I am a huge fan of America’s Best Dance Crew. I think watching the Jabbawockeez from Season 1 probably got me into dancing in the first place. But with all the publicity and the way the show’s marketed, I don’t want to use the word sell out, but it is certainly conducive to creating a style of dance less focused on technique and more focused on entertainment value.
Before I lay everything on the table I need a slight disclaimer. I’m gonna show a lot of clips from Poreotix and Quest Crew, and I just want people to know that I am NOT a hater. Quest Crew is too sick, probably my favourite group right now, and although I’m not as big a fan of Poreotix, I still recognize them as phenomenal dancers. However, they do a lot of silly things in their dances to create humour that I don’t quite agree with. I’d like to compare this to the way I feel about Mozart: I like and respect him as one of the greatest composers and musicians of all time, but it doesn’t make me a fan of his music. That being said, here comes the criticism.
There’s a short segment I want to highlight in Quest Crew’s choreography to “Forever” by Chris Brown. Skip to 1:55 look out for the hip-thrusting.
The moment that they froze and locked hips always got on my nerves. What was accomplished by doing that exactly? We just saw an incredible chair spin, and in 5 seconds the audience is going to see D-Trix do airflares, but in between these mind-blowing moves, you feature some (pardon my language) butt-humping? The song’s called “Forever.” It’s about the moment when you first fall in love with someone, and it feels so right that a night on the dance floor feels like an eternity. So why are you thrusting each other from behind in an attempt to get laughs? The music loaned itself so easily to an incredible freeze or flip, but instead they settled for a couple seconds of air humping and a gay joke.
Here’s another one at 3:18
To be fair this song is upbeat, fun, and crazy, so I wouldn’t have minded seeing some jokes thrown in, but this one was just so over the top. They actually set themselves up for an incredible move, one of those incredible tricks that Quest Crew is known for that would go down in history, but then they throw it all away just for some gag. I am no humour elitist, I think Family Guy is hilarious. I’ll laugh at every crude, inappropriate joke, but even this move made me cringe. It was so contrived in the set up, and the punch line was just two dudes lying on top of each other.
All in all though, if Quest Crew does one thing per dance that I don’t like, but still pulls out some incredible stunts and choreography, they will continue to see my support. The group I’m about to show next though, Poreotix, goes wwaayyy overboard.
The actual dance starts at 1:20
I just want to start off by saying that this is “Yeah” by Usher. This is like, the original anthem for hot, sweaty, club grinding. I want to see some suave choreography, like they just stepped into the club and the ladies got so wet the building had to issue flood warnings. But I mean, after a decent start, 10 seconds in you get another one of those dumb butt-hump jokes, like the audience has never seen a guy do that before, and then some cartoony fighting. This is followed by a rewind trick, which is pretty cool in principle so I won’t say anything else about it. Right after that though, they do some old grandpa dance and rip out their underwear. WHAT!?
That had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the performance. This was nothing but a cheap joke that took the spot of what could have been some really cool dancing. I don’t want to get into some philosophical debate about the purpose of dance, and what the definition of art is, but when you’re throwing your underwear at people, in a way that has nothing to do with the song (rhythmically or lyrically) then you’re not dancing, you’re just a bad comedian. And if the rest of the routine was stellar I’d be ok with it, but we’re just treated to some of the world’s most awkward hip gyrating and slow motion booty shaking.
I mean, what is the point of these “non-dance” interruptions? This is what I meant at the very beginning of the post, about the trade off between “technique” for “entertainment,” or in this case humour. Once again, I don’t want to get into an argument about what it means to dance, but these are clearly ploys that are designed, not to work with the music, but to try to be funny. Can you imagine any other kind of entertainment method that would do something like this? Would Kobe ever put down the ball and start thrusting on Gasol? I know that’s not the best comparison but it was a funny image in my head.
What if Usher was putting on a concert, and instead of singing, he just stopped and started fondling his back up singers? Would you write that off as “entertainment,” or would you be seriously confused because you are at a concert for singing, much like ABDC is a venue for dancing, not underwear tossing and bad gay jokes.
That being said, I believe that there is more to dancing than just “cool moves.” This next clip is from Week 4 of Season 1, call the “Movie Character Challenge” (Dance starts at 0:50).
This is the Jabbawockeez’s least intricate routine, but it stands out strongly in my mind because it was still so well done. Despite the fact that there was little “dancing,” they created a dark, mysterious mood and very effectively told a short story. If you ask me, THAT’S what’s important in a dance. I believe that, on a very basic level, dance (and art in general) is about trying to convey some kind of mood. That’s why it annoyed me so much to see Quest Crew make dumb sex jokes in a majestic, romantic song, and why it really annoyed me to see Poreotix making caricatures of themselves to one of the smoothest songs in history.
This final clip is a synthesis of everything I’ve been talking about in this post (Dance starts at 0:50).
This wasn’t my favourite dance in the world, but I didn’t hate it. Right off the bat, they’re dancing to Rebbeca Black’s “Friday,” so I know it’s going to be a silly dance and I’ll be more lenient on the jokes. That being said, some of the gags were still so bad, like the double butt-hump action at 1:45, but I was more accepting of it because it fit the mood better. Throw in the fact they had some really cool moves in between and I enjoyed this dance. I legitimately laughed out loud when Jason came out, because that was actually a pretty clever Friday reference. Honestly, I’d rather see more intricate and impressive dance moves (because the point of the show is to find the BEST crew, the one that can do the things no other crew can), but this performance was still pretty entertaining overall.
So I hope this post hasn’t given the impression that I’m a dance elitist. I don’t think every performance has to be some clever metaphor for the human condition, but I think that when you set out to do something, you should do it right. When you make a dance to a sexy song, you make a sexy dance. If you want to make a funny dance, then choose a light-hearted song that lends it self more easily to that mood. You can even just stop dancing for a second if you throw in a clever joke and I would thoroughly enjoy that. But please, for the love of god, don’t make your routine resemble a collection of the worst clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos, no one enjoys that.
That was a long rant. I’m done.
– Nick Hassan