I always wondered about the contentious name of this show. Surely when, in another life, I worked as a dance critic, I found that those who auditioned dancers were never this acerbic. They certainly didn't have the time for someone who'd never attended a dance class, but they were always willing to find that good spark in everyone. A producer never knew when he was going to find a brilliant new talent hiding under hip-hop attire.
So, I was pleased to see that season seven, billed as the "Toughest Season Ever," was not something a drill sergeant put together. Traveling from New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Dallas, the judges audition dancers to send to Las Vegas. There they will all gather for a super showdown at the series end. At none of these auditions are the judges snarky, nasty, irritating or arrogant. I think the closest they get is when they stare down a guy who never met a dance class in his life. He's been wasting their time, and their faces show it.
There was a bit of theme to the two-hour premiere on Wednesday on FOX. It began with Sarah Brinson, 22 of Philadelphia, who worries that she's too heavy to dance. She's worked that worry away for several years and finally gets enough confidence to perform a contemporary number to wow the judges.
They brushed away the weight issue as just so much rubbish, but it has always been a concern in dance. It's not the sickness that it is in modeling. There is a real need to be thin, lean, and muscular in dance, for the dancer must leap, be carried by another, and in the case of ballet, perform on toe. None of these things is easy if the performer is heavy. As early as the 19th century, when toe dancing was invented, dancers discovered that the currently fashionable padded look didn't work on stage. There is still too much overzealous dieting, but thin is not in to suit neurotic designers.
So, when zaftig Megan McCarter, 18 of Leesburgh, Virginia, showed up to do her performance, she created a bit of a meltdown amid the judges. Judges Mia Michaels and John Schankman broke down into tears, causing head judge Nigel Lythgoe to stop the performance. The two blubbered about acceptance and size (and McCarter was a good bit larger than Brinson). But finally Lythgoe stopped the nonsense and told Brinson that reality is reality and that that she'd have a hard time finding a job as a professional dancer. She said she wanted to change all that. Good luck. She was cut in the next sequence.
A far more heartening tale is that of Tyrell Rolle, a 24-year-old black man from blighted Liberty City in Florida. He says "dance is my way out." He's not doing hip-hop, he's doing beautiful Alvin Ailey-style modern dance. Graceful, with strong, flowing lines, he grabs the attention of all the judges. Off to Las Vegas he went.
Another young man, 20, who could be Rolle in a few years, is Edward Spots of New Orleans, who has been taken on by Ailey as an apprentice dancer. His movement is stronger, the extensions higher, the body presence just ever so much alive. The best dancer I saw all night, he's also on his way to Vegas.
Finally, there was a woman who was a role model for every mom who finds herself down in the dumps with diapers, feedings, ABCs, Thomas the Tank Engine, and finding Goldfish snacks in her sofa cushions. Ami Aguiar-Riley, 27, of Miami, broke from from being mom for one day and did an impressive post-modern, in-your-face number that shocked and blew away the judges. Get thee to Vegas.
So You Think You Can Dance? airs on Wednesday and Thursdays at 8 EDT/7 CDT.