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In the latest issue of First Things ( now online ), Sara Hamdan explores how economic conditions are affecting the art form of dance . Overall, the article is a fine piece of reporting. But I have to take exception to one claim:

[P]opular forms of dance performance have become more about competition and moves and less about narrative or story—like sports set to music. Television programs such as “So You Think You Can Dance” demonstrate that “successful” dancers are those who can display physical talent; these shows do not showcase dance works based on profound observations or that express something beyond the merely physical.

“That’s kind of out, having a piece be ‘about something,’” says [Sarah Kaufman, Pulitzer Prize–winning dance critic of the Washington Post ]

While it is true that many forms of dance performance are about “competition and moves”, SYTYCD has alway incorporated narrative and story. True, it might not be the same narrative form as can be found in the a full-length ballet. But criticizing SYTYCD for focusing on short-form narratives would be like panning The New Yorker because they publish short stories instead of novels.

Rather than try to argue for why short form dance narratives can be “about something”, I’ll simply offer videos of five performances from SYTYCD that use the art form of dance to tell a short story:

Addiction - Kayla Radomski & Kupono Aweau (Song: ‘Gravity,’ Sarah Bareilles)

The Bench - Heidi Groskreutz & Travis Wall (‘Calling You,’ Celine Dion)

The Hummingbird and the Flower - Jaimie Goodwin & Hotuko ‘Hok’ Konishi (‘The Chairman’s Waltz,’ from Memoirs of a Geisha )

The Necklace - Jeanine Mason & Jason Glover (Song: ‘If It Kills Me,’ Jason Mraz)

Cancer - Melissa Sandvig & Ade Obayomi (‘This Woman’s Work,’ Maxwell)

See Also: So You Think You Don’t Like Dance?

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