Why I’m conflicted about SYTYCD.

Did anyone else out there watch the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance this week? (Wikipedia says viewership is low but someone else must be watching.) And did anyone else think that they’d lost their mind? There we were with four dancers left.

final four, Cyrus on the left

Three were technically accomplished, highly trained dancers. And then there was Cyrus, a charismatic, lovely guy who did his animation street style dancing very well-it was awesome to watch him do his stuff-but his dance skill in other areas was…limited. I don’t think I was the only one who thought this. Each show starts with a group number, and every week Cyrus was tucked in back,  sometimes popping up front for a quick pose, dazzling smile or a quick run across the stage.  At most a short variation of his style occasionally got stuffed into 10 seconds of the piece.

Cyrus, upstage

Will the real dancer please point their feet

Having Nigel gas on about how hard Cyrus worked and how he was “an amazing performer” didn’t do much to convince me. Ditto for the fact that the show is supposedly about being “America’s favorite dancer”. SYTYCD always has a dancer (or dancers) who aren’t conventionally “trained” but they don’t usually stick around long and their struggles with various styles are obvious. This season it seemed like Cyrus got a pretty free pass-other men were doing challenging choreography, and there was Cyrus, working hard at what he could but frankly not being asked to do much. No stretched, straightened legs, no pointed feet, despite the fact that the judges kept yelling at another (conventionally trained) dancer for his (admittedly) “bad” feet. As the season progressed I got frustrated (when were they going to ramp things up for this guy?), annoyed (Really? You really think he’s a great dancer?) and finally truly aggravated (Final four? Really?).

“Real”ity dancer?

I’m not so naive that I think “reality” TV ever approaches being real. But this all made me think about what a dancer really is. That’s always been a sticky question for me, since I always wanted to be defined as a dancer but depending on the day (and how well that day’s classes/audition went) I didn’t always feel that I deserved the title. Most professions are also defined by whether you earn your living by doing them, and if this were true for dancers many of them would have to describe themselves as waiters, baristas, and workout instructors. So who gets to call themselves a dancer?

Watching Cyrus I’d say he is a dancer, but a very particular type. I’m sad that this talented but limited performer was held up as one of “America’s favorite dancers”. Simply put, seeing him go on (and on, and on), burns me a bit, because in my opinion it trivializes the effort, time, and sacrifice that goes into becoming a “real” trained dancer.