By Lesley | June 3, 2010
EDIT, 6/7: The video clip above has been removed from YouTube because apparently fair use is dead. But check the comments for a link to a clip that’s still up.
I love but one reality show in all the world; that show is So You Think You Can Dance, the equally exhilarating and tear-jerking dance competition series. I love it for a few reasons, but primarily because it is a showcase of people who are intensely passionate about their art, an art that is unlikely to ever gain them fame and fortune on a level with those who would shrill and croak their way onto American Idol. I also love it because it is the only television show in my lifetime history of watching television shows that reliably makes me cry every time I watch it. More often than not, anyway.
I have a weakness for dance, it’s true; as a kid I worked my way through every last one of the old Hollywood musicals carried by my local video-rental joint. I began with Fred Astaire but as I got older I only had eyes for Gene Kelly, whom to this very day can set my heart aflutter, particularly in An American in Paris. Cyd Charisse used to say that when she got home at night, her husband could always tell if the film she was working on had her dancing with Fred Astaire or with Gene Kelly — if she came home covered in bruises, it would have been Gene. That’s a delicious little story, isn’t it?
But I digress.
So You Think You Can Dance, like all these talent-based competitions, begins with a series of episodes that collect the most interesting (note that I did not say “best”) auditions from their various stops around the country. Among them, there is always a fat dancer. At least one. The context varies. Typically the fat dancer(s) exhibit vacillating degrees of badness. There are terrible fat dancers who arrogantly believe they are amazing; there are humble fat dancers who obviously love what they do but who are nonetheless terrible at it. Arrogance is met with irritation from the judges; humility is met with delicately-worded but honest criticism, punctuated with encouragement. Sometimes the fat dancer is “inspirational”, for whatever reason. But they are never good.
This season, the fat dancer turned up during the New York auditions. It’s fairly obvious when Megan Carter steps onstage that the judges — who decide who progresses on to the torment of “Vegas week”, from whence the finalists will emerge, bloodied and battered and hating life — expect little of her. But when she dances, she surprises them.
The thing is, good dancers make what they do look effortless. That’s how you know they’re good. That’s why so many people turn up to audition who are patently horrible: because they have seen good dancers who made them believe that they could dance that way too. This is part of how dance affects an audience; by demonstrating incredible feats of movement, it makes us believe in beauty and possibility.
Megan Carter gets up and makes it look easy. Watch the video clip above if you doubt me. The reactions of judges Adam Shankman and Mia Michaels* are what make it all the better, until Nigel comes and throws cold water over everything by bringing up the ugly truth that fat dancers simply don’t get jobs. When confronted with this reality, Megan says she’d like to change that.
Unfortunately, Megan does not make it through the choreography round this time, but she’s young yet, and unlike many talent-based reality shows, this one encourages those who don’t make the cut to come back and try again the next year. Here’s hoping we see her again in next year’s auditions. In the meantime, Megan’s ably demonstrated that size is not an obstacle for her, and that’s refreshing for all of us to see.
* How is it that when Mia Michaels says “woman of size”, she makes it sound so grand? I swear, anyone else on earth uses that phrase and I roll my eyes, but Mia says it like a damn benediction.
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