I’m not gonna lie–I’ve really enjoyed Fox’s summer reality hit So You Think You Can Dance over the past few years. Maybe it’s the summer heat melting my brain, or maybe it’s that the competitors on this show actually have to be enormously talented to succeed. It’s a lot of fun to watch people who are good at something do it well.
Unfortunately, I’m having to give a lot of thought to whether I’m going to watch this week’s performance episode tonight–even with the possibility of two dances per couple!–after an unpleasant trend that’s been growing for at least a couple of seasons bloomed into full-blown yuck last week. While dancers from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds have been cast and succeeded on the show, discussion of hip-hop and jazz styles is often…less than sensitive. Judges trying to describe desired effects in krump or hip-hop numbers by affecting what they think are urban or African-American speech patterns or gestures is not a good plan. Telling dancers performing a jazz number that they’re African warriors is weird enough (what, everyone in Africa is the same? What is an African warrior, anyway?), but seizing the word “animalistic” to describe how “African warriors” should move is even more problematic.
Upon seeing the hip-hop routine pictured above–a hip-hop routine choreographed to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love”–guest judge Adam Shankman (Hairspray) rhapsodized that the show’s deep exploration of this new thing, lyrical hip-hop, finally legitimized hip-hop as an art form. Leaving aside the dubious contentions that “lyrical hip-hop” is a newborn creature (dude, you produced the Step Up movies. Did you ever watch them?) or that So You Think You Can Dance is exploring the genre deeply, the assertion that hip-hop hasn’t been a legitimate art form up until now is pretty appalling. Coupled with previous judging comments about preferring “softer” hip-hop and wondering if America will be put off by more “hard-hitting” routines, the show’s attitude about what urban art forms might be about–and what we as the audience might think they’re about–is kind of dismal.
Between this and producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe’s constant harping about male contestants not being masculine enough in their dancing, the show is creeping dangerously close to some ugly places. And I don’t want to feel that way watching cheesy reality TV–I just want to watch a bunch of talented kids put on a show. Can’t we all just dance along?