still gives me the willies.

Oh, topic? I'm guessing that if you're on a show called "So You Think You Can Dance?" the answer is probably "Yes, I Think I Can Dance." I was going to write that they should do one with amateur dancers, but they pretty much did that already ("Dancing With the Stars.") Maybe a more scholarly angle? "So You Think You Can Use the Pluperfect?" Or maybe just, "So You Think?"

Sent by Michael | 12:36 AM | 9-24-2008

I've often wondered why anyone would want to spend hours watching a reality TV show, be it Big Brother or Survivor or SYTYCD. Surely, I thought, real life was better than simulated reality? Your observations of SYTYCD live, however, struck me not so much by their accuracy or perspicacity, but by the privilege of being able to form (or agree to) such observations as them.
First, a disclaimer: I'm neither a fan nor a critic of the show, simply as I've yet to watch an entire episode of the show to be able to form a valid judgment of it.
In any case, I cannot imagine that many in the audience would've formed the same observations about the show (e.g. the product-placement aspect, the relative "realness" of the live performance vs the on-screen version, whether SYTYCD popularizes dance or TV) as you did. For some, that could be due to a deliberate disinclination to think about these aspects of the show, preferring instead to suspend their disbelief (or cynicism); for others, it could be that they are so enchanted by the allure of the show, they are not able to see beyond the placed products or live stage/jumbo screen. For others still, the show might've been the representation of all things bright and beautiful, perhaps even the only "sense of satisfaction" they'll ever experience in what might be their otherwise dreary lives.
While SYTYCD may well be overly commercial, I'm also aware that I am privileged to be able to form such an opinion. I keep wondering if the guy with the 16-ounce paper cup truly enjoyed the show. I hope he did.

Sent by Rob | 10:53 AM | 9-24-2008

At least you have another ticket stub to add to your collection. So the night wasn't a total losss.

Sent by EC Terry | 1:54 PM | 9-24-2008

This conjures a quote from a Spaulding Grey movie: "The day was so beautiful it reminded me of a commercial."

Sent by Markie Smith | 12:42 AM | 9-25-2008

Same thing with lots of reality shows. When I meet someone who says they like "Project Runway", my first reaction is to ask, "Oh, so do you do any designing? Or own a sewing machine? Knit? Anything?" Over time, I've learned that's a na??ve reaction.
I mean, it's the simplest thing in the world for a person to dance, or to sew, or to play guitar, or cook a meal. It just takes a bit of patience to learn, but the act itself requires very little material input.
But somehow, TV has placed a massive gulf between people and cultural productivity. In the days before TV, "entertainment" was organic and took place at every level of community, but TV has turned people into complete cultural heterotrophs.
I just hope people start to remember their own potential to create, rather than just continue to cede all "entertainment" to some sort of monopoly, who funnel them into narrow corridors of possibility, where there are only a half dozen songs at any given time, only celebrities are permitted to entertain, and water costs $4 a bottle.

Sent by Stuart | 5:20 PM | 9-26-2008

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