The So You Think You Can Dance Effect

The So You Think You Can Dance Effect

Millions of television viewers have become fanatics of dance reality shows including So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Best Dance Crew and Dancing with the Stars.  Are you one of those adoring fans?  Do you find yourself glued to the television to find out who is crowned America’s Favorite Dancer?  Having never been a fan of American Idol, the show which seems to be the grandfather of the reality competition craze, I am amazed that there have been no less than 11 dance reality shows in the past six years.  I do now confess that I have watched them all at least once, that I enjoy SYTYCD, and that I cringe as I watch Dance Moms. Dancers, choreographers, critics and fans have debated whether these shows like SYTYCD can build audience for live dance performances.  Modern dance icon and Tony Award winning choreographer Bill T. Jones faults SYTYCD for turning dance into sport.  One of the main criticisms from dancers is that the show pushes commercial dance not artistic concert dance.  For a long time I actually foolishly thought dance was dance, but as it turns out it is not.  It really comes down to the fact that SYTYCD is more concerned with showiness, technical virtuosity, and acrobatics while artistic concert dance is more nuanced and subtle and less, dare I say, Atlantic City.  I am of the “more is more” mindset and get excited that millions of people are watching dance and hearing words like contemporary and cha-cha (By the way, the SYTYCD website has a dance dictionary, in case you would like to look up any of the words used).   The fact is people of all ages and backgrounds are more aware of dance these days than they were before.

So, if you are a SYTYCD fan, what might be your next step to attending a live dance performance?  Well look no further than the fantastic dance companies and dancers throughout the Garden State.  There are dance performances of all types which will thrill you.

--see performances by the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company.  One reviewer described her work as “intellectual and emotional journeys."   If you like the more athletic works, you will enjoy the work of Freespace Dance.  You won’t want to miss Nimbus Dance Works, a contemporary ballet company which performs superb contemporary ballet pieces, often in collaboration with the community or audience.

I love to watch men dance.  (Remember Travis vs. Benji in Season Two of SYTYCD?)

If you do too, check out the recent work of choreographer Randy James.  He has set gorgeous works on a small band of virtuosic men. When SYTYCD judges speak about technique, most of the times they are referring to ballet technique.  New Jersey has some exquisitely technical ballet companies including Roxey Ballet, Lustig Dance Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, and New Jersey Ballet.

If you are partial to SYTYCD’s use of ethnic dance such as African, flamenco, or cultural dance--and this routine was awesome--

--you may enjoy performances by Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre, Umoja Dance, or Nai Ni Chen Dance Company.  Nai-Ni choreographs beautiful Chinese dances as well as exquisite modern pieces.

More excited by the ballroom performances?  Don’t miss performances by Henri Velandia, who danced on season 1 of the Univision television program Mira Quién Baila ('Look Who's Dancing'), from HotSalsaHot, or Vittoria Natale, known for performing Argentine Tango.

SYTYCD does not often have a tap dancer advance very far in the competition, but if you like tap, don’t miss New Jersey Tap Ensemble.

Space and time do not allow me to list all of the wonderful and exciting dance companies and dancers throughout the state, but there are many, many more.

I would be remiss if I did not offer a few reminders as you attend a live dance performance.  Most dances last longer than the two-minute routines seen on SYTYCD.   Don’t forget, when watching the SYTYCD routines, you have the advantage of fantastic camera work and possibly even some retakes and edits.  The dance performances on SYTYCD may even be compared to watching the highlight reels from football games or other sporting events.  Viewers see the most exciting moves in a condensed time frame.

For a taste of a few of these companies together, go to a festival of dance.  Raritan Valley Community College has three of the top companies performing together in November 2011, while NJPAC has put together two terrific lineups for Jersey Moves! A Festival of Dance in March 2012. Dance New Jersey also hosts "Show Up & Dance" performances for its membership in March and July 2012.

How to find a performance?  You can find calendars of upcoming dance events on or  All of the dance companies also have websites with their own calendars – check the links. Now go and enjoy a live dance performance in New Jersey because New Jerseyans certainly can dance!

  (More on why Dance Moms makes me cringe some other time…)

Junot Díaz, Author

Junot Díaz, Author

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