Benji Schwimmer (S2), Travis Wall (S2), Donyelle Jones (S2), Heidi Groskreutz (S2), Ivan Koumaev (S2), Allison Holker (S2), Ryan Rankine (S2), Martha Nichols (S2), and Dmitry Chaplin (S2).
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While it is indeed indebted to television variety shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand, the structure of the format is much more aligned with the backstage musical and backstage dance film, in which a focus on auditions, rehearsals, and personal stories depict what British cultural theorist Angela Mc Robbie called, in Meaning and Motion (1997), “fantasies of achievement”.
Or, in Nigel Lythgoe’s words: “Now is the time when dancers should become stars again,” neatly hidden in an interactive televised dance competition format.
But what has prompted such an explosion in the popularity and production of popular screendance? In contrast to a show such as Dancing With The Stars, there are no celebrities involved in the dance performances, and the dancers must be highly skilled, versatile, and talented to succeed.
It coincided with a new interest in and increasing production of blockbuster movies, as well as independent dance films (think the Step Up) franchise and Frances Ha), dance documentaries (First Position and Pina), fictional dance television series (Bunheads and Dance Academy), reality TV shows (All the Right Moves, Bring it! In short, this period has been a dance nerd’s wildest dream.
Not only have shows such as SYTYCD (season 12 is now screening) made dance more visible and accessible outside a stage dance context.
They have also, through their constant referencing of earlier popular screendance peak moments (think the Hollywood Musical of the 1930s to the 1950s, Fame), Flashdance, Footloose, and everything Bob Fosse ever did), commemorated the beauty and joy of these screendance works and their impact on spectators.
Created by American Idol producers Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, the show’s premise is to find “America’s favourite dancer” by a combination of open auditions, “Vegas Week” call back, and live performance shows.
To mark the date, a special 60-minute episode called A Decade of Dance was aired, with re-stagings of some of the show’s most memorable dance routines by its most popular contestants.
These were interspersed with montages drawn from 11 seasons of the show: the good, the bad, the funny, and the often jaw-dropping athleticism and virtuosity of the dancers.
SYTYCD first screened – as you would have worked out from the above – in 2005, the same year the American version of Dancing With The Stars (season 21 of which will premiere next month) was launched.
It marked the beginning of an exceptional decade of television shows and films focusing on dance. The past two years has also seen the increasing visibility of dance in music videos, not just as background noise but with dance content assuming centre stage (think all of Sia’s recent music videos), and dancers posting and promoting their own work on You Tube (check out choreographers Willda Beast Adams and Tricia Miranda).