Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors on So You Think You Can Dance

Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors

July 15, 2010

Earlier this season, So You Think You Can Dance was creating its own problems: the new format got off to a rocky start, and early efforts to course correct felt like an admission of those problems, making the whole thing seem like a failed experiment. However, I’m willing to admit that the show has pulled it together, as by the time we reached last week’s decision to introduce a combination of All-Star routines and contestant pairings it felt like a natural evolution. The show is still clearly flying by the seat of its pants, but the season no longer feels like it is doing so in an effort to fix the initial setup. The more they adjust, the more it shows that they’re dedicated to finding the right balance, and I’ve been impressed with those efforts.

The problem, of course, is that two injuries have kept the series from really coming together, with two of the early favourites taken out by injury and eventually forced out of the competition. On a show which always features a balance between the power of the judges and the will of the audience, here the decisions are being made by a third partner, fate, which cares not for the quality of dance on display. It’s a sign that the season just can’t catch a break, crippled by these injuries which keep the natural competitive field from developing to its full potential, leaving an imbalanced group of dancers who represent less the best America has to offer and more the survivors of a grueling season.

A few thoughts on the optics of these injuries and the odd organization of the upcoming tour, along with an extension of last week’s piece on musical performers, after the jump.

Ashley’s departure was as obviously choreographed as Alex’s was, as she didn’t appear in the entire episode until the conclusion and showed no signs of being able to continue dancing. Just as with last week, the series showed no interest in building suspense, dispensing a critique to each of the returning contestants and then sending Ashley on her way to prepare for the tour. It was clear that she was aware of this decision, and that there were no surprises for pretty much anyone in this circumstance: the only people who were perhaps not told were the other dancers, although neither Jose or Billy really danced for their lives unless we count Jose’s stern-faced determination (almost in spite of America’s decision to place him in the Bottom Two) as enough to overcome the fact that there was nothing musical about his B-Boy routine (especially compared to the choreographed material the night before, which made it clear how much he relies on tricks in his solos). This is now two weeks in a row where dancers were told by America that they weren’t good enough, and yet an injured contestant kept them from going home.

I could complain about the fact that Jose is not even close to being good enough to remain in this competition at this stage, or the fact that Billy while talented has been judged by America to be lacking and could have easily gone home tonight despite his steps in the right direction, but the most important thing here is the question that’s on everyone’s minds: why the injuries? The show has never had injuries in such quick succession, nor have those injuries been quite this serious, and so we have to wonder: are the dances too intense, the hours too rigorous, or this batch of contestants simply more injury prone than any other? There isn’t an easy answer to the question, and I don’t think it’s as if the show is truly out to hurt anyone, but Dancing with the Stars dealt with a similar rash of injuries by instituting stricter rehearsing guidelines. However, that show was dealing with non-dancers, and I think that there are higher expectations of dancers (even inexperienced ones) in this sort of situation, and I think the show is likely resistant to compromising the integrity of the choreography or the competition in order to make things easier. At the same time, though, at what point does the show step in and do something to adjust what is a far more serious concern than our early issues with the All-Star formatting disrupting the series’ traditional development of contestant narratives? I don’t have an answer to the question, but it’s something the show should likely address.

Meanwhile, Nigel said something interesting about the upcoming tour, in that it will feature dancers from Season 6 (which aired in the Fall, and therefore didn’t have a tour), Season 7 and several All-Stars. What I find fascinating about this particular detail is that Nigel implied that the selection criteria has already been organized, and that Ashley earned a spot on the tour for reasons that were unexplained. Before, the Tour was decided by whoever made the Top 10, so the viewers and the producers collaborated together to choose the dancers who would represent the show at that stage. However, it’s clear that this time around the viewers don’t particularly have a say in the process, as Nigel’s comments suggested that not every dancer from Season 7 would be making the tour, and that Ashley’s selection separated her from some of her peers. Does this mean that someone like Jose might not make the tour despite finishing in a higher position than some who did? It’s created a whole new selection criteria, and throwing Season 6 and the All-Stars into the mix will make for an interesting negotiation of the three areas by the tour organizers as they look for the ideal lineup to appeal to ticket buyers in a really rough event market.

And finally, I wrote a piece last week about the ways in which the Natasha Bedingfield performance with the All-Stars reflected ongoing efforts to create a connection between musical performances and the reality competition shows on which they appear, highlighting the way in which the performance connected with the Dancing with the Stars model of featuring professionals affiliated with the series during the performance. Tonight’s performance by Christina Perri was very much in the Dancing with the Stars vein, as All-Stars Neal and Allison performed a simple piece during the number rather than last week’s pop choreography, but the performance was another neat bit of synergy in that Perri’s song, “Jar of Hearts,” saw a marked increase in interest as a result of its appearance on So You Think You Can Dance a few weeks ago in a Stacey Tookey routine. The show played up the “plucked by obscurity” angle, selling itself as another location where musical talent can be discovered, stepping on American Idol’s toes and suggesting that a summer dance series has some weight to throw around in that arena. I’ll be interested to see if Perri’s success extends beyond iTunes downloads and her appearance on the show, but it’s a really great success story, and another interesting connection between reality television and the music which appears on it.

Cultural Observations

  • Jose was obviously the weak link this week, as everyone else had at least one moment which showed growth or potential. Jose’s Broadway routine was a really clever bit of choreography which gave him every chance to shine, and yet Jose sucked all the life from the dance instead of from his character, and the result was his first truly bad critique (although it shouldn’t have been his first). He’s on fumes right now, so I’m hopeful that he ends up back in the Bottom Three when there’s not an injury so that he can settle for sixth and the better dancers can survive.
  • Robert and Allison’s performance of Travis Wall’s piece he wrote for his mother was just really, really strong: I wasn’t necessarily moved upon watching it, perhaps because of all the hype which preceded it on my Twitter feed, but when things sped up in the middle and when they did the assisted walk at the end, I was definitely taken aback. A really strong piece of work, although they need to avoid the “If this doesn’t get an Emmy nomination” shtick.
  • Cat Deeley remains way too great as the host of this show, whether it’s in her ability to turn “killing time due to an injury” into emotional summations of the preceding dance or her charm in interacting with tween ballroom dancers.

1 Comment

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One response to “Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors on So You Think You Can Dance

  1. Pingback: When SYTYCD Art Meets SYTYCD Structure: Stacey Tookey’s Carefully Designed “Mad World” « Cultural Learnings

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