My plan, as I said last week, was to talk a bit about story making and reality TV, vis-à-vis my favorite reality show, So You Think You Can Dance. I had a specific plan for a post about the top twenty episode, which aired last Wednesday; I was going to talk about the partnerships.
Partnerships are the most powerful tool in the So You Think You Can Dance story-making arsenal. Want to make the audience respond to a particular dancer? Give them a story-making moment in their feelings for another dancer. Give them a story-making partnership; put their moving body in conversation with someone else’s, and see what narrative you get. See if you can get a romance!
I stayed up really late last Wednesday writing many words about SYTYCD partnerships from days gone by—the magical ones, in which opening up to a partner seemed to open up a whole new movement vocabulary; the weirdly unsuccessful ones, where two hot talented kids were thrown together and nothing happened, the jelly didn’t jell, and it was really painful for everyone, probably the hot talented kids most of all.
But all these words I wrote last week didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere. Dimming my exciting for the story of SYTYCD season nine was the shocking lack of interesting lady dancers. Somehow, we’ve been saddled with all these nondescript children who look the same, and who have nothing to say for themselves apart from their impressive extensions. How are we supposed to get good partnerships with such a lack of personality?
Watching the episode I felt an escalating irritation, well beyond even my own normal avid response to SYTYCD. And it took me a while to figure it out, why I was so mad about these lame ladies.
Then I realized. It is because I miss my ladies, my SYTYCD lady watcher dance floor friends.
I have spent the last two weekends at weddings, which means that some of my best loved lady friends from the past many years convened on different dance floors—on a brick dance floor, in a sweaty barn in Pennsylvania’s Amish country; on a paving-block dance floor overlooking an Oregon mountain. For two Saturdays in a row, I got sweaty dancing, with my best girls.
Some of these ladies were my regular SYTYCD viewing partners. One lady friend and I had almost weekly viewings, with dinner. (We called SYTYCD “Prance,” because of our imaginary spin-off show “So You Think You Can Prance,” which was about ponies.) We’d ask each other, What are we cooking for Prance this week, and who all is coming? We asked these questions in a lovely moment of our late twenties and early thirties when the people we loved, our peers, people who were helping us figure out our path through this weird life, lived mostly in the same place. When we didn’t know who would come to Prance, and cook, or who would be up for what party, where, because it could be anyone, and no one had to book a plane ticket or find a babysitter.
On that sweaty Pennsylvania dance floor, particularly, I had a strange vertiginous sense of what it meant to be us, this group of ladies, at this moment in life. We had flown together from across the country—all of us separated from each other by the demands of professional (and mostly academic) life, uprooted from old comrades, still the new people in our new places, with new groups of friends. The dance floor became a stand-in for a home front that no longer existed.
And if the dance floor conjured an erased place, it stood in for a different time, too. Those of us sweating on the dance floor were young, or could believe we were, compared to the old folks with their feet up in the back of the room. There was no small amount of rocking out. The new music feels like our music, and our beginning of life.
But the illusion of being kids at a party was completely false, a mirage made possible by the various grandparents who took care of everyone’s actual kids, safe in far away states. We were not fully home, and we were not fully young. We looked lovely, we wore pretty dresses; we joked about shaping undergarments, our arms grew soft underneath.
We all left the next day. There was not much time for discussion, so the various satisfactions and disappointments and heartaches that become, precisely in the moment they’re forced by exhaustion onto the back burner, the constitutive experience so far of being thirty-something, went unparsed. We did not talk, much, about our variously successful careers or our breakups or marriages or children or the desire for them; about our long, solitary commutes.
All that we had to say, we had to make known through dancing, and I was so glad we had that vocabulary available to us, even though I kept having the sense that we were dancing on borrowed time, or, like the little mermaid, stealing our dancing feet from a body now destined for a different purpose.
Last week when I watched the top twenty episode of So You Think You Can Dance, I watched on a couch alone, thinking of friends who were not with me, either because they were on the other side of the country or because, just down the street, they were tied home by sick kids and work demands. I don’t know when the next wedding–the next dance floor–will be.
But it is not nothing to have this show to think about together. Alone on my couch, watching the top twenty prancers, my phone vibrated with incoming messages from dispersed friends, giddy with opinions about this routine and that. It is not entirely a sad story, despite distance and looming old age, to live in a new and beloved place, still finding the chance to gossip with old friends about our favorite pase doblé.
I thought about partnering. It’s cliché, right? I thought about lifting each other up.
SYTYCD sets up its partnerships to make love stories out of nothing, out of talented strangers. But this silly show can do that because those strangers already share a language of movement, a knowledge about what the body means and can do in this short life, and the language is not unique to them. My ladies and I have different talents, different bodies of knowledge than the people on the tv screen. But we, too, can get some serious talking done through the body’s moving language. We are telling each other some stories, that are their own kind of strange, and lovely, and long-lasting romance.