E: I’m baaack! And so is my favorite summer show, though not in the form I would prefer. I feel a little mean-spirited confessing to frustration with the new format. Look, three of my kids fall between the ages of 8 and 13. My daughters all dance. Do I think their recitals should be televised? Heck no. They’re meaningful for me because I know how hard my kids work and that they love it and they’re my kids. I watch it for its part in our family story, in the same way we watch Dancing With the Stars to see those stars improve, to become invested in their stories.
And, I admit it, some child dancers are truly extraordinary. But (and here’s the part I feel bad about), even extraordinary kid dancers still aren’t the same as adult dancers. They’re just not. It’s not their fault. They’re still growing into their bodies. Mostly, they just haven’t had the time to build up both muscle and excellence. And either way, I don’t want to see them do the rumba.
Although maybe what it comes down to is that I would watch a dancing competition for kids – I did, in fact, when Paula Abdul hosted one. I just don’t want it in place of my favorite, beloved adult competition.
So what it comes down to is that while I’m super disappointed that this is what we’re getting, I’m going to be watching this show with my daughters because it’s fun for them to watch other dancing kids. I don’t blame the kids for being there; I blame the showrunners and FOX. And since I will still be watching, I thought I’d throw together a quick recap for you, at least for this week. We’ll see how long my commitment (and patience, or disappointment) lasts.
First, a word about the shiny new format, complete with bright poppy colors. There will only be ten finalists this year (big mistake – remember how many dancers got injured the last time they did that?) who will each be picked from a “Dance Academy” by ten All Stars, who will mentor them and possibly sometimes dance with them. That’s sweet, the mentoring bit, but I still don’t get what their performances are going to be. I tried to freeze my screen to figure out who those All Stars are because the show didn’t say: my best guesses are Fik-shun, Robert, Jenna (all shown clearly) along with Comfort, Paul, Jonathan, Kathryn, Gaby, Joshua and I think maybe Sasha. Seems like a reasonable grouping, I guess.
Also, as you might expect, the three judges returning from last year are heavy with the praise and sparing with the criticisms. More on that at the end of the show, but one thing it means is that we’ll see even fewer bad auditions before. We also don’t see most of the contestants’ last names, or have their place of residence put on the screen, smart thinking to protect minors, no doubt. And because we’re dealing with kids who all come with their parents, there’s now a little seating section on stage for the contestant’s families to watch from. I found it a little excruciating, watching some of the parents suffer through watching their kids audition, but okay.
First of the those auditioning minors is 11 year old Merrick, an adorable, tousled moppet who loves robots and dancing animation. He wants to be a robotics engineer, and we actually get to see his bedroom full of robot toys and a rather impressive robot he’s built already. (We also find out he has a little brother named Sagan, which makes me think he must come from a family of scientists.) And then we get to see him dance (he tells the judges he’s going to do “the hip hop, freestyle”), and he’s pretty terrific; you can see that they didn’t expect it at all, especially with the lackadaisical beginning before he starts hitting hard. They’re thrilled, and he clicks and pops through to the dance academy.
Next we have ballerina Avery, also 11, who dances en pointe. I didn’t think you were suppose to do that before you were 12 (something about the development of your feet? I know I’ve read this) but I’m no expert. She’s the only kid whose parent joins her in the confessional; her mom tells stories about tiny Avery trying on jewelry and having a fancified alter ego. It’s very cute but I’d also rather just hear Avery, you know? Anyway, Avery performs a combination of classical and modern, and is hella strong and flexible. (As with gymnasts, this is the clear bonus to younger contestants.) She’s through easily as well; in what’s surely the most modest and appropriate compliment he’s ever given, Nigel says he likes her face.
Kida, 13, is a pretty terrific hip hop dancer from a big, loving family with a tragic past; his dad died of the flu two years ago. This stuff is tough to watch with teenagers, but excruciating with little kids. Kida learned how to hit hard from his older brother, and we get to see all seven siblings dancing together, which is super cute. They’re all good, and so is Kida (he’s got a muscular style with a sweet round face), and he gets through.
After him, we get a mini-montage of not-amazing dancers who don’t go through, and that’s all the bad dancing we see. And frankly, it wasn’t bad, just not great. Nothing those kids should feel embarrassed about. The thing that bugs me about it, really, is the judges telling them to come back next year. Nooooooo! Next year I want my real show back! Puhleeze!
Lev, a straw-haired ten year old Russian born in France who’s likely spent most of his life in America because he has neither a French nor a Russian accent, dazzles us with his mad ballroom skills. And they really are prodigious; the kid has crazy flexible hips. We’re casually told that his partner Sophia is too young to compete, which freaks me out a little when I realized that means she’s only seven. That’s impressive. (Is any of it as impressive as adult dancing? No. But when you look at Lev, it’s obvious he’s going to be amazing when he’s an adult.)
After Lev, we get a little montage of ballroom goodness, starting with 11 year old Ivan, who dances with his mom because his partner couldn’t make the audition. (His mom must be a professional dancer, and he’s got a very stereotypical ballroom costume with a partly sheer shirt; while he’s very skilled for his age, I’m a little creeped out by the choreography that has him nodding appreciatively at his partner.) Then we meet Camila, a 12 year old who dances alone, and she’s genuinely terrific, with no caveats to her age.
13 year old Ava explains somewhat tearfully that she’s been bullied for being tall and skinny, and was actually kicked off her dance team because her lanky, 5’10” body threw off the symmetry. Luckily for her, though, the show accepts all types! If we were judging her like an adult, we’d be saying that she’s not fully articulating her movements, but we’re not, so she’s in, with a healthy dollop of “love yourself and don’t let the turkeys get you down” advice from Nigel, Jason and Paula. Ironically, if this were a normal season she might not make the show because they’d need a guy tall enough to partner her. Have we ever had a female dancer who was taller than Cat? Ava looms above the generally towering host in her bare feet. But since it’s a kids show now, we don’t have to worry about partnering, and so Ava too makes it through.
Montage time! We’ve got more good 13 year old contemporary dancers: Sage, who comes from a big family and is compared to Travis Wall by the judges; the very cheerful and very mature for her age Jordan; and finally Sophia, the girl in the blue leotard with the bendy back who has 1.4 followers on Instagram. That’s right. (Makes you feel a bit lame, no?) She apparently posts lots of pictures of backstage shenanigans, though backstage of what we don’t hear. They’re all good, acrobatic with nice technique, and they’re all through.
We have a second Ava in contention, but this 11 year old is an excellent tapper. Nigel’s particularly thrilled that her sound has good dynamics, that she doesn’t just machine gun, but experiments with tempos and rhythms. I would agree; she’s my favorite of the night. I think tap is a good discipline for kids. At any rate, Nigel loves that she’s bringing a jazz tap to the mix and helping bring that lost art back.
Finally, we meet ballroom dancers Stella and Geramy, both 12. The judges pretty much hate them and cut them off quickly — I thought they were nicely in sync, actually, and that Stella was good enough to go on (lets face it, we’re already grading on a serious curve) so I was quite surprised by this. And even more, I just wasn’t expecting the final audition to be a bad one. That’s not the way this show has ever rolled, and with the new format, it seemed even less likely.
So of course it can’t just be left there. We’ve worked so hard, Stella pleads. Geramy’s lost 25 pounds. Can’t we do something else for you? This annoys me, because the point isn’t how hard you’ve worked, it’s whether you meet a particular standard. To my surprise, however, the judges all cave and let them dance again after the whining. Not only that, but Nigel praises Stella for asking, like he wants every dancer he rejects in the future to beg like this. What a terrible precedent; I can’t imagine he’s thought this through. Anyway, when they dance the second time, it’s clear that they’re not at all hopeless (why didn’t we see THIS routine the first time?), but that Stella is far better. Paula even tells her that she’s got the making of a good professional. Jason and Paula both put only Stella through, but Nigel suggests that they send Geramy along with her to the dance academy just so he knows how far he has to grow. That sounds beastly and unkind to me, but the other judges immediately cave, so now both obvious rejections are through.
And there we are. What did you think of the first episode of the new order? Am I being mean, or do you want the old show back, too? (Don’t hate me; I will blog the end of The Good Wife eventually. I’m just kind of freaked out about the end and haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it yet.)