Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Entertainment Value Effect

In the past few years, we've seen TV shows like Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew" bring greater awareness to the street dance world. For many audience members who aren't directly involved with this culture, these shows were their first exposure to it. Along with these shows, there's also been a rise of online blogging and vlogging commenting on these shows and the dancers who perform on them.

It seems that many critiques/commentaries on these shows are based on the entertainment value of individual dancers or crews' performances. After all, they're performing on a TV show that is designed to entertain a broad audience. But is there a detrimental effect to this push for "entertainment value" on our dance culture? If online critics are judging street dancers based on how they "entertained" week by week but not on foundation, technique, musicality, etc., is that possibly leading an uninformed audience to see these styles in a superficial light? Or is "entertainment value" a broad enough term so that foundation, technique, musicality and other dance criteria should be considered part of it?

This is a tough call because everyone who is viewing, commenting, and participating in the dialogue around these media shows come from different backgrounds and have different standards. Perhaps that's why it's easier to judge a dancer or crew based on how they entertained an audience with a particular routine.

For street dancers, it's a hard game to enter. Every street dancer must know that if they compete on SYTYCD or ABDC, that it's not the same as entering a battle in a cypher or a judged contest. It's a whole different animal. You're participating on a televised show that means to entertain with weekly drama, narrative, and empathetic characters. For a TV show producer, the dancers are the cast. And they have to be compelling enough to bring in the ratings. Personality, charisma, on-screen presence, and an engaging story are part of this package. You are becoming part of a brand marketed through multiplatform media outlets.

We know that street dancers who participate in these shows can benefit from them. Opportunities to teach, perform, tour, become spokesmodels, and to build a following of fans are possible. But it will also become increasingly important for these street dancers to promote education and appreciation of their styles to a new audience. These dancers will become the public face of popping, bboying, locking, waacking, and other styles to the uninformed world. These future role models have the influence to point a new generation of dancers to the rich technique, history, and creativity of street styles. Their voices will carry greater weight for a new generation rather than online critics.

After all, a TV show will come to an end. But dancers live on. We danced before these TV shows existed and will continue to dance after they're gone. And it's up to us to educate and invest in a new, younger generation that is falling in love with these styles right now. "Entertainment value" isn't necessarily detrimental and it can be a good catalyst to bringing new dancers into the culture. But it's more important to keep conversing, teaching, and sharing about our styles in as many effective ways as possible. The spirit of these dances live on inside of us, and the stories of how they're transforming our lives will always be more influential than entertainment.

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