My strongest memory of dance was watching my sister and mother performing in "The Nutcracker" for the umpteenth time at the local dance studio where my mother taught and my sister took classes. I was always on the floor with kids younger than me and it was never the highlight of my year.
The only dancing I had been interested in since was the variety found at bachelor parties, so I was not a likely candidate to become a huge fan of “So You Think You Can Dance.” My wife kept hinting that I might really like the show, but I scoffed at the idea. The watered-down and dull performances that are celebrated on many of the popular TV talent shows today were never of any interest to me, and one about dancing only conjured bad memories of sugar plums dancing in my head.
At a dinner party one night, I was surprised to find out that a good friend and his wife were also big fans of the show, so I begrudgingly agreed to watch one dance from the most recent season that made them all cry. I was ready to sit on the floor next to the dog out of habit to watch it, but I have to admit — what I saw totally impressed me. The story behind the dance was about a woman dying of cancer and how she and her partner struggle with it (you can watch it here). I didn't cry (as was suggested I might), but I did think it was a beautiful piece. The story being told only through music, movement and the expressions on the performers' faces was moving and powerful.
So I decided to give the next season a chance, but in the back of my mind felt that that performance was an exception and I’d soon be back to watching non-dance fare. I was wrong.
The entire process from the first auditions and into each subsequent round was filled with amazing artistic expression. Dancers from a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of training made for an eclectic mix of performers. The “talent show” aspect of the competition is not an enjoyable part for me, and I could do without it all together, but then there wouldn’t be a show, so like dealing with in-laws in exchange for a Christmas feast, it's something I can tolerate. The main judges are way over the top, but they do offer decent criticism and show real appreciation for the performances. Although, I think a limit of one use of the word "genius" per episode might be in order.
Talent show hokeyness and hyperbole aside, the performances themselves are amazing and watching the performers' growth on the show is remarkable. They have a talented group of choreographers in a wide variety of dance styles that create new pieces each week. Some are light-hearted and humorous, and others are grand and dramatic, taking up the whole stage and using all the dancers.
The choreographers give the dancers an opportunity to tell a real and emotional story through their movement. From troubled relationships, stories of survival and dealing with illness or loss, the pieces incorporate expertly chosen music and dance that tell a detailed story with no words. I never thought I would feel this way about dance, but watching a dancer go from a position of strength and then collapse weightless into their partner’s arms to show struggle, death or defeat is quite a sight. In other instances, the dancers fly defiantly across the stage pushing against invisible forces. The great ones are always in tune with their partner and able to display real emotional and character in their face, eyes and bodies.
Season 10 just wrapped and the female winner, Amy Yakima, gave one of the most breathtaking performances of the year. I am hooked on SYTYCD and hope it is around for many seasons to come. And the best part is, I don’t have to sit on the floor to watch it.