Things I’ve Learned from Watching “So You Think You Can Dance”

Tonight is the first night of judging on one of my absolute favorite shows, “So You Think You Can Dance.” Every summer, I plan my weeknights around the two hours I will need to spend watching the show. And now that I live on the west coast, I avoid Facebook at all costs on Tuesday evenings so I don’t accidentally see any spoilers from my east coast friends who are watching in their time zone. (First world problems. I know.)

But over the years, I’ve learned some things from watching this fabulous show (that absolutely everyone should be watching).

1. Dancers are sensitive artists. There’s a lot of crying that happens on this show. And not just from the dancers. Adam Shankman is a big ol’ softie, too, and he’s one of the judges.

That big ol' softie.
That big ol’ softie. | Pic from filmdrunk.uproxx.com

But that sensitivity translates into the dancing (ideally). One of my writing teachers in grad school asked me if I had ever made myself cry while writing – had I ever been so touched, so moved, by my subject or the scene or the characters, that I had cried? The answer back then was no. I hadn’t. But in years since, I know I’m getting deep into writing when it takes me over emotionally. It’s not always crying. I wrote a scene last week in which two characters have a big argument, and both are totally valid in their viewpoints in the argument, and after I wrote it, I was exhausted and sad. That, for me, is what dancing is like. To feel a character, a scene, a moment, so strongly in the art that it can’t help but effect you physically and/or emotionally.

2. No matter how much wine I drink, or how much encouragement I get, I can’t do this.

Melanie showing off.
Melanie showing off.

Or this.

Kayla showing off.
Kayla showing off.

Or this.

Kathryn showing off.
Kathryn showing off.

But I can kind of do this.

Jutting my hip out since 1993.
Jutting my hip out since 1993.

And I don’t want to brag, but I can do the heartbeat in “Bleeding Love.” My roommates and I practiced all summer in 2009. (Watch for it around 00:38.) No wine required for that one, thank you very much.

3. Cultivate a thick skin, take criticism well, and apply it when possible. The dancers on So You Think You Can Dance are usually between 18-22 years old. A few outliers are older, but mostly, they’re practically kids. And every week, after they dance, the judges critique them. What astounds me about these dancers is that they take criticism SO well. They (usually) don’t argue back, they don’t offer excuses, they don’t cry. By and large, they take the criticism with grace and an open mind.

Sometimes, in the writing community, we like to eat our young. Being eaten is not fun, but it becomes a rite of passage:  someone made you cry in a workshop, and you have therefore earned some credibility. While I don’t agree with this practice – what’s the use in breaking down artists if you don’t then build them back up – I try to think about how much harder it must be to stand on a stage, sweaty and out of breath and usually wearing skimpy clothing, and be critiqued in front of millions of viewers. Suddenly, a round-table workshop of my writing is (slightly) less scary.

4. Know when to stop listening. I’ve also seen dancers on the show who rely too heavily on the criticism from the judges and forget to dance. Every so often, a dancer hears criticism, perhaps a couple times, and lets it psych her out. Criticism is good – it’s valuable – but when it makes you stop doing your art, it becomes counter-productive. It’s meant to make you better, not to make you quit. So it’s important to know when to stop listening. When to say, okay, I’ll get to that, but right now I’m going to dance/write/play/etc.

And so, on that note, I leave you with one of my favorites from last season. It falls into the category of dance numbers where I think, “If I could write the way that dance number looks and feels, I would be in serious business.”


10 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learned from Watching “So You Think You Can Dance”

  1. You have a new look! I like it. “SYTYCD” is my favorite show of all! There will never be a number I love like Heidi and Travis and the bench, although many are close (BTW, when my best friend drinks too much, she INSISTS that I do “Bleeding Love” with her. She makes me be the guy. And she never remembers it right. Sigh.)

    1. Thank you! I love that Heidi and Travis number – so fantastic. And that is hilarious about the “Bleeding Love” routine! None of us ever quite got around to the rest of the routine, but we perfected that heartbeat. And, really, I just know, after a couple glasses of wine, that I can extend my leg up over my head. And not hurt myself. I KNOW it.

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