Thursday, June 16, 2011

ALL THE CHILDREN ARE ABOVE AVERAGE: One hallmark of Nigel Lythgoe shows is that the first real competition episode, when you're trying to introduce all of the contestants, is more of a showcase than a competition. With SYTYCD, you can pretty much count on the judges saying nice things about everybody and on pretty nonrandom dance assignments, like hip-hoppers getting hip-hop and ballroom champions getting the quickstep. So with 20 dancers competing for attention, little judging, and no real degree of difficulty, it's hard to say much. Which means quick bullet points:

  • No Shankman? Boo. I suspect that Shankman's volubility clashed with Nigel's desire to land the show on time, but still, he was frequently constructive and invariably enthusiastic without resorting to shouting. You just cannot fill that chair with TV personalities.
  • This show is pimping Ryan Ramirez more than anybody has pimped anybody since Idol threw its lot with Danny Gokey. Anywhere there is an odd number of dancers doing anything in formation, Ryan Ramirez is the one in the front middle. She's good, yes (but more on that in another bullet), and she has a nice story and dramatic blonde hair, but enough. There are other women on this show too.
  • First overpraise: Jordan and Tadd's african jazz. They didn't "get down into the floor," to misuse a Nigel phrase, and it seemed too light, too bouncy. It was like they were rushing to fit everything in, instead of really muscling it.
  • First non-surprise: Sasha, in her Travis Wall contemporary, is waaaaay better with a partner of comparable skills than when she dances with her sister, who is cute but who is not in the same league as these folks.
  • First alarming thought: Cat Deeley is still growing. She must live above a nuclear waste repository. Even when she leans down to hold the microphone to Jess's face, everything from her deltoids up is above the frame. If she doesn't fight crime in her spare time, she's being wasted.
  • First lie: Ryan Ramirez is not a "very funky white girl." Her hip-hop was terrible, all going-through-the-motions and upright and Julia Stiles at the beginning of Save the Last Dance. Ricky Jaime was much better, lighter on his feet and subtly great at some of the small stuff, like decelerating in a glide or transitioning from footwork into other elements.
  • First appearance of recurring complaint: Why does every dance have to have a hyperliteral story (which Nigel is proud to point out)? When the League of Extraordinary Dancers comes on the show, they just do crazy-looking stuff. When the League's Christopher Scott choreographs, it has to be a dance in three acts with exposition at the beginning and a moral at the end? That's just a way of hiding the absence of crazy-looking stuff by Ryan, I think.
  • The Urkel/Woo guy is annoying. Enough already.
  • And Miranda Maleski is right -- she is surprisingly unsexy (cute and pretty, sure, but there is no sizzle there) for a woman who kind of looks like Kate Beckinsale. It's kind of unfair to say to someone who doesn't know how to be sexy that they should dance sexier. It's like telling a baseball player to hit more or telling an associate to write better.
  • First legitimate gushing: Melanie and Marko's contemporary. I hate her hair and wasn't wowed by him in the auditions, but this is a great piece. I think Travis Wall is becoming my favorite of the show's regular choreographers. This piece has some great shapes (like when Melanie stands on her left leg and raises her right leg and right arm in a big parallel sweep), some nice stuff where bodies moving in opposite directions use each other to halt or alter their motion, which makes it clear that they are dancing with (not just around) each other, and also some cool looking stuff where twirls invert themselves and then spin in opposite directions. That's all probably pretty standard stuff for choreographers, but it looks cool to me. This may be a case of choreography elevating dancers, but I really liked this one.
  • Iveta disturbs me. She is 30 but looks 50. Her lack of body fat is disturbing -- she doesn't even have fat on her cheeks or in her lips. Her combination of bronzer and hair dye makes her unnatural skin darker than her unnatural hair, a sepia photonegative. Is competitive ballroom dance second only to child beauty pageants in creepiness of the bizarre beauty standard to which it adheres?


  1. alwaysfiredup11:41 AM

    "<span>Is competitive ballroom dance second only to child beauty pageants in creepiness of the bizarre beauty standard to which it adheres?"</span>

    Yes.  Full stop.

    I am afraid of this season turning into last season's Idol.  I find myself fast forwarding through all the judge commentary and only watching the dances and some of the introductions.  I thought the dances last night were boring for the most part, although I liked the broadway guy.

    And they need to start letting in more ballroom dancers and fewer hip-hoppers and tap dancers.  My $0.02.

  2. isaac_spaceman12:06 PM

    Disagree, in that hip hop dancing is what I like the most and ballroom what I like the least.

  3. Natalie12:07 PM

    I was really glad Nigel called Robert out on his mugging for the camera. I really enjoy showmanship and I think there is a place for his character but it needs to be seriously toned down. The costuming isn't helping by constantly playing up his Urkelness and encouraging his pidgenholing.

    Melanie had me from her first audition. Amazing.

  4. Craig1:45 PM

    Shankman's filming Rock of Ages in Miami. So, his availability is a bit limited. That being said, the third chair really should go to an actual dancer or choreographer.

    That being said, I don't think SYTYCD really compares to something like Idol since the actual training and practice required to do this is so much higher and more demanding. Because the technical elements are so specific (more than "it was pitchy, dawg"), the judges can't just heap praise on the contestants. They'll rev it up, especially with a pool this strong where the average layman doesn't know that you need to point your toes in the Jive or if your extensions in the [random French word used in dance] weren't long enough.

    The Ryan pimpage stems from the fact that's she's Mia's protégé and nearly made the show last season. She'll need to earn it as time goes on, especially during the first round of competition where it's not all about viewer votes.

    As for the comment on more ballroom, the problem (based on the show's portrayal of it and following the rumor mill online) is that the show actually doesn't get a lot of ballroom dancers auditioning. I personally would like to see more, as well.

  5. Speaking of ballroom, can someone with knowledge or information comment on where Iveta falls as the "best of" something?  Clearly she's not the world's best quickstepper, it seems like she competes in a decathlon-type compeition that includes quickstep. 

    Also, unrelatedly, Ryan's goony grin last night really put me on edge.  Her unjustified defensiveness about it made her my instant season 8 enemy. 

  6. janet2:22 PM

    I started off last night by disagreeing with the judges on the first two pairs, which reminded me how often this happens with Nigel and Mary and me. Jordan and Tadd were not as synchronized as they should have been (and probably will be later when they know each other better), and their partnering was rough. Then I liked Sasha and Alexander much more than Nigel and Mary did -- their violent choreogaphy and partnering was really well executed and I thought they had great rapport for their first pairing.

    At that point I stopped taking notes and watched only half-heartedly for awhile since none of the next few couples piqued my interest. 

    The winner for me in the excessive-pimping category is "these women are beasts!" I get it, Nigel. You want a woman to win this year. Other than Melanie, who I also noticed from the first audition, I'm not immediately wow'ed by anyone. 

    Vocabulary: if you were referring to Melanie in the sort of position where she was bending forward and her leg was behind her in arabesque, it's called a penché. Melanie's flexibility and strength make her extensions extraordinary.

    If she was facing us, bending sideways, with her extended leg sideways in the air, it doesn't have a ballet name, but is sort of a sideways "pitch." This non-classical position has become very popular in contemporary dance in the past few years because it can be performed at such an angle where the dancer appears more flexible than he/she really is.

    See if you can picture this: If you sit on the floor with your legs apart in a straddle position, you could conceivably tip that position 90° to be standing on the floor with one leg appearing to be straight up in the air. Viewed from the front, it's not immediately apparent whether the two legs actually align in a straight line, or (more likely) form an obtuse angle. 

    However, a full classical penché, such as Melanie did, is not possible to fake. You can't get there unless you really have that degree of flexibility and strength. For fun, Google arabesque penché and click on the Images link to see all sorts of pictures of good and "bad" penchés (and a frightening-looking stretching apparatus). The sculptures in the first few rows of hits, for instance, represent very bad penchés because while the body has leaned over, the leg did not lift high enough to create the lovely line. In other words, if the alignment of the head-through torso-through extended leg resembles a level or descending 737 airliner, it's not an exemplary penchée.

  7. isaac_spaceman3:00 PM

    Always great to get your take.  Maybe next week we can bump you to the front page and leave me for the comments where I belong.  The thing I was thinking about was more the sideways pitch than the arabesque, but what I liked about it was how fluidly the leg and the arm moved together.  Maybe it's easy, but I liked the way it looked. 

  8. Patrick3:02 PM

    Some quick googling gives me these stats, courtesy of

    In Ballroom (Walt, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep) Iveta and her partner Gherman are currently ranked 50th in the world, 10th US.

    In Latin (Paso Doble, Cha Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, and Jive) they are 134th in the world, 25th US.

    In 10 Dance (Ballroom and Latin combined) they 2nd in the world, 1st US.

    Also their website says the Iveta and Gherman were world champions in 10 dance 2008 and 2009.

  9. Julen3:10 PM

    As someone who was disappointed Ryan didn't make it last year, I'm already over her this year. The aggressive Ryan promotion is too grating and her first real spotlight performance (other than always being front and center in last week's expo numbers) felt soulless and paint-by numbers. I get a whiff of desperation off her that seems to have migrated from Iveta in the early Vegas rounds to her.

    Iveta. Iveta Iveta Iveta. I like her, but someone needs to take her in hand and give her a for-American-TV makeover. No body fat and over-the-top theatrically intense makeup/hair/tanning are going to make her look older and not ... current, and it's definitely not going to help her on this tv. If they hadn't thrown her a bone and paired her with the popular (and potentially national boy crush) Tapper, she'd be in trouble regardless of how good or bad she was. Then again, I'm still convinced that Anya's hair was a contributing factor in why she wasn't getting votes.

    And Mary: We know you desperately want her to stay and represent Ballroom and be respected, but you need to dial it back. I appreciate that your praise is emergent from her accomplishments and not your loins, but STILL.

    I agree we need a dancer/choreographer or even former contestant (maybe a week that Travis isn't choreographing? Or get Chelsie Hightower to show up or a former favorite like Twitch ...) to sit in the third chair - someone who will give direct critiques.

    I though Sasha and Alexander got underpraised, and I never want to hear the word beast again, particularly because it also seems to be applied based on performing resume we never saw! I have only a fleeting memory of Missy, for example, during auditions/Vegas, and her performance last night was good but not extraordinary.  Yet, Nigel went all unqualified superaltive on her, stating it as a universally agreed upon fact without checking the universe first.

    Much of the choreography was just okay to good, and Travis's statue performance was quite good but I think declaring it emmy-bait was premature and self-congratulatory on Nigel's part and obnoxious, to boot. I really disliked the Tyce chroreography and I'm not sure if it was my general dislike of his choreogrraphy and my negative impression of his personality, or if it really was a derivative, uninspired pastiche of stuff.

    I suspect the African Jazz (not crisp or strong enough; plus there's a tendency for voters not to connect with the genre historically), the second Christopher Scott piece (which I actually liked, but it felt lighter-weight than the others, and followed the biggest praise-getter on the show and suffered in comparison), and potentially the Jive (which I liked, even woth the lack of Jive, for the crime of being ballroom and not ballroom enough and the polarizing nature of Woo Boy) although I'd prefer it be Ryan and Ricky.

  10. Leslie3:18 PM

    I can't look at Melanie and not think "Ginnifer Goodwin."  Also, Ryan's smile last night during her routine, ruined it for me.  Did she not know that "Ain't no Sunshine" isn't a happy song?

  11. This Ryan pimping is going to backfire.  Thanks for the dance descriptions (with visual aids!) janet.  As someone who enjoys watching the show but knows nothing of dance, your comments are invaluable.  Keep them coming.

    Isaac - Loved your Cat bullet point, hysterical and so true!  She is so fabulous and alien-like.

  12. Nancy7:01 PM

    Then how tall is The Tapper? He's taller than Cat!

  13. I couldn't place who she reminded me of, but YES, YES, YES, Gennifer Goodwin!

    And while she's on my mind, when will they release the classic, awesome "Ed" on DVD. Replace the music if the music rights are the problem!

  14. Marsha9:34 AM

    Oh my word, those women are doing that EN POINTE!

    My thanks also for the commentary, Janet!

  15. I don't think I could disagree more with your comparison to Idol. After watching the show, I really feel like the judges were at the top of their game this season, as far as selection. I wish there could be more variety in styles too, but I can't argue that, unlike Idol, all of these contestants are a pleasure to watch. Some of the choreography was boring, but not most of it. (Am I the only one who thinks Tasty Oreo choreographs snore-worthy routines?)

    I was a little thrown by the choices in re eliminations, as I always think of Nigel as a decision maker who's willing to just pick someone rather than get the show off schedule, but whatever. It's still one of the best shows on television.