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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

The Dumbing Down of Dance and Alliterative Excess

This article in the Washington Post laments the fact that the American public seems to want less of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing the works of Twyla Tharp and more B-list celebrities learning to salsa. Network and public television have listened.

"...The sharp rise in reality-show dance on TV is matched by a dizzying drop in public television broadcasts of the pros. In other words, the washed-up celebrities and adventurous athletes of "Dancing With the Stars" are all that the viewing public knows of dance these days, since ballet and modern dance companies have been virtually voted off the air."
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The article points out, in a commentary from Jac Venza, longtime executive producer of PBS' "Great Performances" series, the ratings for adventurous, quality dance were always really low. Despite those ratings, the performances continued, capturing groundbreaking collaborations between dancer, choreographer, and artist.

PBS now has a substantial library of those performances and we, in turn, have an artistic catalog we can resource. This is no longer happening and that, to me, seems like the major loss. I'll admit, I'm not one to sit through PBS dance performances, but, then again, I don't watch " Dancing With the Stars " either. I do know that for the sake of cultural and artistic legacy, I could care less about preserving Marie Osmond's take on the rumba.

The question becomes who will pay for this preservation? The productions are getting more expensive and, in terms of corporate philanthropy, there hasn't been a single donor with the passion to keep dance on television, as there has been in years past.

The article then asks a crucial question:

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But can we culturally afford <i> not </i> to have concert dance on TV? "Dance in America" educated a generation of viewers about ballet and modern dance. Enter the uneducated generation. If no one knows what a ballet is, or what a modern dance or tap dance performance looks like, who the heck is going to buy tickets?

How important do you think it is to preserve televised dance performances of the "Dance in America" and "Great Performances" variety? I guess the other question is, do you like "Dancing with the Stars" and, if so, why? I have close friends, one of whom is a modern dancer, who love this show. One could argue that these are two very different discussions, but the fact of the matter is, resources are backing "Dancing with the Stars" and its new spinoff , while televised performances of modern dance and ballet starve for funding and audiences. Nicole Teixeira
September 17, 2007 at 07:14 PM
Why shouldn't TV performances be saved and recorded? i feel it is important to preserve dance performances....there's always a time when someone would like to revisit those performances so it will be easiar for us to see it again. -----

Michelle
September 18, 2007 at 08:15 AM
Um, Dancing with the Stars? Not this modern dance friend. Try So You Think You Can Dance - a different concept that does not include B(ish) level kinda-celebs doing the same ol' chacha. (The Washington Post article mentions So You Think You Can Dance towards the end but worries its winner won't have a paying audience if she makes it as a professional contemporary dance company.) Ok, so on S.Y.T.Y.C.D they call my favorite genre "Contemporary" and not modern. I can live with these terms because the dancing is earnest and sometimes even excellent (go Mia Michaels!) and the choreography gets more adventurous and provocative as the show's popularity grows. "Record breaking millions of people" call in to support near professionals performing modern and ballet and tap influenced dances. Schlock, the highbrows say? Hmmm. . .I'd call the Post's perspective snooty. I'm all for saving concert dance and Dance on TV but lets not blame mainstream dance trends for snuffing out the now good ol boys of dance.