Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dance or Dunce Judges Part I - The Bi Guan Journals


This week has been a week filled with dance. Dance performances, choreography, music, schedules, lessons plans …

It’s been a week of extreme disappointment, heartache, highs, lows, bewilderment, frustration and thankfulness. And it’s only Wednesday. I’ve been on a rollercoaster. It was time to withdraw to calm my senses and introspect upon my churning emotions and doubt-speckled thoughts.

Friends and acquaintances have noted that I have a tendency to “disappear”. One moment I am there and the next I am as elusive as Big Foot. No, I only wear a size 5, loveys.

I’ve always been jealous of my own time, thoughts and space. Probably because growing up, I had very little control over these with everyone trying to dictate what, with whom, when and how I utilise them. By the time I hit 12, I became well known for being mysterious or sulky depending on whom you are talking to. Relatives still talk about a time when I refused to speak to anyone for almost a year because someone or something pissed me off. Some might say now that they were very lucky.

That’s not to say that I do not make myself heard or open myself up to those I consider dear and true friends. But I do go into seclusion to ponder things, lick my wounds, create or even just to (WARNING: Gross out moment incoming!) wax my legs! Is a girl not entitled to her privacy anymore??? Sure, I may take more time than other people but that just means I need a lot of time to myself. I like to say I am my favourite person so is it wrong to want to spend time with your most favoured person? Is that self-centredness or just self-preservation?

I need space and alone time to survive this crazy world. Appreciating their value, I always give the same consideration back which some people take as being uncaring. Not true … I care about your right to privacy and would never intrude unless asked to. Therefore, I truly appreciate and respect those few friends who know enough when to push and when to let me go to my own little la-la land.

People have wondered what I get up to when I go into one of my little “seclusions”. Nothing mysterious or exciting, really. Most of the time, I spend it sorting out all the mess in my head, heart, soul and environment so that I have a blank or at least conducive canvas to create something true and unique. I’m not always successful but I find that I obtain the most meaningful epiphanies or insights during these moments.

In Chinese kung fu movies, the kung fu exponents always sequester themselves in some remote cave, cloud-hidden mountain or secluded river hut to master a new-fangled kung fu technique. They call it bi guan – not sure what that really means in Chinese but I know it happens in every kung fu movie. Yes, I watch way too many kung fu movies. Therefore, I’m just trying to pay tribute to an ancient Chinese custom. I’m respectful that way.

So I do not have a peaceful mountain retreat or a soothing riverbed but I have my little bedroom grotto to hide out in. In a fit of manic energy, I spent an entire day cleaning, laundering, tidying, wiping, spraying and generally Martha Stewarting my sleepy haven into shape. The incense simulated mists caressing the mountains. My aromatherapy air freshener lulled me as gently as the cascading waterfalls of a water sanctuary. And the drawn curtains and numerous candles illuminated my dark cavern of calm.

I was ready for my bi guan.

I’d heard of this new reality show called So You Think You Can Dance for a while now. The dance forums were peppered by some dancers’ posts about the audition process and how poorly judged it was. Unsure if this was mere sour grapes or a reality of the poor standards of reality shows, I did not intended to watch this. Then the trailers came on. I saw a lot of break dancers. A lot of hip hop dancers. And then … a middle eastern dancer doing a sword routine! OK, I had to watch it now.

All the other dancers were very dubious and no one was inclined to watch it but I’d watch anything once just to judge for myself. Missing part of the show, I still have no clue who the three judges were. Except that one fancies himself a posh Simon Cowell.

To be honest, I was appalled that the middle eastern dancers, the flamenco dancer and, even more horrifically, a modern ballet dancer were relegated to the “freaks” category by the producers of the show. Do these people even know what dance is and have any of them ever had any classical dance training???

The show’s choreographer was obviously a MTV, hip hop-style dancer but seriously, they should have had some classical dance expert among the panel or at least among the producers so they do not look so ignorant. Even without any knowledge of the judges, just from their comments and choices, I had the impression that their experiences were more Broadway, music videos and television commercials-related. Not that these are bad but you should have a balanced panel.

Some of their comments were justified, of course, as you would have to be blind, deaf and comatose not to cringe at some of the contestants’ ideas of dance. But the real shockers truly cast doubts on the credentials of these judges and the producers.

Firstly, sniggering at the break dancers, middle-eastern dancers and the flamenco dancers showed how insular, uneducated and sorry … American, this production was. Yes, yes, two judges were British but to me, they were the type of Brits who had been in the US so long they might as well be wearing stars and stripes underwear. If they had even superficially studied any of these dance forms, they would know how much skill, techniques and talent are required.

Secondly, the only break dancer featured was a very raw young man. His timing was off, his weight changes erratic, his moves not as smooth or finished as many of the others featured and his stage presence gawky. The only reason he received airtime was because he failed to keep up with the choreography in the second round. Now, to any trained dancer, you could spot his lack of training and inexperience immediately. By choosing to feature him over many of the other deserving and talented break dancers in the auditions, the producers were blatantly attempting to allude that break dancing is a lesser dance form and break dancers would never be able to make it in the “real world” of dancing.

I disagree and I am very sure some of the qualifying break dancers proved them wrong. Yet this was the message they chose to send out to the world. I think they did the break dancers a great injustice.

Thirdly, the host remarked on the astounding number of middle-eastern dancers who auditioned. Had they done any research at all, they would have realised that one of the largest population of middle-eastern dancers reside in New York, and the cattle call was actually posted on the New York belly dancers forum. The quick vignette of the dancers showed a few horrors but on the whole, most of them appeared to be “real” middle eastern dancers. I was extremely surprised to see a few familiar-faced middle eastern dancers and wondered what possessed them to lower their international cache by even entering the contest. (Yes, there is actually a middle eastern dance world with “superstars” and fandom).

What was galling was the short clip of the interview with an older dancer who performed a sword dance. It illuminated the puerile wit of the Simon Cowell-like judge who asked if it was a real sword that could kill people. She should have run him through with it, screaming jihad at the top of her voice.

However, the belly dancer receiving the most coverage (sic) was an incredibly mediocre dancer whose greatest claim was her two enhanced chest globes. Of course, wearing a costume one size too small highlighted these – as did the cameraman even when she was doing hip shimmies as he was obviously transfixed by the headlights. I remarked to 3A Gurl that he must be a Turkish belly dance cameraman.

The top-heavy dancer claimed her real name was Isis. Surname Cardona. When I expressed my sceptism, 3A sagely said it could be your real name if you had changed it by deed poll. Ah, right … But Isis won my respect with her delicately phrased response to the very vulgar line of questioning from the other English judge. He had the temerity to ask if all her “accessories” were real. She politely responded after a long awkward silence that they were the “most expensive accessories” she had ever purchased. I gave her a zill salute and a doumbek thwapping on head to the insensitive lout.

To give Isis her credit, she is probably fairly inexperienced to middle eastern dance and used it as a gimmick to get her foot (or tits – yes! I can so be a So You Think You Can Dance judge!) in the door. In the second round, her dance skills were more apparent and in control. And when she was disqualified, she showed a grace and class that was lacking in many of the contestants ... and the judges.

Fourthly, they paid a lot of attention to a Britney-Spears dancealike. You cannot see this but a petrified shudder reverberates through me even as I type the words Britney Spears and dance in the same sentence. There it goes again …

This young blonde was all over the place. While she has some raw talent, she had no control. She was also sloppy and rushed her movements. Obviously a student of MTV dance videos, she did not balance her youthful enthusiasm with grace and I was not particularly impressed. But the judges were. They professed to love her Britney Spears dancealikability. I am so biting my tongue and my ballet shoes now.

Lastly, and the most damning, was when the modern ballet dancer auditioned. I refuse to believe that any dancer, dance teacher or judge could have endured a dance career without a least one lesson in modern ballet. Therefore, the judges’ comment shocked and horrified me.

The modern ballet dancer was quite good in my opinion. Her interpretation was not new or unusual (according to the producers’ ignorant scripting and the host’s snarky voice-over) but obviously part of her repertoire from a troupe or staged performance. Her timing was spot-on, her lines clean, her transitions smooth, choreography well crafted and her technique sound. She certainly deserved better than the pithy left-handed compliments paid her.

The damning comment came from the Simon Cowell wannabe. He emitted a surprised gasp and asked the other British judge if it was more difficult to flex the feet. Perhaps realising how daft he sounded, he later announced that not many people might know this but keeping the feet flexed when doing a leg kick is much harder than keeping the feet straight. It’s called pointé, mate. That gasp-inspiring move is a basic technique in modern ballet.

My disgust lies with the fact that he obviously knows nothing about modern ballet. Or even basic dance movement. In fact, they all seem to know very little about any other dance form except the MTV culture. As dance teachers or judges you should know at least a modicum of each dance form in order to guide and judge. To be so ignorant of basic dance technique is beyond the pale in a dance judge. I truly question the credentials of the judges and the misnomer of the show.

Watching the show led me to many questions about dance, dancers, dance shows and the common misconceptions. It distresses me how people are commonly associating sex and looks with dance nowadays. The fact that anyone can think that Britney Spears (let's just call her BS as I have to stop shuddering) and Jessica Simpson are dance icons makes me want to hang up my dance shoes. The proliferation of "sexy dancers" who rely on aesthetics over technique or skill drives me to tears. It makes me question why I stay in the business and why I care.

Honestly, the number of times I have been asked to dance a certain way or been invited to perform just from virtue of seeing my photo rather than my dance performance infuriates me. When students ask to be taught for a Shakira or BS-type dance style, I show them the studio door and give them the number for an exotic dance teacher. It pains me.

Then I go home to bi guan and do a Stephanie - an explanation of this will come in Part II. Am shuddering too hard now. I said BS' name 5 times in the same context as dance. Oh no, there it goes again ...


Blogger michelle said...

You stay in the business because it needs people like you there! I haven't seen the show, but I know what you're talking about with BS and JS.

I hope your week (and life) begins to even out for you soon. It's good to take that time for yourself, by yourself - it's one of the only ways to really stop and remember who you are in the midst of all the other things vying for your attention. Breath, my dear, breathe.

And, thanks, for your comments and support on my site. I needed it, and it did make a difference.

5:21 am  
Blogger MM said...

Hey Michelle, thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement. Well, my life is still pretty messed up at the moment but fortunately my best friend is here this week so my spirits are a little higher. You hang in there too!

7:04 am  

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