Posts Tagged 'entertainment'

Guest Blogger Profile

Reading the Dance would like to introduce our newest guest blogger!  Rachel Holdt is contributing a review on the recent performance of the Margaret Jankins Dance Company in Riverside, CA.

Rachel Holdt is a choreographer, dancer and writer and currently a student at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee, CA.  She writes reviews about local dance performances for the examiner.com.  Click here to read more articles by Rachel.  She will be continuing her education this coming year at the University of California, Riverside, and hopes to complete her BA in dance in the near future.  Dance has always been a passion for Rachel, and the opportunity to pursue an education in the field has always been a dream.  Writing about dance comes naturally, and she hopes to pursue both fields as she continues her journey towards her educational goals.

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Dance Like a Man

Dance Like a Man

by Jennifer Buscher 10/11/09

So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)’s attitude towards masculinity and dance was clearly established in its premiere episode in the summer of 2005..  This episode was comprised of audition footage and included a heated confrontation between executive producer and director Nigel Lythgoe and dancer Anthony Bryant.

Photo of Anthony Bryant

Photo of Anthony Bryant

During his solo audition in New York City, Bryant showcased his technical expertise, primarily his ballet training, while also drawing on his background in rhythmic gymnastics by incorporating a ribbon into his choreography.  Following his performance, Nigel complimented Bryant’s technique, but explained that he did not like the use of the ribbon in the routine.  Nigel insisted that the ribbon “softened” Bryant and expressed his concerns that male audience members would not want to vote for Bryant.  Bryant advanced to the next stage of the audition which included a male/female partnering section.  At the conclusion of the audition, when each dancer is brought in front of the judging panel to receive feedback, Nigel accused Bryant of not being masculine enough in his dancing.  According to Nigel, “I need boy dancers to be strong and masculine … You didn’t look like a masculine dancer with your partner.”  Nigel’s commentary on masculinity and dance from this very first episode has been reiterated throughout the following five seasons of the dance competition reality show.  From the judges’ critiques to the very structure of the show itself – the dancers compete in male/female couples – to the choreography presented on the show, SYTYCD consistently privileges and reinforces heteronormativity.

During the Denver, CO auditions for Season 5 of SYTYCD (aired 5/21/09), same-sex male ballroom dancers, Misha Belfer and Mitchell Kiber attempted to challenge this heteronormative standard.  From the editing of their audition segment to the judges’ commentary following their performance, however, it became clear that SYTYCD was still not ready to consider the expression of alternative sexualities or gender roles through dance performance.  The editing included a close-up shot of the men’s bathroom sign as one of the dancers exits the restroom to meet his male partner, puns about their sexual orientations (one of the dancers is straight and one is gay, so when they both advance to the next section of the audition, the hostess, Cat Deeley says, “So Mitch isn’t out yet, and Misha is sticking around too”), and ABBA’s “It’s Raining Men,” a song frequently associated with gay male identity.  Together, these visual and audio editing choices consistently emphasize the ‘queerness,’ in all of its negative connotations, of the male same-sex ballroom couple.

Or, as Michael Jensen argues in an article posted on afterelton.com, how “homophobia was packaged and delivered to American audiences under the guise of entertainment” in Fox’s portrayal of these dancers.  During their interview segments, which are interspersed with images of the two men performing intricate, and often erotic, partnering moves, Mitch and Misha address the issue of masculinity in their dance performance.  According to Mitch, “We do know that they are looking for masculine dancers and I think that’s actually something that is going to be a strong point for us.”  And Misha explains, “Two men dancing together is a very masculine thing to start with because it’s two male energies dancing together.  Double the masculine energy next to each other.”  During their audition performance, the camera repeatedly focuses on Nigel and the judges giggling at the judges’ table.  Following their audition, Nigel compared their performance to Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory before insisting that same-sex partnering would alienate the show’s audience.  Nigel’s derogatory comments continued on Twitter where he wrote, “I’m not a fan of ‘Brokeback’ Ballroom.”  These remarks caught the attention of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) who issued a call to action, demanding an apology for Nigel’s “snide, homophobic remarks” on May 22, 2009.  Nigel responded with an apology for “his poor word choices and comments” in an official statement.

While Season 5 of SYTYCD was airing on television during the summer of 2009, auditions for Season 6 were occurring simultaneously.  The Season 6 auditions also included a same-sex male ballroom couple, Willem De Vries and Jacob Jason, who auditioned in Phoenix, AZ (aired 9/16/09).  There is a drastic difference between the portrayal of Willem and Jacob in Season 6 and Misha and Mitch in Season 5.  While Misha and Mitch seemed to be included in the audition footage as freaks for the judges and audience to laugh at (homophobia cloaked in humor), Willem and Jacob were celebrated as champions for the world of same-sex dance.  According to Willem, “There are a lot of same-sex couples out there that are now afraid to come out and audition for shows like So You Think You Can Dance.  We just want to make sure that America knows that there is a whole world of same-sex dancers.”  Following their performance and before receiving the judges’ feedback, Jacob says, “You know it’s amazing for young gay people to be able to express themselves and that’s the dance that I think that represents that the most.”

This moment is the first time in six seasons that issues surrounding homosexuality have been directly expressed on SYTYCD.  While reality shows, including SYTYCD, often use background stories to emotionally manipulate audience members to connect with, support, and vote for certain contestants, the sexual orientation of the numerous gay male dancers competing in the show has never been acknowledged or discussed.  So, not only were Willem and Jacob presented as representatives for same-sex dancers, but also as advocates for young gay people.  The judges’ reactions and responses confirm this position.  Instead of giggles from the judges’ table, Willem’s and Jacob’s performance elicits tears from both female judges – Mia Michels and Mary Murphy.  Instead of derision, ridicule and homophobic remarks, the judges express pride and admiration for the dancers’ emotion and passion while also praising their lines, technique, and strength.  Mia Michels, through her tears, says, “I celebrate the courage that you guys have to just expose yourselves and your hearts and your passion and who you are.”  And Nigel thanks the dancers for showing him “that same-sex ballroom dancing can be very strong and very good.”  Of course, he still needs to see them dance with girls before they can advance to Vegas where the competition continues.  But unlike Season 5, he doesn’t smirk or make an obnoxious comment about how they might actually enjoy dancing with a girl.  The shift in tone towards same-sex ballroom in Season 6, of course, could be directly related to the controversy that arose following Nigels’ homophobic commentary during the Season 5 auditions.  But I am very interested to see if this shift in attitude continues through the rest of the season.

An underlying current to the homophobia demonstrated on SYTYCD is the rigidity of gender roles that the show insists upon.  Nigel’s mantra, even in his official apology, is that men need to dance like men and women need to dance like women.  But what exactly does that mean?  Following Nigel’s deplorable remarks to Mitch and Misha in Season 5 is a really interesting exchange about gender roles.  Mary Murphy expresses her extreme confusion during her first experience of same-sex ballroom dancing because she doesn’t understand who is playing the female role and who is playing the male role when both dancers are men who are continually switching roles.  The dancers try to explain to her that the constant switching between leading and following increases the difficulty of the dance and highlights “the strength of following and leading.”  They are actually demonstrating a very specific skill in their ability to effortlessly and smoothly switch between the lead and follow positions.  But Mary insists that, for her, “It would have been easier if one person was playing the female role and one was playing the male role.”

As our understanding of gender and sexuality continues to evolve, these questions about gender roles in dance and how we define feminine and masculine movement need to be continually reconsidered.  It is a shame that SYTYCD does not have the capacity or ability to really explore these issues when opportunities, such as men dancing with ribbons or dancing with each other, arise within the framework of the show.  Or that when the judges are confronted with situations like these, that challenge their limited and narrow perspective on gender roles in dance, that they are unable to see possibilities beyond the heteronormative standard.

Don’t Worry, Just Look Around

Photo Credits: Left, Merce Cunningham's eyeSpace, photo by Anna Finke, Right, casebolt and smith’s Having Words, photo by Shelby Duncan

Photo Credits: Left, Merce Cunningham's eyeSpace, photo by Anna Finke. Right, casebolt and smith’s Having Words, photo by Shelby Duncan

This post is in response to Michael Kaiser’s

“Why I Worry About Modern Dance” Huffington Post 8/17/2009

by Alexis Weisbrod

In a recent Huffington Post article Michael Kaiser, president of the JFK Center for Performing Arts, expressed his concerns for the future of modern dance.  Among many questions he asked, “Where are the young companies that are gathering strength and are prepared to accept the mantle from the Twylas, Pauls, Merces and Marthas?” (He had already situated these four choreographers as “the great modern dancers and choreographers [that] pay tribute to American creativity.”)  I’d like to take a brief look back into modern before returning to the present to consider what is out there.

First, I’d like to remind everyone that modern dance is now a full century old.  Since Duncan first began developing her dance form the world has seen two World Wars, the Korean & Vietnam Wars, two Gulf Wars, the War on Drugs, the War on terror, the assassination an American president, the impeachment of another, the invention of television, computers, MTV, reality shows… the list goes on.  Though Graham and Ailey lived well past Duncan, cell phones, iPods, and even the internet were beyond the scope of their lives.  As a dancer born in the ‘80s (yes I just did the unspeakable and dated myself…) Cunningham is the only one that I think begins to represent me, and only because of his use of the iPod Shuffle in his 2006 piece eyeSpace.  As an intelligent and well-read dancer I appreciate these four choreographers for their historical purpose in the field in which I am pursuing my career.  I recognize all the innovations they established and the work they did to create such a rich field of dance.  I would never consider teaching a dance history, modern technique, or even jazz for that matter, without discussing these choreographers.  But in terms of constructing new dance work, these choreographers are out of date.

A mentor of mine, Ananya Chatterjea, in a dance history class, after a discussion of post-modern dance no longer being the current wave of work, suggested that it was my generation’s responsibility to name the current era of modern dance.  I often think this was a driving force in my desire to pursue a PhD in Dance.  However, I’ll admit, I have yet to name this era, but I do know why current work will never look like the old stuff.

The four “greats” all established their companies well before the NEA 4.  That fact alone illuminates the difficulties for choreographers to take the reigns and shape dance in the US. The dance, at least what I think is the good––read: innovative––dance, that is being made these days shifts the high art stage that the “greats” worked on.  The American dance audience, now receiving a notable education through vehicles such as music videos, commercials and reality dance shows, are also different.  Maybe, Mr. Kaiser, you’re worried because you’re still looking for “modern” dance.  Choreographers trying to execute that work will always fall short because in their attempt to replicate they are neglectful of the changes in the world around them.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Paul Taylor Company perform not too long ago.  I was impressed and appreciated the pleasure of viewing such historically significant repertoire.  However, I was much more moved by Melissa Hudson Bell’s Cake In My Face: New Dances with Betty Crocker and Misbehavior, which used traditional “modern dance” movement, text and humor to look at Betty Crocker in the American woman’s kitchen over the years.  Then, of course, there is the witty and political work of casebolt & smith, whose virtuosic movement never overshadows the content of the work, whether it is autobiographical tales or social commentaries or something else entirely, their insightful choreographic structures and methods always have me both entertained and thoughtfully engaged.

These are just a few of the choreographers who have recently engaged me as an audience member and left me feeling excited about dance, eager to dance and, most importantly, thinking about dance and topics beyond.  These are artists whose innovative work should be the next face of concert dance in America as they all successfully bridge from post/modern dance into something more complex and more relevant.  These artists are out there and ready to take the reigns.  But these artists are not “large role model organizations” and, even if they wished to be, may never achieve such status in a post NEA 4 America.  Choreographers such as these take risks that could be read in a highly political manner.  This is not what gets funded because its not safe or established.

In order for the next “golden age” to take place we have to broaden what we are willing to see (and fund).  It will be different from the Pioneers, something more representative of our current environment (from politics, to popular culture, to a globalized world).  And, most importantly, we must be ready to accept that change.  After all, isn’t innovation what the “Twylas, Pauls, Merces and Marthas” were all about, isn’t change what modern dance was founded on?