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What TV dance is doing to classroom practices

By Diane Gudat

So You Think You Can Dance, along with other dance-related reality TV shows, has escorted a new excitement for dance into the American living room. We love to see dance in prime time, with male dancers accepted by a public that’s also getting an education on different styles of dance. Our young dancers have new heroes. Teachers are exposed to exciting new choreography. But still, the dance educator in me sees a problem.

These shows crown the “favorite” dancer—instead of the one with the best technique—as the winner. Then how do we, as teachers, inspire our students to work hard when popularity seems to trump technique?

Certainly, most of the winners are by no means substandard or lacking in talent. But some judges’ critiques hint that if a dancer doesn’t improve his overall crowd appeal, he will likely go home.

Understandably, the two work hand-in-hand in producing a well-rounded professional dancer. No audience member wants to watch a technician suffer through an uninspired performance. But if some reality-show “dancers” gain fame by being pretty and popular and not for mastering their craft, where is the balance? How do we explain what’s important to our students?

Over the past two decades, studios have been greatly influenced by the growth in competitive dancing. Phenomenal dancing can be seen in theaters across the country on any given weekend. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep up. Judges are bombarded with elaborate costuming and routine after routine filled with nearly impossible turns and leaps. But what happens to the young student who quietly struggles to develop technique? What if she lacks pizzazz onstage and gets lost in the competition shuffle? Is there a way to keep the still-growing, still-learning students from becoming discouraged? How do we reward them for their diligence and keep them in our studios until they mature into true artists?

Let’s take an honest look at how we relate to our students and teach them on a daily basis—as well as how we handle competition and its pervasive influence:

  • Do we consistently favor one child?
  • Are outgoing children allowed to control the classroom’s social structure?
  • Are the cute or pretty children always in the front line?
  • Do the loudest parents (or the ones who spend the most money) have more of a say than the parents of devoted children who attend class only once a week?
  • Does the same child always lead the class across the floor?
  • Do boys follow the same rules as girls?
  • Are small accomplishments in technique noticed and rewarded?
  • Are routines choreographed so that students progress in their training or to win or score higher than last year?
  • Are all students being used to their maximum capacity, or are select students featured in flashy steps while others do lesser or background choreography?
  • Does a student’s love of dance receive as much attention and praise as the ability to correctly perform a skill?
  • Do costumes reflect the age and maturity of students or are they chosen for the “wow” factor?
  • Is development of good technique taking a backseat to choreographing or rehearsing competition routines?
  • Do we talk about winning or show disappointment when we do not come out on top?
  • Do we question the judges’ opinions in front of students, or bend rules?
  • Are students allowed to compete against each other, or are they taught to compete as a “family” unit that celebrates the accomplishments of all its members?
  • Are winners put on a pedestal?

The true beauty of dance is found in quiet moments of classroom study, watching as a child learns a disciplined art form and finds the artist hidden inside. The sacred trust and special bond between student and teacher should be extended to every child placed in our care. Our utmost goal is to help all children achieve their dance potential.

Some students will naturally excel. Others, like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, will find the way slowly but surely. Are we offering enough encouragement to keep those “tortoises” trudging down the path? Shows like SYTYCD will continue to crown the hero of the day, but true inspiration comes from a less likely hero—the supportive dance teacher.

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One Response to “Playing Favorites”

  • Danie Beck:

    Good for you Diane…this needed to be said…for a long time. You and I were on many a same judging panel for years and unfortunately saw this coming. “Too much – too soon” has taken over our lives. We have become a disposable society and merely throw all away instead of working to repair and mae it right. Carry on!
    Have a great New year!
    Danie Beck

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