And five, six, seven, eight: Dance shows continue to twirl across the airwaves at all angles—an unprecedented outbreak of dipping and twisting, popping and locking, preening and pandering. Call it Terpsichore Vision and marvel at its adaptability. It’s easy to imagine WE—nominally a women’s network, essentially a bridal channel—whipping up Save the First Dance, in which affianced couples learn how to sway to “Unchained Melody” and “What a Wonderful World” while vying to win a honeymoon vacation. NBC, headquartered at Rockefeller Center, could confect Kick It: The Great Rockette Challenge. The Weinstein Company hasn’t done much with the tiny arts channel Ovation since investing in it two years ago; if Harvey really wanted to build some buzz, he could hire Toni Bentley—an alumna of the New York City Ballet and the author of a literary memoir about butt sex —to combine those two passions by hosting a late-night reality competition titled Attitude Derrière.
While keeping your fingers crossed that such a day will come, you can tide yourself over with the likes of America’s Best Dance Crew (MTV), produced by American Idol’s Randy Jackson, hosted by former teen heartthrob Mario Lopez, and possessed of an unexpected sweetness. Here, the house style seems to derive from the martial stepping of black fraternities, the hectic posturing of music videos, and, when the lewdest competitors take the stage, humping a mailbox. The crews duel in a way that calls to mind the Sharks and the Jets. Last Friday’s live finale found the team Status Quo (six inspiring kids from a rough neighborhood in Boston) matching off against JabbaWockeeZ (six kids from the West who managed to be inspiring despite performing in face masks fit for a slasher-film psycho). The JabbaWockeeZ triumphed. O frabjous day! Tears fell, and confetti, and the vanquished crews bounced back to the stage, extending their congratulations by forming a conga line, because the muse of Terpsichore Vision never guides anyone away from tackiness.
Elsewhere, in a realm where hip-hop, Scream masks, and basic coordination are much less a presence, there is Your Mama Don’t Dance (Lifetime, Fridays at 9 p.m. ET), hosted by former teen heartthrob Ian Ziering and produced by someone who knows the press-release value of alliteration: “Now, five female dancers will be fox-trotting with their fathers while five male dancers will be doing the mambo with their mothers as they vie for praise from the judges and for America’s votes.” While the Oedipus and Electra complexes do not come up for discussion, the show nonetheless exists as a family-therapy session in 4/4 time, crafting behind-the-scenes narratives about support and acceptance and personal growth. The dad who was always at the office bonds with the daughter who was always at the barre, and so on. The judges, affectingly, take the greatest care to be gentle in their criticisms. The contestants, steadfastly, remain adorable even when looking like fools. The girls in the makeup department need to lay off the eye shadow.
So it is that Step It Up and Dance (Bravo, premieres Thursday at 11 p.m. ET) enters a crowded field. None of the dance shows have any real sense of irony, and this will be the case until someone invents one focusing on the New Burlesque (to be hosted by downtown superstar Murray Hill, the grapefruit-shaped drag king in the polyester tux). But Step It Up and Dance attempts to distinguish itself by trafficking in irony’s closest cousin, camp. The mistress of ceremonies is Elizabeth Berkley, who probably earned the job on the strength of her association with Showgirls, the third-worst film of the ‘90s (behind As Good As It Gets and Sliver). She’s not so much a hostess as a hood ornament.
One contestant, Miguel, introduces himself by touting his tenacity: “It’s like telling da Vinci, ‘I’m sorry. You’re not a good painter, you got to go.’ ” Another, Nick, talks about enrolling in dance class after first viewing Footloose: “At that age, I realized it was a good place to meet ladies.” That age was 4. The season’s likeliest breakout star is Jessica, an amateur cowed by the fact of competing with folks who list stints in Broadway musicals, on big-time pop tours, and atop go-go club pedestals on their CVs. She weeps when feeling proud of herself and flees to the wings when confused about her choreography, and what she lacks in self-confidence, she compensates for by not wearing very much clothing. That is, she wears about twice as much as do the pros on Dancing With the Stars (ABC), the program that’s done so much to reshape the idea of the female back as an erogenous zone suitable for the family hour.
To invert the Chorus Line lyric, Step It Up and Dance has a “looks 10, dance 3” air. The girls are pretty, and the boys are lithe. Watching the pilot, I found myself irked by the repeated play of the second-rate Spice Girls song to which the competitors were mastering steps, but I stayed glued, certain that everyone would start hooking up any second, such did they stretch and priss and thrust. It felt rather like staying too long at a cast party: The noisy and grating emotionalism of the actors intensifies as the hours pass, as does your belief that an orgy will break out. Self-aware, the show tosses out just enough tidbits about gender performance and the construction of sexual identity to divert a queer theory seminar at Brown for 20 minutes or so. For instance, a judge tells two female dancers to learn the distinction between dancing “strongly” and “like a mean angry man.” Later, Miguel—the not-to-be-denied da Vinci—receives instructions “to butch it up a little bit more.” “Did I look like a fag?” he asks in reply. Miguel’s eyes indicate how receptive he is to constructive criticism. He is hungering to glide across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an Astaire in gold lamé.