Thursday, August 11, 2011

You think you can?

Tonight marks the end of my second season covering the reality TV competition So You Think You Can Dance?  I am perhaps the least qualified person writing about this show and getting paid for it.  I've never taken a single dance lesson in my life.  My best friend in high school was an accomplished dancer, and I'll never forget her teaching me a simple routine to dance with our glee club.  As a chunky teen, I'm sure my insistance on being in the front row during the performance delighted exactly no one.

But though I know next to nothing about dance, I find this show one of the better reality competitions around.  It draws almost exclusively well-trained contestants to its auditions, and while it perhaps oversells the abilities of its finalists compared to the mass out of which they were plucked, at least it doesn't indulge deluded amateurs the way American Idol regularly does.  I like to watch people who know what they're doing.  And the training comes with a culture that is infinitely more charming.  The contestants have received innumerable critiques and been to countless auditions in their lives, and they know how to take praise and criticism.  They don't argue with the judges or stake their appeal on idiosyncratic assertions of quality, ignoring the opinion of experts as elitist and irrelevant.  Dance on this show is clearly something you have to study long and hard to know how to do, not something that any of us could wake up and decide to be famous at.

This particular season, the show's eighth, has featured perhaps the highest level of professionalism in the eventual top pool.  Last night's final performance show was strangely lacking, perhaps because of the number of original pair dances each contestant learned and performed -- four in various styles, plus a solo.  But I have high hopes for the final results show, which over the years has elicited some of the most inventive group routines ever exhibited by the program.  And whoever wins the title of "America's Favorite Dancer," as producer Nigel Lythgoe rather pompously said last week, "the winner is daaaahnce."  Annoyingly phrased, but actually true.

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