Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reality is better than reality TV, but in a good way: My experience attending a SYTYCD audition

Last Sunday, I attended the audition for So You Think You Can Dance in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre. I shouldn't have been surprised, but we spent a lot of time waiting and being herded around. But once the auditions actually started, it was a fun and eye-opening experience. In short, what actually happens during an audition is cooler than what you see on television. What you miss on TV is how larger much larger than life the dancers are and how much time and sensitivity that the judges give to the contestants. I always wondered why anyone would put themselves through a competition like that only to be turned down and now I know. If you have ever considered going to try out for SYTYCD, do it!

This is the first season that the SYTYCD auditions have been open to the public. By the time I arrived, the dancers had been filtered at least once. The previous day was the first day of auditions and some were asked to come back the next day. I don't know how they were selected and I'm guessing that the show's producers did the work. In the morning of the second day, the contestants got to dance in groups of ten to the same music at the same time. I didn't get a clear answer on how they knew what to dance-- were they given choreography or were they allowed to do their own thing. I would guess that it was their own thing. It was still the producers who made the choices at this point.

By the time we were seated, they were just doing solos and it was judges making the selections. The judges present were Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Tyce Diorio. Nigel was a really nice guy, and funny too! Mary really does laugh like that in real life. When each contestant came on stage, Nigel would give them a short interview. He has a real knack for asking the questions that get right to the heart of someone's story. Then, the person danced, usually for about 90 seconds. Afterward, the judges would the give their feedback for about 7-8 minutes. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and the sensitivity of their comments. For those unfamiliar with the show, at this point, the contestants could be put straight through to Las Vegas (where candidates from all the auditions would continue their tryouts), sent to a choreography round (to earn a spot in Las Vegas) or sent home with a "no." After all this filtering, most people were put through to choreography, either because the judges wanted to see if they could pick up a routine and inspect their partner work, or because the judges thought it would be a good learning experience for the dancer.

The dancing was way cooler than on TV. Dancers at this level are larger than life. They can do things with their bodies that average humans can't. When I was in high school, we gave people like this funny looks because they were so over the top and just didn't fit conventions about normality. But in the limelight, they make magic.

The feedback from the judges was also more interesting than on TV. Their comments were thorough and thoughtful. Tyce didn't come off as a jerk, like he does on the small screen. They each took their time to give the dancers something they could use as they moved forward with their careers, even beyond the show. (I think this is what was missing in recent seasons of American Idol, and why the new judges are such a big improvement.)

Being in the audience was very cool as well. I remember reading something recently about the human brain having an innate ability to appreciate performance at a high level and find this attractive. I felt this when I was watching, especially the ones who were put through straight to Las Vegas. The really good dancers have presence and charisma. But even among the ones who were sent to choreography, they made me feel something too.

I'm not sure why the producers decided to open up the auditions to the public. Did it help the judges to have audience reaction as part of their decision-making process? Did it help the contestants perform better? Did it help strengthen the fan base? In any case, I hope they continue with it. I had a great time and learn a lot.

Some times are better on TV than in person, such as professional baseball. Others things are better up close and personal than on TV, such as dancing.

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