So you think you can perform gender?

There’s no question that So You Think You Can Dance? has bandied about its share of unexamined racist and ableist stereotypes and sometimes objectified and oversexualized women in bizarre ways, but I also think it’s one of the most experimental mainstream shows on television when it comes to gender and expression. It feels as if both men and women get a very wide range of options, thanks in large part to such talented, innovative choreography, when relating to and performing their masculinity and femininity. A recent number, performed by the two top contenders for this season’s crown–Sasha and Melanie–is a prime example. Check it:

How fierce was that? I hope a million little girls and boys are watching this show and getting a sense that gender is fluid, performative, and flexible.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    My partner and I were both blown away by that dance routine. Sasha and Melanie are extraordinary dancers. As much as we love Marco’s dancing, and as remarkable as Tadd has been (a top-four B-boy, which is a first), we think the final is betwen the two women. Over and over again, they have shown themselves to have something extra special. It was brilliant to put them on stage together. And the choreographer? Sonya Taheh, who is certainly one of the edgiest, fiercest choreographers on the show. I don’t think Sonya’s material always works, but she takes chances, and that’s exiciting. And in this sequence, it all came together amazingly.

    We agree with you about the sexism in general. The “guys” are expected to be strong and masculine, the “girls” (always girls) are expected to be beautiful and graceful and sexy. Which is what is so cool about Melanie and Sasha. They add amazing strength without setting off the judges’ stereotype alarm bells.

  2. Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    That was excellent! I occasionally watch this show just to see great dancing. I wish I could fast-forward through the judging (let’s face it, when every reality t.v. show has a stereotypical British snob judge, you know something’s up) to the good stuff.
    On the ableism thing: Does anyone know if any dancers with disabilities have made it very far on the show? I know that England has a dance reality show specifically for wheelchair dancing, but I haven’t seen much in the states. I also know Josh Blue (who has cerebral palsy) won a previous season of Last Comic Standing, but that competition doesn’t deal as directly with the physical.

  3. Posted August 8, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I want to love SYTYCD, and I have been following the show since its second season. I wish they would do more of this. Sonya is an incredible choreographer. I want more of her.

  4. Posted August 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely love this piece. Melanie and Sasha (who have been my 2 faves during the entire competition) both continually convey charisma, athleticism, strength and power. Choreographer Sonya Tayeh perpetually pushes boundaries and creates routines where women are confident and powerful, never timid and meek. This piece also shows that dance can evoke and display feminism and female empowerment, as I wrote in this blog post. I find it refreshing that throughout the entire season, the SYTYCD judges have complimented the fierce female dancers by calling them “beasts.” I hope they continue to showcase dances with gender fluidity.

  5. Posted August 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get it. How is this dance a statement on gender? Are these women supposed to be doing a “manly” dance which would be groundbreaking. This just seems like a regular, gender-neutral dance to me.

  6. Posted August 10, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I’m not seeing it either… it is because it’s two women and supposedly not heteronormative or because they are doing “strong” moves? I dunno. Anyway, they’re clearly talented.

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