Monday, April 7, 2008

Now Everyone Thinks They Can Dance∗

Why Jazz has replaced Ballet as the most essential technique in America

I have this idea for a reality show. For the theme song: an orchestral version of R.Kelly’s “World’s Greatest”. The first image the television viewing audience will see is a slow moving montage of the great ballet dancers of the past. A masculine face appears and he says, “Think you’re America’s Greatest?” Of course, he’s Russian so it sounds more like, “Sink you’re ze vorld’s greatest?” Thirteen faces, names, and favorite dance poses slide across the screen. Finally, the screen fades to pink and the worlds, America’s Next Greatest Ballet Dancer in black calligraphy fades onto the screen, the words fade into hosted by Kara Hunter. Who is Kara Hunter? I don’t know. Has she ever taken a dance class? Probably not. Was she ever counted among one of the greats in the world of ballet, or even dance? It doesn’t really matter because she has an accent. The target audience will be the small minority of people that still consider ballet to be the most essential dance form. However, the success of public-guided television shows such as, So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Best Dance Crew, and the popularity of dance movies such as You Got Served, Honey, Stomp the Yard, Save the Last Dance, and Step Up (and their unnecessary sequels) suggest otherwise. These productions have caused a paradigm shift in America, perpetuating the belief that extensive training in jazz, not ballet leads to a lucrative and enduring career.

I was recently watching a marathon of sorts of the fabulous television series, America’s Best Dance Crew (don’t judge me). The group...I’m sorry, crew, Fysh and Chicks impressed the prestigious judge, Lil’ Mama with their knowledge of the ballet technique, particularly their execution of a fouetté turn into an attitude turn, or as Lil’ Mama pronounced it, fu-oy-te rand-de-jam. She expressed the importance of ballet training, which is extremely evident through her own music videos. I can honestly say I felt honored to be a ballet dancer when I saw the technique represented in “Shawty Get Loose”; and I don’t know about the rest of you, but nothing loosens me up like a midmorning dip in the fountain of classical ballet...but I digress.

In the case of choosing their favorite dance crew, how did America respond to the incorporation of ballet? Fysh and Chicks was promptly voted off the show. Even looking at the judges, you have to wonder if Lil’ Mama was right about ballet being essential. The esteemed judges also include Shane Sparks, and former N*SYNC member, JC. Shane Sparks has proven to be an amazing hip-hop choreographer. JC became a valued member of society through his association with a 90’s boy band, and Lil’ Mama won America’s heart through her ability to create an entire song and dance about make-up. However, none of them are, or have even attempted to be portrayed as classically trained dancers, therefore denying its importance. If anything, through their careers, aspiring dancers see the importance of jazz and hip hop training.

Ballet is a technique based on superiority and illusion. Jazz and more contemporary work focuses more on realism and the commonalities of humanity. For instance a ballet dancer needs to get from one side of the stage to the other. She, presumably wearing pointe shoes, will rise to the ¾ pointe, hold arms in the appropriate position, gaze towards the third balcony, don the look passion, which usually consists of raised eyebrows and the mouth slightly ajar, and run, bending the knees as little as possible, while still attempting to look pleasant. It’s convoluted, complex, and extremely dramatic. On another stage, in another theater, a jazz dancer needs also needs to travel across the stage. She neither rises to a high demi-pointe nor dons the look of passion. She walks. Her smile may flirt with the boundaries of normality and she might extenuate the arms or legs for added stylistic flare, but as a whole the movement is pedestrian. Ballet may be older but jazz is more identifiable and in the end no matter how pretty something is, audiences are more drawn to something they can relate to.

I believe I betray both my ballet training and general intelligence when I say this but, Lil’ Mama may have actually been right...sort of. Ballet is important and every dancer should have ballet training. However, in the eyes of the American public, Jazz, not ballet, is the essential technique because of its relatable and pedestrian quality. Ballet has become the proverbial Jones family. While everyone may be trying to keep up with the Jones’s, very few people appreciate or even, like them. However, the Jones’s would be loyal viewers of America’s Next Greatest Ballet Dancer, so they’re fine with me.

∗ Considering the author, it is safe to assume the tone of this title to be fueled by bitterness and festooned with sarcasm. Let it be said, however, the author does believe in the existence of certain individuals who actually can dance. Those chosen few need not take offense.

No comments: