It could be so easy to dismiss the wave of reality TV dance shows that have infiltrated the airwaves as a mere celebration of commercial dance and music video culture. True, ballroom dance has made a big statement as well. But point being that those of us who champion concert dance and particularly contemporary concert dance of the more conceptual nature (by that I mean valuing ideas and innovation over glossy showmanship and crowd-pleasing virtuosity) still don’t find a whole lot of our stuff represented on these shows. But that’s not to say there isn’t some damn good work happening on TV and that there isn’t much to be excited about, given this surge of dance coverage in pop culture.
I’ll start by admitting that I don’t watch TV. At all. The exception being a weekly gathering with friends to catch So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), the American Idol for movers, now in its fourth season (I missed the first two). There’s about a half dozen other dance shows found on the spectrum of network and cable TV, or which I have seen none, including the top-rated Dancing with Stars, which I credit for getting my parents to start taking ballroom dance lessons. If that’s not power, I don’t know what is. But now I’m beginning to regret not participating more fully in this revolution. After all, there’s some great work out there that has thus far been off my radar and, if ratings are to be believed, off the radar of most of my compatriots.
Last week’s episode of SYTYCD (maybe the worst name of a television show in history) featured the usual formula of cute, young dancers, paired off into cute, heterosexual partners, assigned a genre of dance, then given a week to learn a short routine from some top choreographers in that field – everything from ballroom (which appears to be the kiss of Death on the show) to contemporary (never heard of it until the show premiered, but it seems to be something like Jazzy Modern dance) to hip-hop (which now, thanks to the show’s brilliant marketing, is turning into a whole new genre of Lyrical Hip-Hop).
“Lyrical Hip-Hop” takes the style and technique of hip-hop fused with the type of narrative, emotional attitude of lyrical dance (which I generally hate on its own). But the combo, while often cliched and with the potential to be really cheesy is, in this case I think, effective and exciting. So here’s the confession, I kinda love it.
Lyrical Hip-Hop, if we accept that as an emerging style of dance, may be defined by the use of the sharp dynamics and intricate, detailed body isolations that makes hip-hop so fun to watch but removes it from the hip-hop music that has thus far confined it’s meaning and relegated it to back-up dance status. Lyrical hip-hop is an opportunity to tell different, more multi-dimensional stories through this genre of dance. And it’s no longer mere background. It’s center stage. Whether it can be sustained as an evening length work or only is successful in this short music-video format has yet to be seen…
But case in point, check out this video from this week’s SYTYCD, Chelsea and Mark (don’t know their last names, don’t care) dancing to the #1 pop hit in the country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8bcmKX2Tz8. You can call it formulaic, you can call it cliche. But I for one, thoroughly enjoy it and appreciate the shocking infusion of emotion into the heretofore stoic world of Hip Hop. Forgive me Mother Graham, for I have shamefully watched it probably half a dozen times by now.
So what does it mean when this pinkie-out modern dance snob can’t get enough of his Leona Lewis-inspired Lyrical Hip-Hop?Who knows? But for now, I’m over “meaning” and eagerly anticipating next week’s concert, um, episode.