The Reality of Reality Dance Shows
The television industry does a lot of things wrong. I think we need look no further than Snooki to see that.
Reality television is a particularly fallible beast, and the new season of America's Best Dance Crew (ABDC), premiering this Wednesday, proves that.
This and other reality dance shows, like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, have done nothing but disservice to a highly specialized profession that, at one time, was reserved for only the talented and the elite. Professional dancers - the ones who achieved a certain level of fame - used to embody the notion that fame must be deserved and that time, experience, and technical mastery were requirements for gaining recognition.
Reality dance shows work against this idea of elitism in dance. Becoming a talented dancer is a lifelong process. "Training" people like Rob Kardashian and Sherri Shepherd to be world-class ballroom dancers in a few short weeks must be insulting to those people who have trained for 20 years to perfect the tango - and if it isn't insulting, it certainly should be.
These shows represent the idea that anyone can achieve a level of proficiency and talent to achieve fame in the world of professional dance, and this simply is not true.
And would anyone want that to be true? What made Salvador Dali so amazing was the fact that simply no one else could have done what he did. The same goes for Mozart, Michelangelo, The Beatles, and for any other great artist.
People are attracted to these great artists because of their originality - the fact that no one else could achieve what they did.
Instead of trying to promote the idea of elitism in the art of dance, these shows do something more sinister: they commodify dance. The result of this commodification is detrimental to the development of young dancers everywhere. The quality of dance on a local level will ultimately diminish, making dance obsolete as an art form and giving way for dance to be considered a sport.
I don't want to be misunderstood. I, in no way, think the democratization of dance is wrong. On the contrary, the byproduct of shows like ABDC is something reality dance television does right. But, without widespread recognition of an art form and the process that it requires, respect for that art form will not exist.
My roommate's boyfriend, in fact, has developed an attitude of veneration for dance because of ABDC; the show, he says, demonstrates the athleticism dance requires and that it's more difficult than it first appears.
The problem with these shows is that they only tell half of the story. Any educated, self-respecting dancer would admit, perhaps begrudgingly, that ballet is the foundation of most dance forms. (I say "most" and not "all" because I am unfamiliar with the technical foundation for more modern and unregulated dance forms, like breakdancing.) Because ballet is such a cornerstone of subsequent dance forms, one cannot hope to truly excel in dance without some working knowledge of ballet.
Shows such as Dancing with the Stars are particularly bad at mentioning this important fact. Paralleling the popularity of these shows will undoubtedly bring about an increase of dancers who don't want to engage in fundamental ballet training and dance schools who won't provide it. This will not only produce ill-prepared dancers who are unable to uphold the reputation of dance as an elite art form, but also perpetuate the idea that sport-like competitions are the best way to preserve the art in the modern world.
Instead of educating people about the importance of the arts, these shows exist to be more of a fast track to short-lived fame than a form of paying homage to the craft.