SYTYCD: Are you an Armchair Critic?

The intersection of Art and Spirituality is my favorite corner. I’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time there lately and my tired soul is getting filled back up, Up, UP.

Dance is the art form that’s feeding me the most—so much so that The Hubs just accused me of being a dance addict. (Guilty as charged.) So You Think You Can Dance is back on which means I can watch Sonya Tayah choreograph, and Melanie Moore dance. The competition for “America’s favorite dancer” has it’s obvious shortcomings –dramatic announcements, choices based on “good television” rather than artistry, and worst of all, the hot tamale train. And yet, in the U.S. it has brought dance to our attention like nothing before. Before SYTYCD, America’s dance vocabulary consisted of MTV hip-hop and the occasional trip to the ballet for The Nutcracker. Now millions of viewers are learning about ballroom, contemporary, jazz, broadway, and all kinds of street dancing (“whacking” anyone?). Not to mention the occasional foray into Bollywood, demonstrations of Thai dance, and even an ill-fated attempt at Russian folk dancing.Learning to appreciate different art forms expands the scope of our charts and the depth of our souls. Through SYTYCD we are indeed becoming more expansive. And because SYTYCD is a competition we are simultaneously learning to be an Armchair Critic.

Critique can be a valuable tool. It can hone your art and improve your skills. It can also take you out of an artistic moment and leave you sitting in the critic’s Herman Miller.

(If the video isn’t working for you, try clicking here.)

I recently watched this performance choreographed by Stacey Tookey. I thought it was lovely, and I watched each dancer with rapt attention. But when the judges spoke later about it’s depth and impact, I realized I had only seen it in critique-mode. Because this is a a competition I was watching each dancer, looking for good lines, impeccable timing, authentic emotion. The piece was designed to be seen as a whole, to be experienced as a moment – not as a tool for honing my dance critique skills.

By watching this piece in an analytical frame of mind, I traded true beauty for the fictional role of “Clever Critic.” I left the corner of Art and Spirituality, and in doing so I missed what could have been a transcendent moment.

When we take on the role of The Critic, we remove ourselves from the position of Withmate. We are no longer journeying with someone, but instead we are directing their course. When critique is asked for explicitly, it is helpful. Indeed these dancers would not be at such a high skill level if they had not been offered critiques. But when The Critic is our default position it harms both ourselves and those whom we are picking apart.

As I approach dance in the coming weeks, I intend to do so with a wondering and learning heart. I intend to look at each piece as a whole. To engage in the story. And to spend as much time as possible sitting on the front stoop at Art and Spirituality.

What about you? What helps you quiet The Armchair Critic so you can “Be Here Now?”

Stacie June 17, 2011 at 5:31 am

My husband and I watch every moment too… these dances stay with me…. but we fast forward the DVR through the judges. Simply enjoying the performance and keeping it in memory or youtube revisit is all I want. It’s an amazing show.

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