Everyone is dancing. Not since the ‘80s, when the exclamation, “Fame! I’m gonna live forever,” ignited the big screen (and spawned a television series and hit soundtrack) has dance had the kind of pop culture relevance it has today. Sure, there have been mini-crazes throughout the past decades—times when hits like the “Macarena” temporarily brought dance to the forefront of the public’s consciousness—but most of those did little but perpetuate dance’s place as organized chaos at drunken parties.
Those days are gone. Now, everywhere you look there are dancers carrying projects and selling products. Hollywood includes several musicals or dance-heavy films in the yearly blockbuster line-up; say what you will about the High School Musical franchise, but its recent #1 worldwide box-office bow undoubtedly brought dance to the masses. Many major television networks offer dance-oriented staples in their prime-time programming (after all, once the stars are dancing, it’s not long before the public follows suit). Even Target, the always-hip national chain store, advertised a Fall line of college products by staging a dormitory dance-off in its commercials.
Dance is taking over screens, big and small. For an art form whose origins are in live performance, the recent proliferation of dance on camera has camps divided: elitists claim YouTube is no place for pointe shoes, while many see the rise in popularity as a chance to get new audiences into the theater.
Of course, dance on camera can offer many things live performance cannot. Filmmakers and television directors are able to guide the audience around a space with their camera, offering close ups or sweeping crane shots that give a perspective impossible to replicate in a theater. Camera work may provide a level of intimacy—and the ability to count beads of sweat—but energy created by movement has a way of jumping over the orchestra pit in a theater; it’s much harder for it to jump through the screen.
Unfortunately, the way dance is presented on television right now makes it little more than documentation of a live performance, therefore paling in comparison to the act of viewing an actual production. In order to make dance on film a viable offshoot of the art form, it must be reinvented and tailored specifically with the home audience in mind. Choreographers and cameramen must collaborate, as to avoid tricks of the lens that don’t correlate with the movement on screen.
Even shows entering their fourth or fifth seasons have done little to differentiate the shooting style from something like American Idol, where singers stand center stage and hardly move, save for the occasional head bob. With the monotony of presentation—brought on by the allure of cheap production values for talent shows—programs will overstay their welcome and fall off the public’s radar, even when the dancing deserves to be seen.
Film, music video, and television are mediums built upon their accessibility, a word rarely associated with live performance. But the generic qualities of network TV are a contradiction to the artistic nature of the art form. Throwing dance into any of these mediums requires delicacy and restructuring, merging the worlds of stage and screen together. Regardless, the truth is that no matter how clunky some camera work may be, the type of exposure movies like Step Up or television shows like America’s Best Dance Crew provide is immense and should fuel a cross pollination of sorts; the theater snob can stay in, and the couch potato can journey out. At the end of the day, dance is infectious.