Friday, May 23, 2008
Since Dancing with the Stars and American Idol have ended their seasons, my newest reality show obsession is So You Think You Can Dance. It’s almost a combination of DWTS and AI. Instead of trying to make dancers out of people who have never danced before, SYTYCD starts with real dancers – at least once they pare down the auditions to the best of the bunch. And like AI, only one person wins at the end. The dancers featured in the show are serious about their trade. The ones who make it to the final shows are incredible athletes and wonderful dancers. But one of the young people auditioning last night made the judges and viewers think twice about what it means to be a real dancer.
I don’t remember the young woman’s name, but she was easy to spot in the audition line because of her white cane. She was blind. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, she had gradually been losing her sight, and was now at the point where she needed either a cane or a sighted guide. Yet she was going to try out for So You Think You Can Dance.
She was escorted to the stage by her sighted guide. She was built like a dancer. She moved like a dancer. She had the determined look of a dancer. And, she danced her audition routine relatively well. She didn’t have quite the refined technique of some of the other dancers, but there was no doubt she had participated in dance instruction and she danced with all the feelings rooted in her heart from the tauntings of the differences of her youth. I was very interested in how the judges would talk to her after her audition.
The judges, Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and Mia Michaels, all have an extensive background in some aspect of dance. They know what they are talking about and they can recognize talent easily. But they can also be very abrasive to the contestants at times, especially if the contestant is different or really a bad dancer. So I expected the worst after the young blind woman’s dance. But the worst didn’t happen.
The judges were very quiet for a moment, obviously moved by the passion of the young dancer. You could almost see their brains at work trying to figure out what to say. And the first things they all said were dance critiques and nothing else. They set aside the young woman’s differences, and focused on her dance skills, and I believe this is exactly what the young woman wanted. After explaining to her that her skills needed more refinement before she could be considered for the show (and I believe they were accurate in their assessments), you could tell they had more questions – questions about her blindness and her desire to dance despite her disability. They asked those questions in a very sincere and sensitive manner. I had no feelings that they were patronizing her, no feelings that pity was foremost in their minds. They were curious – they asked questions – and they were obviously moved by her passionate answers.
As the young woman was escorted off the stage by her sighted guide, disappointment could obviously be seen on her face, but so could determination and pride. This young woman accomplished was she set out to do. She was treated like every other contestant, and she left with constructive criticism received and her head held high.
I applaud the judges for they actions, and I applaud the young woman for not letting go of her dreams.