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."
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."
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.