SYTYCD Reflection: You’re White & You Don’t Do Hiphop…You Must Be A Stage Dancer

So You Think You Can Dance has strutted its way back onto the mainstream airway’s stage for another Summer of dramatic and duet-filled dancing. The shows 12th season premiered Monday, June 1st, bringing back much of the same, but also incorporating a huge new twist! (Don’t get fooled by the exclamation point, I’m really not that excited about it. It was purely for affect…did it work?-no?…okay). During this first episode we see the usual gamut of dancers: virtuosic movers to the embarrassments who we truly tune-in to see. However, this year, SYTYCD thought it would be entertaining to make each auditionee label themselves as a street dancer or a stage dancer as they walked into the theater.

Now I think the idea of Street vs Stage could be hot: having a structure where the fiery hips of ballroom would compete for votes over the eloquent torso of ballet…then switching it up to force the contemporary dancer to put on taps while the Hiphopper fits into some tights and slippers…

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty interesting to me. Why? Because then we would actually see dance forms that were originated in the street compared to genres that were created for the stage! But, in true mainstream fashion, the creative experts of SYTYCD had to shallow it out…so in true Quilan fashion…I’m going to rant about it!

For one, what is a “stage” dance anyways?! According to, stage dancing is considered to be, “A show involving artistic dancing.” You can also take stage dancing to mean a dance that is staged, or choreographed. Neither of these definitions discriminate against any dance form. Therefore, stage dance can be considered to be any and all dances that end up being performed on stage…duh. On top of this, most dances were not created for the stage anyways. Modern dance is an exception (which obviously is not a part of the show), but even ballet was created for the aristocratic courts of Europe before it transferred to the stage…so Nigel…what does it mean to be a stage dancer?

Anyways, even when I let that aspect go because this is a television show and shallow, arbitrary, and ignorant things must be done in order to create entertainment…there’s still this fact about who is included within these categories of street and stage that I just can’t shake.

I cannot say this for sure, but from my assessment of Season 12’s first episode, this is how the teams breakdown in terms of SYTYCD dance genres:

Stage: Contemporary, Ballet, Ballroom, Jazz, Tap/Clogging

Street: Hiphop

???: Bollywood (my guess would be that they would be put in stage, but just a biased guess)

I have a huge problem with this. If you have watched SYTYCD in the past (and I refer to this in a previous blog post: The Technical Dancer) you have heard Nigel, and maybe others, consider Hiphoppers to be the non-trained dancers. So, essentially, this season is not about stage versus street. It’s about the untrained versus everyone else. This is interesting to me because I cannot get past the cultural segregation that is happening here. Tap, ballroom, and jazz all have roots within the same place that Hiphop comes from. Yet, they’re separated from Hiphop…why? Good question. I don’t have the answer. I only can question, more so, why the form that most dominantly represents stereotypical African-American culture gets isolated in a structure that contains multiple forms that originate from the greater African-American tradition…?

Then, to put the cherry on top of all that…the show brings in Jason Derulo to represent that isolated dance form…blows my mind! You have two legends within the greater dance world in Nigel Lythgoe and Paula Abdul sharing their knowledge of dance to the contestants and the SYTYCD audience. Next to them is Jason….frikin’…Derulo…whose training consists of 5,6,7,8’s in the studio and a lot of washed-up, hand-me-down, pop-music versions of Hiphop styles. It’s a huge slap in the face, not only to Hiphop, but to African-American culture and to dance as a whole. One of the most influential art forms of our time is being disrespected on national television because of, dare I say, its main demographic and the culture that demographic represents.

I have always appreciated the platform that SYTYCD has given dance and Hiphop. A lot of deserving Hiphop dancers have been able to transcend into the mainstream eye because of that show. For my own personal interests, I would probably even audition again given the chance in order to obtain the benefits for myself. But, I cannot sit idly by and keep quiet while I watch Hiphop and the people within it subliminally get degraded for all of the world to see through the art form that I love.

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  1. Well said. Hip hop (bboy, housing, bone breaking, dance hall etc) requires just as much technique and “training” as anything else. I know plenty of professional dancers that don’t have any “training” they’re just athletes. And tap, ballroom (afro-brazilian forms), jazz and even modern dance had distinct roots in african american culture.I quit watching So You Think for this, and many other reasons. I don’t think art can exist within the constraints of entertainment.

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