Our debt to "So You Think You Can Dance'

Where popularity trumps talent (which isn't necessarily bad)

Diverse ethnicities, identical body types.

"So You Think You Can Dance," a popular reality TV dance competition, debuted on the Fox Network in the summer of 2005, promising to be the dance equivalent of "American Idol"— crowning "America's Favorite Dancer" through a public voting process.

Notice that the show seeks America's favorite dancer, not America's best dancer. The best dancer rarely wins; the show's most attractive, bubbly and marketable dancers almost always win. In essence, popularity trumps talent in this lucrative dance game genre.

Dance aficionados love the show's energy as well as its voting aspect, which enables them to feel they're helping to shape the next generation of dance artists. On the other hand, they hate the short dance routines. Lengthier routines would allow choreographers and dancers to delve more deeply into each work and achieve more of an authentic connection with the audience.

Shallow critiques

Another gripe concerns the shallow comments by celebrity judges like Debbie Reynolds and Kristin Chenoweth. Phrases like "Hot Tamale Train!" and "Amazing!" may entertain the TV audience, but they're useless for dancers and choreographers.

To my mind, the benefits of "So You Think" outweigh the valid criticisms. If professional dance is to grow in America, it needs an audience. "So You Think" provides a large, engaged and dedicated new cadre of followers capable of voting with their wallets.

Gone are the days when grants took care of professional dance groups. In an age that demands creative financial solutions to funding cuts for dance programs, "So You Think" has successfully demonstrated how to produce shows, tours and merchandise that an audience enjoys and pays for.

Body types

Aside from its business success, "So You Think" has launched the careers of many professional dancers. The show's alumni have graduated to stints on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars," world tours with the pop music icon Lady Gaga, and VH1's new hit series, "Hit The Floor." The show has even helped dancers cross over into modeling, recording and acting.

To be sure, "So You Think" could select more versatile dancers, embrace more diverse body types, and bring on choreographers from beyond the New York-Los Angeles dance agency orbit. But the bottom line is this: After ten years, "So You Think" has popularized dance to an extent that was unheard of just a few years ago. It has made dance a familiar part of the American TV experience. We in the dance community could do worse than experience another ten years of a top-rated TV program about dance.♦

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