In Serious Praise of Cuba

Spent a lovely early evening at the New York City Ballet watching wonderful short film of Jock Soto‘s life (more on that soon!), then came home to watch the art of dance be totally and completely demeaned worse than I’ve ever seen by the insulting new TV show, Dance War. I’ve never in my life seen more people with less dance training seeking to become “stars.” They sang their hearts out and wiggled their butts and seemed in all honesty to have no clue that ass wiggling did not constitute dance. Some actually tried to do jumps but didn’t understand the concept of line (amongst many many other things) and so looked like monkeys.

But I’m more horrified that judges Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba (from Dancing With the Stars) actually praised them. Carrie Ann said of one woman who did a single fouette then stumbled on the very second whip around, that she had “technique.” A man did a grand battement (really fast high kick — anyone can do one) and Bruno jumped around onstage orgiastically screaming “excellent extension, did everyone see that extension?!” I’m not even going to bother criticizing this assininity; suffice it to say the judges know the fraud they’re perpetrating on the public. They know.

On one hand, I seriously feel like boycotting “Dancing With the Stars” unless they resign. On the other, I guess what can you do when you have a TV show and these are the applicants? You’ve gotta pick someone or the show’s off the air. And you can’t call everyone a bad dancer. So you shrug your shoulders and say, as Carrie Ann did, “Well, it’s easier to teach someone who can sing to dance than someone who can dance to sing.” Could anything be more of a smack in the face to a person who deeply respects dance?

And yet I’m very conflicted. I just can’t understand why people would try out for a show that necessitated the ability to dance when it’s obvious they’ve never had a single dance lesson in their lives. But I also don’t want to sound like the horrendously elitist critics and ballet dancers and afficionados I abhor who insist that in order to be a “real” dancer, one must have “proper training,” which, to them, just happens to include a very expensive education affordable only by the very rich, who are, in our lovely society, usually the very white. A friend and I were talking the other day about how wealthy many of the New York City Ballet dancers are (NOT the aforesaid Jock Soto, by the way).

So, I say, the only way out of this dilemma is to “buy” Cuban! There dance is highly respected as an art form, it is taught by some of the world’s greatest, and it’s also completely free. And free doesn’t exactly produce shoddy. And, if you don’t believe me, take Danny Tidwell’s word 🙂 More Jose’s, more, more!

Okay, it’s late and I’m tired and being a bit goofy all because I got so worked up I got over a stupid dance show… But, seriously, everyone please just watch this! Why oh why isn’t there more dance like it on TV?…


  1. I was horrified by the dancing. Seriously, they seemed most excited about people who started their solo dance with a tumbling pass. That’s impressive and all, but if it’s supposed to be a dance show, why are they seeming to be looking for gymnasts?

    As for the singing. Ouch. The number one criteria for calling someone a “good singer” seemed to be alarming amounts of vibrato. I understand that they were going for a pop sound, but they were praising people who really weren’t carrying a tune, or had major pitch issues.

    I can only imagine how dreadful the pool of auditioners had to be for these people to be finalists. I wonder how they publicised the auditions? Did they put the word out to arts schools, etc? It seems to me as if they put flyers in bars!

    As for Bruno and Carrie Ann’s loud excitement, it rang very fake to me. Bruno sounded even more scripted than usual, and the running out onto the stage to grind with auditioners thing looked like a producer’s awful idea. The whole show looks like it was developed over one drunk weekend, and everyone should have thought better of it by the morning.

  2. Hahahah! I’m so glad you agree, Natalia! I was hoping it wasn’t just me. I also love the fact that you’re online right now too 🙂 … oh but wait, it’s an hour or two earlier where you are. It’s 3:00 in the morning here; can I please tear myself away from the internet…

  3. Totally agree with your post Tanya. Although I’m relatively new to dance (having been introduced to this fascinating world by SYTYCD), even a complete neophyte can see that this was the crappiest of all dance shows!

    I do appreciate your links; what a difference to see how a real dancer moves. When I get a visceral reaction seeing a dancer move I know he/she is good…thanks.

  4. Thanks ‘dancing fool’! I’m so glad you like the links!

  5. Geez, and here I thought it was just me that was underwhelmed by the finalists. Do you suppose they are playing it this way so that CA and Bruno can look brilliant for making these kids look more polished? I think they went too far with the gushing praise, and I’m wondering if its not a concerted effort on the part of the producers to be kinder and gentler than American Idol, or SYTYCD? Its like they took those shows and threw them in a blender, and this is what came out. The idea of it has potential, but not if they don’t execute better!

  6. Your review made me spit coffee, Tonya (I think you’re plenty interesting enough talking about dance, btw) But I go with Sharon – I think they deliberately let people who were not-so-good audition so that Bruno and Carrie Ann will look great when they polish them up.

    I also have to say that I keep reading people saying “Oh, come on, singing and dancing both can’t be that hard,” yet I don’t see that from many people who actually have done both. I’m a musical dance theatre veteran, and lemme tell ya, belting out “To Life! To Life! L’Chaim” while doing deep knee walks with a wine bottle balanced on your head – or belting out “Hello, Dolly!” while doing barrel turns across the stage – it’s not that easy. So I think that we’re being a little harsh, spoiled by the magnificence of SYTYCD.

  7. Hi Gray! Thanks 🙂

    Yeah, you know I was thinking, I don’t really see much musical theater and I never go to pop concerts with the singing + dance, so I forgot this show is really about combining the two and not just about dance. Based on films I’ve seen like the Paris Opera Ballet documentary, where dancers are huffing and puffing so frantically, so out of breath upon running into the wings after finishing a part of the ballet, I suspect ballet dancers like David Hallberg and Jose Carreno probably could not sing along with the kind of dance they do. So, it’s really unfair of me to expect the same level of dancing that I’m used to seeing. And I probably don’t respect how difficult it is to learn to sing as well either! So thanks for reminding me! I’m going to keep watching. Hopefully you and Sharon are right and Bruno and Carrie Ann will make it happen.

  8. Because I live in Buenos Aires, I don’t get to see those dance TV shows that are all the rage.(However we do have our own bad ones as well, like “Bailando por un Sueno.”)

    But I just want to add my Hurrah to your positive comments about the National Ballet of Cuba. I’ve seen them perform live several times in Los Angeles, Madrid, and Havana, and they are fantastically outstanding! Maybe because of Alicia Alonso’s unique vision plus the fact that there are no foreign dancers in the company make a cohesive, enthusiastic and unified passionate group of dancers that are, in my opinion, the best in the world. My only complaint is the racism that the ballerinas have to contend with, but I guess that’s true of all classical ballet companies. It’s just that you expect more equality in the Cuban because of the government’s manifesto.

    Anyway, thanks for the enjoyable post and the great blog!.

  9. Hi Cherie! Oh, how I have always wanted to see National Ballet of Cuba live! I’ve only seen excerpts on TV and in documentaries like the one on Jose Carreno. That’s very unfortunate about the racism regarding the ballerinas. I guess it’s not much different from here… Still, I MUST see them sometime live!

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