Dance as Reality

Melissa Hamilton & Eric Underwood in Tryst as part of the Royal Ballet's triple bill. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

One of my students asked me this weekend if I had seen a recent episode of "So You Think You Can Dance". I told him I didn't believe in such things. Upon reflection, he deserved a better answer. And I know this is something that my fellow dance teachers and I discuss frequently, and can disagree on.

I love what reality shows have done for the profile of dance in American. People see it. They enjoy it. More than they have done those things in the past.

My problem is that reality TV is not translating into real life. Are more people going to dance concerts because of these programs? Are more enrolling dance classes?

More deeply, is dance being seen as an art form of communication, or simply a physical feat of beauty? In musical theatre dance, the movement is tied to the words. However, I try to carry a theme of movement through a piece, or a motivation. Many of my students don't recognize it until I point it out. Is anyone taking the time to do that on SYTCD and related shows? Are we making audiences look for connections and depth, or simply tying movement to a popular song, to get the dance to be popular too?

I read in Dance Teacher magazine, in the history column on the New Dance Group, "The young art form of modern dance was empowered and validated by its alignment with the political and social issues of the day….It was a complete dance entity simmering in a social, political and cultural stew….they cared and water to use their art to raise social consciousness."

Are today's dance shows raising the social consciousness? Are we challenging ideals, norms, and stances? Are we standing for anything? Or just entertaining?

I truly don't know the answers to these questions, as I stopped watching many of these shows after one season, finding that the answers to all of my above questions were not acceptable. Have they changed? Is the awareness and appreciation they bring to the art of dance worthwhile anyway? Should I give them all another chance? Feedback and comments welcome!