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So You Think You Can Define Gender Roles In Dance
May 23, 2009 9:21 PM   Subscribe

So You Think You Can Dance, the American dance-based reality show with a very high viewership (and more than 10 country-specific spin-offs) has a minor controversy brewing in their fifth season: one of the judges, Nigel Lythgoe, commented "I think you'd probably alienate a lot of our audience" after watching a straight/gay male ballroom dancing couple. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) issued a call to action to contact FOX and Lythgoe. Lythgoe tweeted more of his thoughts, but then went on to apologise for all his comments. Additionally, FOX issued a comment on how auditioners and contestants are reviewed. But none of this addresses the role of gender in dancing, though Lythgoe has clarified his thoughts before: that men "need to be very strong. Dancing is role-playing most of the time. And you need to be strong and lift girls. You need to look stronger than the girl you’re dancing with." Specific roles are assigned by gender in many styles of dance, including Square dancing, Tango, Poi, Haka, and many others. But there are opportunities for gender-role free dancing, as with the Lavender Country and Folk Dancers and other such groups.
posted by filthy light thief (56 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post and well done!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:29 PM on May 23, 2009


Yeah, that was really, really weird. The entire sequence made me literally squirm in my seat. It wasn't just Lythgoe's comments, either - it was the way the entire segment was edited, like "whoa, look at these FREAKS!"
posted by lunasol at 9:30 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else think all this is manufactured to keep the whole thing interesting? Like this is in the fifth season, technically no different from the third... so they have to go ahead and make some shit like this up.
Susan Boyle I'm looking at you too.
posted by Lucubrator at 9:33 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not homophobic to point out the homophobia of society at large, you know. Pointing out that most Americans have problems with x doesn't mean I have a problem with x. For-profit TV is about selling advertising, not education, and you would alienate a lot of the audience - and the gay guys probably wouldn't have a very good time of it, either. TV will not solve all of your problems.
posted by Super Hans at 9:34 PM on May 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


For-profit TV is about selling advertising, not education, and you would alienate a lot of the audience

Isn't this a show where people vote in like American Idol. In this case the judge might not be simply saying "we can't sell this to our advertisers" but rather "this will cause you to lose votes", and as a factual statement that's probably true.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 PM on May 23, 2009


I still don't understand who watches this. And American Idol.

That said, he's right. America's pretty damn homophobic.
posted by graventy at 9:44 PM on May 23, 2009


I've always thought that SYTYCD has had a difficult relationship with homosexuality. They always seem to be very reluctant to mention a contestant's orientation, even when it seems rather important to their story. Several seasons ago there was a young man who had been estranged from his father for years, ostensibly because he "gave up football". Nigel, in particular, seems very uncomfortable with homosexuals. His comments to that couple (and, surprisingly, the comments of the other judges) were just embarrassing. How about commending them for switching so fluidly from lead to follow, instead of pretending to be "confused" by it.

I guess the theory is that you don't want a contestant's advancement in the show to be affected by society's homophobia (Hi, Adam Lambert!), but it's the one part of SYTYCD that I really hate.

graventy, you really cannot compare this show to American Idol. Same genre, vastly different levels of quality. If you don't watch it, you can't judge it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:50 PM on May 23, 2009


Dancing is so gay and follow my tweets to see me flip-flop should my ratings go down.

The important thing here is to keep paying attention to me.

posted by Glee at 9:57 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I commend the contestants for coming in with a gimmick nearly guaranteed to get them screentime - they both ended up getting to the second level and one gets to 'go to Vegas.'

As far as 2 men performing together I think of sequences in Cirque du Soleil where two men perform together with great power and strength - these two guys should have done things that a woman and man can't do. It doesn't have to be 'gay' or prissy or fey. Nigel seems awfully close minded when it comes to the potential of some contestants. But just like a woman whose body is not the 'right shape' a dance career - a man who cannot 'butch up' for the stage will not be a compelling performer in many contexts.

It was stupid that they seemed 'confused' by it. They weren't confused by the woman with the spine problem and instead critiqued her form. I rolled my eyes as soon as Nigel said his remarks because I know the OMGbigot brigade will go into full effect and will hound him until he apologizes which he has done already.

One reason I prefer this show over Idol is because the starting set of contestants is much more talented with many of them having studied several forms of dance since they were 3.
posted by ao4047 at 10:01 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gay people come in all shapes, sizes and images. There are some ultra-male males, and then there are the Quentin Crisps. It's humanity - gay, straight, bi, whatever. Deal. How limiting to narrowly prescribe roles, and how backward. C'mon, it's 2009 not 1909 (or even 2007).
posted by VikingSword at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2009


Much ado about nothing, I think. Nigel's comments were awkward and reflected an unfortunate amount of closed mindedness, but he also spend some time talking about the fact that the dances in question aren't really all that good. They fell over for crissake. I tend to agree that the dances basically just got the screentime they were looking for; they're not technically excellent dances, certainly not enough to match the rest of the competition.

They should have been more concerned about the two Mormon brothers who danced together later in the show... They were just creepy.
posted by pkingdesign at 11:33 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


That would be dancers. In both cases. Arrrr!
posted by pkingdesign at 11:58 PM on May 23, 2009


Creepophobe.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 12:03 AM on May 24, 2009


It's not homophobic to point out the homophobia of society at large, you know

This isn't true when it comes to employment. Specifically, it's a heckler's veto. Imagine if someone said: "look, I've got no problem hiring a black salesperson, but our customers wouldn't be comfortable. Personally, I've got no issues with having women on the production floor, but some of our customers don't like it, and well, the market dictates our actions."

There are some who believe that we should just let the market decide these things. The argument goes: if there are enough consumers who would reject a show for an anti-gay bias relative to those who would reject the gay contestants, these problems will work themselves out. I'm not someone who thinks the "marketplace of ideas" works like this, and history is on my side. Discrimination is often profitable. Much to the chagrin of those who misunderstand the limited value of neoclassical economics, the current distribution of resources and the concomitant willingness to pay of individuals with severe prejudices will allow these values to propagate through the market unchecked.

It is demonstrably not the case that those who oppose discrimination will outspend those who support it. If this was true, we wouldn't have needed Title VII. The fact that it is profitable not to stand up against discrimination is why we need to condemn those without backbones, those who will choose a cheap buck over doing what is right. In most instances, it is perfectly legal and perfectly profitable to discriminate against GLBT individuals and blame it on your customers. For forty years we've believed that letting the prejudices of the market control your employment decisions is unlawful when it comes to race and gender; it's time to expand that to include sexual orientation.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:14 AM on May 24, 2009 [41 favorites]


Nigel's comments were awkward and reflected an unfortunate amount of closed mindedness, but he also spend some time talking about the fact that the dances in question aren't really all that good. They fell over for crissake.

They fell over during a particularly complex and athletic swinging stunt, not doing something basic. Fucking up a major trick happens to every dancer at one point or another. They just had bad timing as to when it happened.

Mary Murphy made some valid criticisms of their work (the two men switched back and forth between who was leading and who was following, making it harder for a professional ballroomer such as herself to follow the dance), but that's different from "they really weren't all that good." Because - sorry, but they were pretty decent ballroom dancers. They were just performing it in an unorthodox style.

And criticizing same-sex ballroom dance teams for switching up leading and following is nothing new; most of the ballroom world is pretty set on one of the things that makes ballroom dancing what it is is that there are set partner roles. Dan Karaty, another SYTYCD judge - and a much younger one and one who's definitely not homophobic - criticized a same-sex female ballroom couple auditioning for the Dutch version of the show for doing exactly the same thing.

But what's important is that Lythgoe didn't say any of that; he acted like a major douche, complaining that he didn't like how they danced with one another (while admitting that technically they were fine), and made really shitty, insulting jokes. Seriously, Nigel, if I need references to hit movies from four years ago, I can go watch some reruns of whatever shitty standup comedy show runs on local late-night cable around here.

It was vintage Lythgoe in that he thought he was being clever and daring and was of course neither. Lythgoe has his strengths - he's actually a good judge when he's not being gratituously sexist - but wit is not one of them. He's best when he's enthusiastic about why he loves dance.

As for SYTYCD, it's a big hit show, but far moreso than singing (IE, Idol), dance is a very gay-friendly community and the SYTYCD audience is prominently gay-friendly. If contestants don't want to come out on national TV, that's their choice, but keeping them there is asinine.

In the first season of So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Rhys Bobridge pretty much told Australia he was a big old queer in his introduction video (well, he explained how he was a drag queen and worked at a makeup salon and how his father was "entirely supportive of his lifestyle and of who he was" - while not using the word "gay," he was pretty goddamned obvious). And he finished second, because gosh darnit he was a fucking great dancer. If Australia can do that - and I'd say straight up that Australia is a more culturally conservative country than the USA is - there's no excuse for the American version.
posted by mightygodking at 12:23 AM on May 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I love SYTYCD. I've been in the audience when they've filmed episodes at CBS Television City in Hollywood. But I can't stand how obviously squeamish Nigel is with dancer guys who are the least bit fey. I know that being able to uphold rigid gender roles is important in traditional dance styles, especially since so much of the show is based on partner dancing, but Nigel's consistently rude comments towards even slightly-queeny guys clearly go beyond that. Remember the stuff he said to the male dancer who tried out the first season with the rhythmic gymnastics ribbon?

Of course, what's really funny - or galling, I suppose -- about the show's attitudes towards homosexuality is the double standard on display regarding male and female homosexuality. I'm specifically referring to choreographer/judge Sonia -- the goth one with the mohawk -- just gasping and squeeing and practically orgasming in her chair in Thursday's episode over an actual montage of female dancers she thought were gorgeous and beautiful and talented and amazing and inspiring and OMG I think you could see the drool coming out of her mouth at one point.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:26 AM on May 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Awful, awkward moment in a show that's always had a problem acknowleding the existance of gay people in the dance world.

Gay men are on SYTYCD every season, even if the show pretends otherwise. (Rock Steady nails it, especially in regard to that sweet kid who "gave up football".) Whilst I find the obscuring of somebody's sexuality to appease a mass audience pretty disgusting, for the purpose of this discussion it doesn't even matter. Because you know what those gay boys do when they're on the show? They dance with women.

That's why Nigel's comments were so bloody stupid: Misha and Mitchell weren't asking to dance with other men. If they made the show, they would've danced with female contestants, and their sexual orientations would never have been referred to again in the SYTYCD way. The only thing that should've mattered was whether they good at what they did, and a dance expert like Nigel should've been able to analyse no matter whom they were dancing with.

Nigel made a second, smaller mistake when he assumed both Misha and Mitchell were gay. Misha is gay, but Mitchell is straight and has a reason for dancing with a same-sex partner that he explained on the show.

As for Mary Murphy, ballroom champion and accredited judge, acting like she'd never seen anything so gosh-darned confusing? Please. Same-sex ballroom competitions have been happening for over a decade.
posted by Georgina at 1:24 AM on May 24, 2009


How about commending them for switching so fluidly from lead to follow, instead of pretending to be "confused" by it.

I'm not a dancer and I tend to watch this show off & on when my sister and brother-in-law are watching it, but I was "confused" also. Not like man on man action = head asplode, but as in they were obviously switching as leads. To my untrained eye it looked like they were both trying to lead at times.

The show will definitely play up stuff like this and have a lead in for the more awesome or egregious of the pack. So yeah, you can definitely expect some shit or rave talking when when the dancing is done after a lead in.

But from the looks of it, Nigel is tweeting his defense as we speak.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:47 AM on May 24, 2009


especially in regard to that sweet kid who "gave up football"

I'm pretty sure the kid effed up his leg somehow and then took up dancing as a rehab in the off-season. He then went on to continue dancing, and gave up football. His father was bemoaning the fact that he had a son that he was the all-star quarterback dating the head cheerleader and now he was just a dancer. They didn't really go into it other than showing the father being an asshole.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:53 AM on May 24, 2009


I think it's hilarious that this is held up as one straight guy and one gay guy. This is two gay guys dancing.
posted by autodidact at 3:23 AM on May 24, 2009


I'd always assumed that Nigel Lythgoe was gay -- perhaps because of his time working in the Young Generation. Possibly because he's just so gosh darned effeminate that whenever I see him, I can't help thinking of Larry Grayson.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:25 AM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've not seen this show, so maybe my thoughts aren't correct. But, wouldn't it have been better all around if nobody (judges or dancers) mentioned their sexual orientation? Seems unnecessary. But with it mentioned, that led to coy comments that was about orientation.

One guy is gay, the other straight. If it'd been two straight guys (or if it wasn't mentioned), it could've been a brilliant look at the roles each partner plays in dance (especially with the trading off of leading and following).

It's not that they should feel like they must keep it a secret, not at all, but instead which sex they have sex with is irrelevant to the quality of their dancing.
posted by Houstonian at 4:52 AM on May 24, 2009


I think it's hilarious that this is held up as one straight guy and one gay guy. This is two gay guys dancing.

In point of fact, in this case, it is not. In the interview segment prior to the audition the one guy said, quite matter-of-factly, that "he's gay and I'm straight." And I have a sense that he said something like that took some getting used to, but I may be ascribing my internal monologue to that dancer.

Lythgoe was awkward there, at best. I was disappointed. I'm not a huge fan, but my kids both dance and have, I think, good potential. They are fans of the show and so I watch it too. And I've generally been favorably impressed with the openness that it seems to have to bringing non-traditional non-"TV" content to the small screen. That goth-y new judge, for example, does some fairly interesting choreography; I was frankly surprised to see her on the show last season.

So You Think You Can Dance does tiptoe around questions of sexual orientation. I'm gay-friendly, and so are my wife and kids. My kids' main exposure to gay folks has been that Mr. Steve and Mr. Murray two lay-leaders at church, are a couple. So when we watch dancers who seem to be gay, we don't really think about it much. And I had assumed that not mentioning it one way or another was a pretty cool way to go.

But I guess this episode crossed a line and tripped Lythgoe up in what is, I think, fairly normal hypocrisy.
posted by mmahaffie at 5:13 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


But, wouldn't it have been better all around if nobody (judges or dancers) mentioned their sexual orientation? Seems unnecessary. But with it mentioned, that led to coy comments that was about orientation.

We don't even know that the judges knew their orientations (they mentioned it as an introductory aside to the camera). The problem is that Nigel (and Mary, to a lesser extent) consistently has problems with male dancers who are even slightly effeminate because then they are not "guys being guys, and girls being girls" in his words. That kind of attitude just seems so weird in this day and age, especially in the dancing community.

I'm pretty sure the kid effed up his leg somehow and then took up dancing as a rehab in the off-season. He then went on to continue dancing, and gave up football.

Yes, but it was pretty clear to me (and I'm fairly clueless when it comes to "gaydar" or whatever) that his dancing was not the reason their relationship had fallen apart.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:14 AM on May 24, 2009


I have been a passionate fan of SYTYCD since season 2 (much to the consternation of friends) but I did not see this episode. I've read a lot about it though, and what hasn't been mentioned here is that not only did Lithgoe make his (standard for him) remarks about how men should be manly and dance with women, but that they played songs like "It's Raining Men" and other songs that created an atmosphere of mocking OMG teh gayz.

Also, Lithgoe has some really obnoxious shticks: one is that men should be manly and another is that women should be HOT and always smiling. A third is that quiet people are arrogant and/or have no personality.

To further complicate issues, at the finale of each season there are four dancers, two men and two women. They each do a male/female routine and one same sex routine, so it's not like they have no idea how a same sex couple could possibly dance together. Granted it's never ballroom.

In season 3 there were two wonderful same sex dances: princes fighting for dominance and mother/daughter foxes. So dancing doesn't even always have to be about romance, certainly hip hop doesn't. It's just that ballroom does.

The dance world is full of gay men. Lithgoe seems to think that boys are turned off dance because it is stereotypically gay, so he wants to show a butched up version. This has been a common thread throughout the seasons and it is truly borderline offensive, so it's not surprising that he would cross that border.

Also it might be interesting to note that quite a lot of the dancers on the show are Mormon. In season 2 there was a dance with two contestants who happened to be cousins, as well as Mormons and champion ballroom dancers. They did a latin ballroom dance together that was really creepy to watch, knowing they were cousins. But in ballroom apparently it is no big thing for siblings and cousins to dance very sexual dances together.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:42 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Except for the Blades of Glory reference, everything in that clip -- hair, clothing, attitudes -- seemed to be beamed all the way from 1987.
posted by hermitosis at 6:46 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought their dancing was beautiful, though they did have two serious slips. But the switching back and forth with the lead - that's not a bug, that's a feature!

As for the questions: "But which one of you is the woman?" How heterosexist can you get? They were dressed to match, exactly alike - it was clear that neither was the woman or the man. They were the people dancing.

I'm very glad to hear about the lavendar folk-dancing - now I want to do to their camps (I miss folk-dancing). In my limited experience, there wasn't much fuss about women dancing men's roles, especially with an unbalanced group, but men were less comfortable jumping into the women's line. We did jokingly yell sometimes "Heterosexism!" when doing the great circle move (which is quite confusing) to remind everyone that they had to grab only the arms of the opposite line people. I think in a truely gender neutral dancing situation, you would want some kind of colour coding just for those types of moves.
posted by jb at 7:05 AM on May 24, 2009


A big part of ballroom dancing is gender role related. If the objection is that the guys were too effiminate in their style (having created a new ballroom formula), it seems like a reasonable objection that's unrelated to homophobia...
posted by glider at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also I have to ask - don't all heterosexual partners switch the lead when they dance together? Or fight over it sometimes?

If that's not true, it should be. I'd never let my husband be in the lead all the time.
posted by jb at 7:15 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't believe this was manufactured to keep interest. It's exactly in line with Nigel's previous behavior.

Nigel Lythgoe (who spends a big portion of his judging time dinging performers for "pulling faces" and over-emoting during their performance) spent the whole time they were dancing pulling faces and covering his eyes and being "horrified" while they performed. (Neither made it through, but one of them's final judgment was so mangled, you could see why people thought he did.) Then he laughed at them with Mary (who didn't come out smelling of roses in this piece). At the end, when inviting them back for choreography he said, "I want to see you dance with girls. You might like it."

Nigel is the creater and executive producer in addition to being a judge, and it is at his feet that I lay the blame for this whole thing. As part of his campaign to save dance for the "masculine" and make it "accessbile to everyone"* and make it seem "not-gay", he's perfectly willing to highlight the (presumed) sexual orientation of dancers who fail, to mock them in a way that is ostensibly about their dance inabilities but blurs the lines between their sexuality and their ability, and make it "OK" for one group to like Dance by pushing another group away. It's pretty ugly behavior.

*"everyone" does not actually include everyone.
posted by julen at 7:21 AM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think in a truely gender neutral dancing situation, you would want some kind of colour coding just for those types of moves.

I've seen gender-neutral contras where the leads wear a ribbon or a tie and the follows don't. Easier than color-coding (and less risqué than shirts and skins, I guess....)

I've also seen gender-neutral contras where you just dance with whoever comes up the set at you and trust that it'll turn out okay. I like this style better because it means you can switch roles with your partner on a whim, but it does make it harder for new dancers to stay oriented.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've seen gender-neutral contras where the leads wear a ribbon or a tie and the follows don't. Easier than color-coding (and less risqué than shirts and skins, I guess....)

Yes, that's what I was thinking of - just some kind of visual marker. Because it can get very confusing with some of the moves in Irish or English folk-dancing, especially in the square dance shapes (4 couples, each on one side) - that's where you do the great circle, and you have both A and B people circling, but all A must go one way, and all B must go the other. I think really experienced people could switch around, but most of the ceilidhs I've been too were student ones, and even those of us who have danced before only have done it 2-3 times.
posted by jb at 7:59 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was pretty awkward, but fact was there was an elephant in the room and it would have been weird had they not dealt with it at all. Probably the best thing would have been not to put the gimmicky substandard dancers on the show at all. Now if hypothetically there was a male male dance duo that did non-traditional ballroom dancing really well you could hopefully deal with it maturely and directly.
posted by I Foody at 8:00 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Look, sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, and these seems like a completely sensible one to me.

I mean, if we can't even keep good red-blooded sports like competitive dancing free of these insidious gay people, it's all over for America as we know it.
posted by rokusan at 8:13 AM on May 24, 2009


and these seems like a completely sensible one to me

(Note: not Speedy-Gonzalez-accentist. Just a bad typer-er.)
posted by rokusan at 8:14 AM on May 24, 2009


I have been a fan of this show since season 2 and this makes me absolutely, literally nauseous and furious. I don't know that I'll be able to watch this season.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on May 24, 2009


I'd always assumed that Nigel Lythgoe was gay -- perhaps because of his time working in the Young Generation. Possibly because he's just so gosh darned effeminate that whenever I see him, I can't help thinking of Larry Grayson.



I've seldom been so relieved to see another comment, PeterMcDermott.

Ditto on the spooky Larry Grayson thing. Even worse, I'd assumed poor Nigel was an openly self-hating gay (and that this must be well known & understood!) and traded on a purposefully unlovely, fluttery and aggressive showbiz persona.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:37 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you came out as well, Jody Tresidder. I was starting to think it must just be me. But now does someone who lives on Long Island know about Larry Grayson?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2009


Aren't we past the point yet where OMG THEY'RE GAY is sort of unremarkable? I think it's hysterical how confused the poor Aussie is. Same sex dancing is a bit surprisingly to people; I've raised eyebrows in more than one straight establishment dancing with other men. But geez, this is an entertainment program, put them on. These guys are really, really gay. They'd be awesome entertainment.

Also, that clip was definitely edited by a gay man. A gay man having a lot of fun subtly emphasizing how stupid the show he works on is.
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2009


In a world where gay men are being put to death by their government expressly and only because they are gay, I just can't get too worked up about what a celebrity said one time on a TV show I don't watch. Make me a world where horrific images like this and horrific news articles like this never happen and I'll consider forgetting that words may never hurt me.
posted by eccnineten at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


But now does someone who lives on Long Island know about Larry Grayson?

Ex pat, Peter!

....and I'm also a SOHITUKNWFQBOTPCSFUB

(Still Owns House In The UK Now Worth Five Quid Because Of The Property Crash So Fuck You Bankers)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:16 AM on May 24, 2009


Ah, OK. I'm jealous, Jody. Not of the housing slump though. I fancy a new life on Long Island too.

But it's obviously not just us two:

Nigel is 51, and looks like Tommy Steele with a bit of Larry Grayson mixed in. Alternatively, he may look like Larry Grayson with a bit of Tommy Steele mixed in. Whatever, something very Larry and very Tommy is going on.

I wouldn't have liked to have been a twinkle-toed dancer living over the water in Birkenhead in the 60's with a dad who worked on the docks and sent me to boxing lessons to knock some of the poof out of me.

All very Billy Eliot, for sure.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:22 AM on May 24, 2009


Yes, but it was pretty clear to me (and I'm fairly clueless when it comes to "gaydar" or whatever) that his dancing was not the reason their relationship had fallen apart.

Maybe I'm the clueless one, but I didn't think that at the time. I thought it was more about how the father was never anything like his kid growing up (football star) and was enjoying living through him. When that ended he couldn't do that anymore and was resentful for it.

I do think Nigel was way off on what he said, but to even get on this show you probably should come up with some kind of schtick. Even if that means you end up throwing your partner onto the floor.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:20 AM on May 24, 2009


but to even get on this show you probably should come up with some kind of schtick.

"Being a really good dancer" works surprisingly well and more often than one would think.
posted by mightygodking at 10:29 AM on May 24, 2009


Also I have to ask - don't all heterosexual partners switch the lead when they dance together? Or fight over it sometimes?

In one light, gender roles make things easier. The male "character" always leads, while the female "character" follows. From my brief reading on contra dancing (vaguely similar to square dancing, as a point of reference), swapping gender roles is common, at least when there are uneven numbers. The tango discussion I linked in the initial post carries on through various posters, including variations on gender roles, and the "power" of the lead (typically male) role.

Fighting over who leads would be messy, and dance is about control and coordination (typically). Again within tango, "there are times where the man stops and allows the woman opportunities to express herself through adornments before he once again assumes immediate control of the flow of the dance" (source). I believe this is the most traditional type of Tango, as other posters in that discussion talk about some female/female and male/male combinations.

allen.spaulding, that's exactly the issue with Nigel and FOX: hiding behind "what the audience thinks" instead of what should not be an issue. They must think "a lot of [the] audience" is not be made up of over half of Americans, or many high school students (sorry for the homophobic religious rhetoric in that link, the polls contained there-in are interesting).

These guys didn't have "some schtick," they had a story which the producers (Nigel, amongst them) or the station had an issue with. I would like to think the clip was edited by a gay man who was mocking the ridiculous tip-toeing around sexual orientations, instead of someone setting the stage for Nigel's comments. But either way, they were no Jedi lion.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Being a really good dancer" works surprisingly well and more often than one would think.

I'm pretty sure that doesn't work as well as you think it does. It's the same on Idol, you either have some kind of stand out feature or you are horrendously bad. At that point you may get some TV time, maybe not, but you sure as heck still may be cut in the next elimination.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:01 AM on May 24, 2009


Switching leads mid-dance, in a style that has set parameters, is gimmicky and is a schtick.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:03 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nigel, in particular, seems very uncomfortable with homosexuals.

He seems OK with Adam Shankman. My guess (and it's only a guess -- just like everyone else in this thread), is that he's fine with homosexuality per se (anyone in dancing would have to be, wouldn't they?), but is old-fashioned Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers when it comes to dancing -- particularly ballroom.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:10 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


A big part of ballroom dancing is gender role related. If the objection is that the guys were too effiminate in their style (having created a new ballroom formula), it seems like a reasonable objection that's unrelated to homophobia...

This. I did squirm a little at the judges' awkward reaction to these guys, but I thought they were all more inarticulate than homophobic. Mary in particular seemed most annoyed at what they were doing to the dance style.

I'm surprised to find myself fall on the more "conservative" side of this issue, as I'm a certified pinko Communist liberal everywhere other than Metafilter, but you've got to draw the line somewhere. If they nailed the dance, really nailed it, and Nigel said, "You're great but we don't take kindly to you people around these parts," that'd be one thing. But that didn't happen. They tried something unorthodox, and it didn't work. They chose to try and switch leads during the dance, and it didn't work. There's no inalienable right to be liked by the SYTYCD panel, and better dancers than these guys haven't made the show.

But the switching back and forth with the lead - that's not a bug, that's a feature!

It's wonderful that you feel that way, but why does the panel have to? That's (apparently) not how ballroom dancing is supposed to work. If you don't like that, then hey, feel free to do your own thing. If people like it, great! If a particular panel of dance experts disapproves, well, them's the breaks.

I dunno. I just think it's easier to shrug and move on sometimes than it is to get all bent out of shape.
posted by Garak at 11:21 AM on May 24, 2009


It's the same on Idol

People like to compare SYTYCD to Idol on the basis of similar format (auditions -> competitive performance) without realizing the two programs aren't even close to being the same thing.

Idol is, at heart, a celebration of other people's work ("it's Mariah Carey Night here on Idol!"). The reason it's not enough to be a good singer on Idol is because there's fundamentally not a lot that's interesting about watching somebody cover an old Bon Jovi/Whitney Houston song, even if they're a decent singer. That's why Idol constantly talks about singer backstories and performance quality; they need to make people forget that it's essentially one big karaoke night. (Which is why so many Idol winners have failed to become stars; even with a prepackaged hit factory writing tunes for you, there has to be some original spark on your own part to break through to the masses.) There are plenty of better ways to make your way into the music industry than to be on Idol.

On SYTYCD, though, each audition is an original, and during the competition rounds each performance piece is original. Backstory and quirk might get you briefly noticed, but they don't get you through, because watching people dance badly is much less entertaining than watching people sing badly, and because the show's producers know that the fans primarily want to see good dancing and as much of it as possible. There simply isn't a bigger showcase for up-and-coming dancers, period.
posted by mightygodking at 11:30 AM on May 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


without realizing the two programs aren't even close to being the same thing.

I realize there is a vast difference in the premise of the shows. I was comparing it to Idol in a the way that people respond to the audition process. I don't really know if the process' are the same, but I would suppose they are fairly close. Instead of this (auditions -> competitive performance) It's more like this (audition -> audition -> TV panel auditions -> TV competitive auditions & performance).
When they put out a call for something like this I'm going to assume a couple of things based on what I've seen. You are going to get: people who can really dance, people who can keep a beat, people who learned to dance for the show, people who want to be on TV, people who saw the line and decided it was for them, and crazies. SYTYCD visits maybe half the cities Idol does, so you are going to get a ton more people showing up to participate.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:41 AM on May 24, 2009


That was pretty awkward, but fact was there was an elephant in the room and it would have been weird had they not dealt with it at all.
That argument doesn't work, because they didn't have to feature that couple at all. Thousands and thousands of dancers audition for SYTYCD, and only a tiny portion of them are featured on the audition shows. Someone made a choice to show these particular mediocre dancers. I strongly suspect that an equally mediocre opposite-sex ballroom pair wouldn't have made it on the show that aired.

So the issue isn't just Nigel Lythgoe's glaring, obvious gender hang-ups, but also that whoever edits and produces the show has decided to emphasize Nigel's huge gender hang-ups. I have no idea why they did that. It seems like a mistake.

I love SYTYCD and have since the first season. But sometimes they seem to forget that dance is an art, not a sport, and part of the point of art is to push boundaries and challenge conventions. That includes gender conventions. Nigel's gender nuttiness is embarrassing for him, because it makes him look kind of old and also like he's overcompensating for something, but it also highlights some of the limitations of the show.

(I've never read Nigel as gay, by the way. I think he's a straight guy from a macho culture who has a not-conventionally-masculine job and has been going out of his way to emphasize his masculinity for his entire adult life. It makes for some pretty uncomfortably smarmy behavior, but I don't see any reason to believe he's a closet case.)
posted by craichead at 2:32 PM on May 24, 2009


All I know about ballroom dancing I learned from Baz Luhrmann. In his movie, it's like jb says: there's a shortage of opposite-sex partners so some of the junior dancers have to dance together with one taking the masculine role and the other taking the fem part.

I assume that in many dancing couples, the man is gay and the woman is straight.

It doesn't seem that the how the sexes are distributed in a couple should matter - and it's a nifty twist to have dancers switch gender roles at certain points.

If it wasn't for one little thing, I would say anyone can dance with anyone. The one little thing is Fred Astaire, who danced professionally with his sister and has always seemed creepy creepy creepy to me.

Sounds like a cooked up controversy, and very cheap.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:49 PM on May 24, 2009


The controversy seemed to cook itself up, escalated thanks to the poor judgment of Lythgoe and Fox not saying "we're OK with gays" or something along those lines, the comment
"I think you probably alienate a lot of our audience. I mean, we've always had the guys dance together on this show, but they've never really done it in each other's arms before. I'm certainly one of those people that really like to see guys be guys and girls be girls on the stage. I don't think I liked it."
Lythgoe said more that wasn't aired, and then he went on to say more on Twitter: "The same sex ballroom guys did remind me of "Blades of Glory." However, I'm not a fan of 'Brokeback' Ballroom."

The issue is a couple of men showing intimacy to each-other. As one of the dancers, Misha Belfer said: "We're fighting for equality in this country and the right to marry and the right to adopt, so why the f--k can't we dance together?" If the judges stuck to the point of gender roles, they would have been fine. If they said "Ballroom dancing is based on distinct male/female roles, the lead and the follower. You two switched roles, and we'll have to dock you for that," but they didn't. They made it about sexuality - men being romantic with other men. Dance can (and in some styles, should) portray a lot of emotion and romance. If it stuck to the structure of the dance, GLAAD wouldn't have issued their call to action, and the blogs & twitter wouldn't have said much of anything. Sure, they would have been speculations on possible homophobia, but it would only be speculation.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:18 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


wow, that was asinine. I think i was more upset by the female judges comments, somehow - maybe it was because I would think women would be more likely than men to be inclined to question gender roles, since traditionally they are more oppressive for us to start with. So it's harder to accept women who defend gender roles so blatantly as necessary.

And not that everyone should dance with a same sex partner, or that dance partners should be based on the sexual orientation of the dancers - it simply seems clear it could be an interesting form (too bad these guys weren't better, but that's another issue). There was plenty to discuss on the dancing alone without comparing it to what it would have been if one of them were female.

That's why I can never watch that show - I love dancing, and often enjoy the routines, but the judges always piss me off (whether they're giving compliments or criticism).
posted by mdn at 6:53 PM on May 24, 2009


In season 3 there were two wonderful same sex dances: princes fighting for dominance and mother/daughter foxes

Nigel "didn't get" the fox dance either, which I thought was one of the most wonderful pieces of art I had ever seen.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:32 PM on May 25, 2009


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