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Why I Don’t Watch Dancing with the Stars

March 24, 2012
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When people find out I’m a ballroom dancer, the first question they ask is “what do you think about Dancing with the Stars?” It’s one of those difficult questions, because I know that show is the only commonality most people have with ballroom dancing and they often have a gleeful look in their eyes that implies that they expect me to like it as much, if not far more, than they do.  In my attempts to be polite, I usually stick to a simple answer of no, I don’t watch the show because I’m usually dancing and training when it is on television.  This is often quickly followed up with the fact that I don’t actually have a television with which to watch the show.  (Yes, I’m strange, but I don’t feel I have lost much quality of life by watching less television.)

In fact, I am thankful dance shows like that exist because the vast majority of the population would otherwise not know about how wonderful partner dancing is.  PBS’s coverage of Ohio Star Ball all these years is commendable, but let’s be honest, outside of our grandparents, very few people are sitting around with bowls of popcorn waiting for the annual installment.  I have never met a single person who from watching that coverage had any idea who the dancers are or about the various style categories.  Dancing with the Stars changed that and brought partner and ballroom dance to mainstream media and to the masses on a regular basis.  Instead of thinking I’m a freak, people are coolly impressed with the fact that yes, I ballroom dance and yes, I have competed.  Yes, with the sparkly costumes and the fake tan in the fancy hotels.  For once part of my identity is met with admiration instead of snickers over my geek status.

Anyway, back to the question.  So why really don’t I watch Dancing with the Stars? After all, YouTube is replete with clips and Hulu could backfill me on every episode to my heart’s content.  There are a few reasons beyond simple lack of time.  The first is the cinematography.  If I truly want to watch dancing of the highest caliber, I’d rather search out videos of world champions or attend actual events which highlight these amazing dancers, without the distractions of editing, commercials and screen cuts to the audience and singers. Fred Astaire had it right!  I must admit, I long for the days of the 1930s when limiting the number of shots and holding the camera steady for long sequences of dance were the norm (as a result of Astaire’s influence).  I realize commercials can be hard to avoid in the world of television, but I find the camera tricks and switches to the reactions and vocal entertainment on these shows to be disrespectful to the talent of these dancers.  I recall watching a professional dance couple being showcased (not regulars on the show), who at the time were ranked among the best in the world and were people I knew personally. I actually went out of my way to watch that particular episode because I enjoyed their dancing so much.  Yet every few seconds the camera turned some funny angle or they showed the audience or singer on stage.  Really?  Cheap camera tricks are in order for poor quality dancing by non-dancers, not people with world credentials.  And they cut out half the routine by switching the camera focus to others.  By the time they were done, I turned off the show and never returned.  I was so disappointed.

Second, the problem with mass media is…well, it is mass media.  Which means everything is cast through that lens.  They only show dancing which looks impressive from a television screen.  They have to.  However, there is a lot of dancing in the world, amazing, over-the-top, take-your-breath-away dancing that will never look good on television.  It is a limited medium and as such, there is a lot that it cannot show.  Also, ballroom dance in particular is designed to travel and be seen from all four sides and at close range.  So while television gives a glimpse into partner dance, it will never fully hold my attention when there are other options in the world.  There’s also the hyped build-up of who will win a given episode, the drawn out results and time-consuming format overall.  Honestly, I have better things to do with my time.

Third, the low quality of the pro-star dancing, which really is just glorified pro-am dancing.  The point being if I want to watch a professional dance with someone who is early in their training, there is ample opportunity at most local studios and at any professional competition in the syllabus pro-am events.  There just isn’t enough draw for me to watch someone who is not skilled at dancing when there are so many opportunities to see professionals who have worked hard all their lives to produce beautiful movement.  It’s sad to think millions will watch shows like Dancing with the Stars while small dance events by spectacular and highly talented artists struggle and are performed in empty theaters to an audience of forty.  That’s part of why blogging has been so fulfilling to me.  I really enjoy doing my part for the underdogs of dance who in all likelihood will never have that kind of audience.  Even attending big dance competitions is more fun, since I can keep my time focused on the high quality professional and high level amateur events.

Finally, I’m truly not into celebrity culture.  I could probably walk into a room full of celebrities and make a fool of myself because I honestly wouldn’t know who two-thirds of them were. Or who knows, maybe they’d all love me…

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate what Dancing with the Stars has to offer in terms of exposure and entertainment for the larger viewing audience.  It will likely get many people interested and started in this beautiful art form and social activity that would never have otherwise.   But for me personally, it is not a gratifying way to experience dance.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna Sternberg permalink
    March 24, 2012 12:00 pm

    These are the reasons I also don’t watch So You Think You Can Dance. Add to that music that usually is not challenging and the focus on technical tricks that distracts from the artistry of dance. I often find myself in the same situation with you, non-dancers automatically assume I’m thrilled with SYTYCD, and while I recognize that it has raised the visibility of dance, it has also created an expectation that technical wow moments are an integral part of the dance form. Audiences become less willing or able to watch a dance unfold over a longer period of time than the usual 1-2 minutes. And don’t get me started on “lyrical” dance- usually a category that everything that isn’t something else is dropped into and ends up being sappy, sentimental goo. Good article Vanessa!

  2. March 25, 2012 6:33 am

    those tv shows are all about being a show and subordinating (or corrupting) the dance instead of serving it. as for so you think you can dance, I don t think that a viewer can even get an idea what samba, tango or the waltz are because they get so corrupted and fusioned with other dance forms that it all just becomes a big mush. I m not against fusion, but then call it a fusion, and not a pure form.

  3. Brooke Mottillo permalink
    October 12, 2012 4:16 am

    I always watch dancing with the stars because for me, it is the best dance show ever. ;,,,`

    Have a look at the most recent article on our new web-site

    • Vanessa Adelmann permalink*
      October 16, 2012 3:47 am

      I’m glad to hear you enjoy the show! As I mentioned in my post, I think the show offers great exposure and entertainment for some people. It just doesn’t work for me personally.

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