Simply Enjoying the Dance

One of our family’s favorite shows is So You Think You Can Dance. And we’re not alone. Even though it dipped in popularity a little this year, it was still a strong top 20 program during the summer months when television viewing is at its lowest. It has won 7 Emmy’s, 5 of those for Outstanding Choreography.

I’ve written about it before here, but So You Think You Can Dance is, if anything, a celebration of the human spirit. My wife and I are often compelled to remark, “Dancers are the happiest people EVER.” Even though the temptation to compare SYTYCD to other similar shows such as American Idol and Dancing With The Stars is certainly in play, they really couldn’t be more different. While Idol and DWTS are “made for TV” cheese with little to no substance, So  You Think You Can Dance only addresses and perpetuates the art of dance. These guys know they aren’t going to get rich quick so they—the judges, the contestants, the choreographers—are engaged only for the sake of advancing their art form. And even though I got dragged kicking and screaming into its viewership, I am admittedly drawn by the show’s sincerity as well as its simplicity.

We just recently watched the finale during which the last 4 dancers/contestants are whittled away in 15-20 increments down to the champion. Surprisingly, this year’s finale was a little disappointing. There was one particular performance in which the dancers clearly failed to meet the standards of the choreographers. (I do know more about dance now that I ever thought I would have. Good thing? Only time will tell.) At the end of course, the dancers were all smiles. The camera shot turned to the choreographer, whom I expected to express at least a degree of frustration or disappointment or both.

The SYTYCD choreographers have become my favorite “characters” on the show. After watching several seasons and developing would-be relationships with each one of the regulars, we’ve become somewhat familiar with their work. What’s generated the most wonder, however, is how these creators conjure the dance from their own imagination and experiences, show the steps to dancers they’ve only just met, work intimately with them as they impart their vision and their art, all before taking their seat with the rest of the audience as the dancers give life to what was just days earlier only an idea—if that’s the right word. Watching their physicality and facial expressions as they sit in the audience, I’ve wondered aloud what it’s like for the choreographers to trust someone completely with the dance they have created. Just sitting there. Surely there are steps missed, personal touches both added and taken away, or even a complete mis-interpretation of it all.

That’s what I expected to see on the face of this choreographer after this particular what I would call “disaster” in the finale. But it wasn’t. The choreographer seemed just as pleased as she would have had the dancers hit every step, showcased every nuance, and bared all the heart she expected. “It must be the nature of choreography,” I said to my wife, both of us noticing the same thing. “Maybe it’s not about hitting all the steps just right, getting it perfect.” Fair enough.

Because I’ve been taught to pay attention; to note those things that move us, strike a personal chord, and even haunt us, I continued to wonder why I find the choreographers so interesting and the relationship between the dancers and the choreographers so fascinating. For one, they share the dance. One creates the dance but at some point steps back and allows the dancers to put their own touches on it. What emerges from the relationship is a shared art that allows the unique giftedness of each dancer to shape the performance. Second, it’s about intimacy. Not the kind of intimacy that is all over the sit-coms, magazine ads, and feature films these days; rather, the kind of intimacy that edifies, builds, and creates. It’s the kind of intimacy that allows both the dancer and the creator to be known to one another. This is the kind of intimacy that requires effort and, yes, even work. But will always end with something beautiful even if all the steps are not hit exactly right.

And lastly I feel that there is something divine in the nature of the relationship between the choreographer and the dancer. Not necessarily in their relationship, but in the nature of their relationship. Because God is infinite the list of metaphors and illustrations for our relationship with Him is just as endless. But there seems to be an aspect of God as Choreographer—a Choreographer for our lives as a dance. He creates the dance. He knows our strengths. He gives us the steps. He enjoys the intimacy and teaching. He shows us why we fall and helps lift us back into motion when we do. But when the time comes, I can’t help but think that He always enjoys watching us dance. Our responsibilities are multiple, but at the top of the list has got to be (1) pay attention (2) bring everything you’ve got. And don’t forget this “what if” question: What if you don’t have to be perfect?

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