Living out your dancing dreams through TV

Reality shows spark interest in hip-hop classes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Joshua Allen on So You Think You Can Dance

Gazette File Photo

DAMN, I FORGOT MY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AT HOME. Joshua Allen, shown right, emerged victorious in the latest edition of So You Think You Can Dance. A new Canadian version of the show will be airing on CTV this fall.

Since the invasion of Dance Dance Revolution a decade ago, regular gamers have turned into wannabe dancers. Now with the ever-increasing popularity of shows like So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew, the desire to groove like a pro continues to spread like wild fire.

We have all seen, or caught, the ‘American Idol’ syndrome before where loyal viewers would heatedly discuss their votes as if it were a presidential election. These reality-competition programs are all about average people striving for that ultimate dream as well as viewers living vicariously through them.

Dance competition programs are no different.

Though they all tackle the standard formula of the tough-loving male judge, the zany/emotionally unstable female and the funny man critic, it is the dancers who make the viewer invest their time and undivided attention. The dancers on TV become dramatic characters to the audience. People who watch the show uninterrupted, hands clasped and fingers crossed, are itching to be just like their favourite dancer.

London’s Elan Arts Dance Studio owner Shawna Eisenstat believes TV dance shows play a huge role in the number of students interested in taking dance classes and has noticed a great increase in enrollment, especially for hip-hop. She even had to add more night classes to accommodate the incoming traffic.

“I think everyone wants to be able to dance. They pick a favourite character on So You Think You Can Dance and they follow them until they’re kicked off and they move on to the next favourite dancer ... It’s fun to watch them grow and fail every now and then. I think that’s why people love watching these shows, they love connecting with a team they’d want to be a part of,” Eisenstat says.

As a former Western student, Eisenstat took her first hip-hop class at Campus Recreation and learned to love its aggressive style despite her classical dance experience. When a hip-hop instructor course opened up, she jumped at the chance and soon ran the dance program at Western. Now she owns and teaches at Elan Arts.

Captain of Hip-Hop Western Florence Wong also agrees more and more people have been getting into the dance craze.

“The [dance] classes have definitely become more popular by word of mouth and people just start taking [them],” Wong says.

As an avid fan of So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Next Dance Crew herself, Wong loves watching choreography as much as creating the dance moves.

“I get inspired by it and I just love watching it.”

While the television programs make it look easy, hip-hop is just as challenging as the classical dance forms, according to Eisenstat.

“I don’t think [people] understand that it is a skill ... Being a hip-hop dancer does not mean a song comes on at the club and you can move to it. It’s an understanding of how to isolate different parts of your body and how to do one thing with one part of your body at the same time as doing something totally different [with another part].”

Eisenstat adds many people see hip-hop dance on TV but a majority of them don’t understand the technical side of popping and locking.

“I think in the dance world, people think of it as a discipline that doesn’t require technique as oppose to jazz and tap which have specific technical goals. But I started hip-hop so late in my training and was automatically so natural and good at it, which can only mean that it’s because of my classical training ... So it does require technique.”

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