Dance as a Story

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After a long day of editing yesterday, there was nothing I wanted more than to curl up on my couch and finally watch Wednesday’s season opener of So You Think You Can Dance. SYTYCD has been one of my favorite shows since the day it first aired, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend you do. I’ve long wondered how so many people who watch American Idol don’t watchSYTYCD, but I suspect it’s because they simply haven’t been awakened to the beauty of the dance world yet.

So perhaps I can be the one to awaken you.

My love of dance started when I was young. I wasn’t a good dancer, you see—even now, the best you’ll get out of me is a good “club dance”—but my sister was amazing. She could emulate nearly every style, and I remember her hardly needing to practice for any of her classes or performances. The kid even beautifully choreographed my first talent show performance of Mariah Carey’s “Someday”—oh yeah, I sure did—but the kicker was that she choreographed when I was 11…and she was 8. (What the heck?!)

A couple years later, my sister ended up with a performance after having had minor surgery to remove a large mole. She was terrified to go onstage because she didn’t want to rip open her stitches, and we’d wrapped her leg in a careful attempt to prevent it. The time came for her to go on, and we cheered and cheered—until we suddenly realized that her ace bandage was dangling from the end of her pant leg.

Now, I need to remind you that my sister was ridiculously talented, and though I’m sure she’d tell this story quite differently than I do, here’s what I remember: she kept right on dancing, not an ounce of terror showing in her face as she kicked and emoted and threw that leg at all the right cues until finally she snapped it hard enough that the stupid bandage flew off onto the stage. And then she kept right on dancing, lovely powerhouse that she was, ever so triumphant over that lame little ace bandage. I squealed and cheered from the audience, of course because she was fantastic, but more because I’d never seen such determination and poise (especially in a 10-year-old) as she managed to maintain her artistry and still beat that damn bandage off her leg. She was inthat moment, telling her story in her dance, and it was stunning.

Years later a little show called So You Think You Can Dance aired, and I was hooked. I admit, my first interest was all the hip hop…but I soon came to love so many styles, from contemporary to jazz, Broadway to salsa, and more than anything, the effort these dancers put into their performances. Several of them had emotional stories of how they came to dance, having persevered through intense hardship to follow their dancing dreams.

But the reason I watched was not because of their personal stories, or their struggles—it was about the story in the dance itself. Within a few episodes I started to understand contemporary and lyrical dance, and I was mesmerized by choreography that actually told a story. It went beyond “put this leg here and that arm there” and into a whole new world of acting and story-telling, something that gripped my heart because the dancers moved about the stagewithout ever saying a word, and still they could tell the loveliest story.

I suppose this is why two of the show’s choreographers, Mia Michaels andTravis Wall, have earned so many accolades. Their pieces are dramatic and artistic, driving the dancers in a mind-boggling physicality that will leave you breathless almost every single time. They don’t create dance as something to fit the music and look pretty—they fashion dance as a story, a complex tale in one three-minute segment that will grab you by your heart and take you places you’ve never been.

So after nine seasons, should you start watching? Yes. Absolutely, yes, yes, yes. The dancers that make their way onto the show are phenomenal, and since the show is evolving and growing, dancers are coming in with new and unique takes on dance. Sure, some of them “just” dance, and they look pretty and have a good time and everyone is delighted—but then there are those who tell a story with their dance, choreographing a full arc, from exposition to climax to denouement, and you can feel it all the way into your soul.

There were a ton of great auditions in the first episode Wednesday night, but one I wanted to share with you was a dancer that fans are rather excited about. His name is Hampton Williams, and what he brought to the show is indescribable. To be honest, when I watched his explanation of what he was about to do, I rolled my eyes—and then when the dance was finished, I wondered why everyone was crying on the show…until I realized I was teary-eyed myself. His piece was fascinating, and his style was something I’ve never seen before. It’s definitely unusual, but what is clear is that this dancer has put his whole heart into sharing a compelling, engaging story—and that is exactly why I love dance.

If you’d like to see a clip of his audition, you can do so here: Hampton Williams. I hope you find it as riveting as I did!

In the meantime, happy Memorial Day everyone, and you know where I’ll be on Wednesday night. :)

And much love to Sisser Face!

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