New TV Show Inspires Dance

The Fox TV show So You Think You Can Dance is probing for the next master dancer. Styles range from ballroom to hip hop. A spin-off of wildly popular television talent show American Idol, the reality series is a huge hit with millions of viewers voting every week.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, if you're wondering who is tomorrow's Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, or Michael Jackson or Mikhail Baryshnikov, well, the FOX TV show "So You Think You Can Dance" wants to find out. A spin-off of "American Idol," the reality series is a huge hit with millions of viewers voting each week.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the show is bringing dance to people who normally do not watch dance at all.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Here is how the show works. Every week, pairs of dancers are given five hours to learn a different routine by an accomplished choreographer. The styles run the gamut from ballroom to hip-hop. Dancers Lauren Gottlieb and Neil Haskell recently wowed the audience with a contemporary piece by Wade Robson that was edgy, frenetic and a lot of fun to watch.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of cheering)

BLAIR: At the end of each performance, a panel of dance professionals gives its critique. Judge Nigel Lythgoe is the show's creator and executive producer.

Mr. NIGEL LYTHGOE (Creator/Executive Producer, "So You Think You Can Dance"): I've got to say, I love the fact that Wade gives you characters to play as well, gives you more meat on the skeleton of the movement.

Ms. WENDY PERRON (Editor in Chief, Dance Magazine): It's great for the TV audience because they see how hard it is to dance. They see how much passion these kids have.

BLAIR: Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine thinks this show might help American dance companies that are having a lot of trouble getting more people to performances.

Ms. PERRON: Too often American audiences go to see dance and they feel like they don't understand what the standards are and they feel inadequate to just have an opinion. This is a very immediate thing. You look at the dancer and you decide if you like the person.

BLAIR: Perron says just about all of the dancers on the show are good enough to have professional careers perhaps on Broadway or in music videos. Even ballet students at the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C. are watching the show.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Soft, soft, nice move.

BLAIR: There's a lot of interest at the Kirov Academy since someone who studied there, Danny Tidwell, is competing. 15-year-old Cara Spaige(ph) says the only thing she doesn't like about the show is the judging.

Ms. CARA SPAIGE (Student, Kirov Academy): Because they're not just looking for the dancing, they're looking for the look and their personality. And I'm not sure if it's completely about the dance.

BLAIR: It's not. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says they do put a high premium on personality since most Americans don't have experience judging dance.

Mr. LYTHGOE: At the end of the day, we're not asking America to choose the best dancer. We're asking them to choose their favorite dancer. So everybody is equipped to say who their favorite is.

BLAIR: Lythgoe spent the first part of his career as a dancer and choreographer. He says dance doesn't get the respect it deserves, or that it used to, say, in the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. He thinks the show is making a small difference by putting dance front and center on network TV.

Mr. LYTHGOE: What I am sure it is doing is inspiring people to dance and bringing a whole new generation different forms of dance that they may not have seen before.

BLAIR: The search for America's favorite dancer is now down to 10 contestants. The winner, to be voted on in August, will receive $250,000.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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