In Which a Dance Is Important (and Parentheticals Are Liberally Employed)

The people at So You Think You Can Dance presented an important dance last week, and they did it without any fanfare. Usually, when SYTYCD thinks they have a special dance, they over-explain it and over-inflate it to the point that by the time I actually get to see the dance, I already hate it. This time, not a word; they just let us figure it out for ourselves. As a result, it’s hard to know how deliberate it was, but regardless, it was real, and it did happen: for the first time ever, they presented a same-sex dance in which the characters were in a relationship that could easily, without a stretch, be interpreted as a romantic pairing. It was choreographed by Travis Wall and danced by contestant Kent Boyd and all-star Neil Haskell, and by the way, in addition to being important, it was absolutely beautiful. I don’t know how long this link will be up, but you might be able to watch it on YouTube. Some photos are here (click the right arrow at the top of the photo to see more). (White shirt = Kent Boyd, black shirt = Neil Haskell. Clapping guy they cut to at the end = Travis Wall.) And if you’re somewhere where you can watch the show, you might want to check out the season finale on Thursday; I betcha they’ll dance it again then.

Some context for why this matters: in all the seasons before this one, the setup of the show has meant that maybe 98% of the dances involve one girl and one boy. Since the themes/stories, explicit or otherwise, of these dances tend to be romance/sex a lot of the time, the show ends up feeling really heteronormative. This has been encouraged by the rare same-sex dances with two boys tending to be very “buddy-buddy” — two friends hanging out, or two enemies/rivals fighting, or a competition over an unseen woman, or something else explicitly non-love-related — and the rare same-sex dances with two girls being about girl power, or two little temptresses playing for the crowd, or something else explicitly non-love-related. It’s also been encouraged by the vibe of the conversations between the contestants and comments from the judges. Generally speaking, contestants talk about their opposite-sex dance partners being hot, male judges talk about the female dancers being hot, and female judges are allowed to say that anyone is hot (that’s one of the unspoken rules, right?), but even though we know that some of the judges and/or contestants are gay, there’s a certain (loud) silence on the matter. Judge Adam Shankman, who is openly gay, can mention how great it is that California is allowing same-sex marriage again, and jokingly ask judge Nigel Lythgoe (btw, google his name with the word “homophobia” and see what happens) to marry him, but when a male-female pair dances, Adam’s going to make his “ah-OOOO-gah” noise at the woman standing before him half-dressed, not the man. I’ve always found it to be weird, and kind of sad, the degree to which mostly everyone seems to feel the need to pretend that there’s no such thing as gayness. Especially on a show about dance, an art and an industry that would be so much less than it is without people of all sexual orientations.

Please note, however, that I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone should be required or pressured to reveal their orientation! I just wish there were more openness and license on the show — and in the world, of course — for people to do so without repercussions, and a freer atmosphere on the show, so that the jokes and comments and good-hearted innuendo could make room for different ways of being. And naturally, I also wish gayness could just simply be an artistic option on the show, just like so many other things in the world are artistic options. Stacey Tookey choreographed a dance about an interaction between a homeless man and a rich business man. Napoleon and Tabitha choreographed a psychiatrist and his patient. Many choreographers choreograph men and women in romantic or physical relationships. All these things exist in the world. (Note: Not to confuse matters, but of course, dances are also allowed to be about imaginary things!) If the show were open to gayness as a thing that exists, a dance could have a gay theme — and it wouldn’t have to say anything personally about the dancers or the choreographer or anyone — it would just be welcome on the show because it’s part of the WORLD. (Thanks to my friend Rebecca Rabinowitz for helping me hammer out some of those thoughts. To be honest, I even lifted some of her lines.)

This season, however. A teeny little step! The setup has changed this season, in a way that allows for an uneven number of male and female contestants, which is new. For the last few weeks, there’s been only one girl, and a pile of boys. This has meant a lot of dances with two boys. The dances have tended to be the usual, two-guys-who-barely-touch-each-other type of thing — and please note, I’m not saying that that necessarily makes for a bad dance — the Twitch/Alex, psychiatrist/patient hip hop number was a showstopper! But — then, last Wednesday, the Kent/Neil/Travis dance happened. The dancers touch and lift each other; it’s obvious that the characters love, or once loved, each other; there’s obvious heartbreak. I almost couldn’t believe it while I was watching. Gah, what a sad and beautiful dance. Congratulations to choreographer Travis Wall.

BTW, for those unfamiliar with the show, all the dances are always preceded by some commentary and explanation. Of course, in the commentary for this dance, everyone described it as the story of a “friendship ending,” no more. It doesn’t matter. The dance spoke for itself.

It was gorgeous (did I say that yet?), and the fact of it being on the show makes me so, so happy. Of course, you’re welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but you won’t talk me (or any of my friends who are similarly gushing) out of mine.

And now, for the SYTYCD watchers out there who’ll know what we’re talking about, here’s a single complaint about the routine, as expressed by my friend Laura Lutz: “The only thing negative I can say about it was that it totally overshadowed Lauren’s ridiculous awesomeness.” Contestant Lauren! Lauren is my vote for Season 7 champion. Did you SEE that tango Lauren and Pasha danced? (Merciful HEAVENS. PASHA!) (Photos. Especially this photo!) And all-star Ade! Did you SEE that jazz number Lauren and Ade danced? (Photos.) (Costumers? Stop dressing that gorgeous man in bunchy, ill-fitting clothes! Loved Lauren’s outfit, though.) GO LAUREN!

Also for SYTYCD watchers — I was seriously pressed for time last week, and am lucky enough to have a DVR, so decided to watch *only* the dancing (and then, if I loved a dance, take the time to go back and watch the intro, and maybe the commentary of any of the judges I find bearable, which, incidentally, is not all of them). I highly recommend this form of watching, if it is available to you. It was a two hour show but there were only about 30 minutes of actual dancing. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to cut out all the over-explanation of the dances (I hate when they tell us what the dance means; the dance should speak for itself) and the manipulative commentary of the judges (gee, I wonder who they wanted in the Top 3? It was so hard to tell).

And ALSO for SYTYCD watchers — has this not been the weirdest season ever? I loved Alex, and the Twitch/Alex (Tabitha & Napoleon) hip hop made the season for me, and then Alex tore his Achilles tendon. I loved Ashley, and the Ashley/Ade (Dee Caspary) contemporary dance made the season for me, and then Ashley got knocked out with an injury. The Billy/Ade (Stacey Tookey) contemporary routine that Billy did after coming back from an injury made the season for me, but then Billy got eliminated. I guess it’s okay though, because the Kent/Neil (Travis Wall) dance has made all seven seasons for me. (Boys? Don’t hurt yourselves!)

For non-SYTYCD watchers: if you’re curious about this show, and if you can, you might want to watch Thursday’s finale. During the finale, no one is competing; the voting results are in, and over the course of the show, the winner is revealed. This means that there’s some campy drama, but the rest of the time is filled up with a showcase of dancing — mostly, performances of the season’s best routines. Unfortunately, as two of the best dancers fell to injuries this season, we won’t get to see two of the best routines (maybe they’ll replay the videos of Alex/Twitch and Ashley/Ade?), but I bet we’ll get to see the Billy/Ade piece, and the Kent/Neil piece I’m talking about above.

And that’s all for SYTYCD.

Randomly: cutest thing a bilingual, well-mannered two-year-old in my family yells when he wants to be released from his nap: “OPEN THE DOOR, POR FAVOR!”