Dance for your Life

TV Tonight visits TEN's Dance show and finds plenty of talent. But can they still cut through?

SYTYCD Top 16 Perform, Eden and BlondLooking around the studio audience of So You Think You Can Dance Australia you would never know this was a show struggling to carve out a following.

They are on their feet -frequently- whooping and applauding for 16 young dancers giving their all. They have waited in line for not one, but two, recordings of the show. There are dance schools from Sydney, families, teenagers and Gen X fans of the TEN show.

Most will attend for up to 7 hours just to be a part of the Dance experience, cheering enthusiastically for individual dancers they know by name: Blond, Patric, Sam, Renelle, Nadiah…

Sitting in the audience it is easy to be swept up in the pure theatre of it all. I’m mindful that watching these shows at home, studio audiences seem to leap to their feet at the drop of a hat. But I was on my feet for the show’s Dance For Your Life too -the elimination round where contestants have 30 seconds to show why they should not be cut by the judges. The boys were pure magic.

“The three boys in the ‘Dance For Your Life’ left me breathless,” says judge Jason Gilkison. “I’ve never seen three ‘Dance For Your Lifes’ so strong. They were so incredible.

“One of them brought the house down.

“I was so proud to sit next to Paula (Abdul) during those performances. She said ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’

“But dancers in Australia just come out and give every ounce of themselves on the stage.”

Indeed they did. Popping, pirouetting, twisting, turning and sliding. There is nowhere to hide in this show. It’s as if these young dancers have trained all their lives for the two minutes they have on stage to tell a story, show some personality, and survive television’s cruel culling process for the sake of drama.

This week the judges were so anguished over their decision that it was at risk of becoming a controversy among the audience.

“It was pretty awful actually, because it was like being told to cut off one of our fingers. But I guess we will be in that situation of losing someone we love every week,” Gilkison admits.

“The four of us are very strong minded when it comes to Dance.

“Although it’s great having 4 judges when we make a decision we’re very unwilling to change it.”

Gilkison agrees the final round was particularly punishing this week.

“That was the worst one. It was never going to get heated but I thought Shannon (Holtzapffel) was going to have a breakdown at one stage because he was adamant it should have been one way and we were going in a completely different direction.”

The Dance For Your Life is a metaphor for the show’s fate, and possibly the network itself, in the current television landscape.

Returning after a 4 year absence, Dance has struggled against the might of other Reality shows, My Kitchen Rules and The Block. When talent shows are so popular, why does Dance not hit the dizzying heights of singing? Are we all missing the point?

“The show had been off air for three years and we were coming off the back of the show that didn’t do particularly well with Everybody Dance Now,” he says. “So people were out of the habit of tuning into this particular format. It’s a shame because the first few shows were strong but we weren’t getting the numbers because we were up against such strong competition that were already established.”

After struggling against the competition, TEN relented and moved the show to Thursdays, when MKR sits conveniently on the bench.

All four judges are hoping it will create a lifeline for the show to find a viewing audience.

“I’m excited that we’ve moved to Thursdays because more eyeballs might be on us and more people might get hooked. The feedback from the people who are watching is fantastic,” Gilkison explains.

“I work on the American one quite regularly but we’ve got the goods here and I hate the thought that people aren’t tuning in.

“Each week they are getting stronger and stronger. We started with a really good 20 but they are really developing now and hitting their straps.

“This country needs a platform for dance. I know we have Dancing with the Stars with celebrities learning to dance. But to have our young talent given a voice is what this show does.”

There are around 200 people working on Dance. Executive Producer Julie Ward is Shine Australia’s gun. She is also in charge of The Voice Kids, filming for Nine in an adjacent studio at FOX Studios. Director Simon Francis runs most of the live talent shows. Warm up guy Michael Pope is flown in from Melbourne to charm the audience to the tipping point for live cameras. He encourages them to verbalise honest reactions, whether positive or in disagreement. The audience comes to understand they are the soundtrack to the show.

Guest Tina Arena woos the crowd with a sultry performance, joined by Season 1 and 2 champs Jack Chambers and Talia Fowler. The first recording comprises her appearance and the opening number group dance. Part 2 focusses purely on duos showcasing their weekly routine. After the show the judges, including Abdul, join fans for a handful of ‘selfies.’

Host Carrie Bickmore has little experience in productions of this scale but is relaxing into her central role with each passing week. I’m reminded that this young woman who began as a newsreader for Rove McManus is now hosting events bigger than his original show. It’s a big leap from the relative ‘safety’ of a news ensemble show.

Yet Dance is also an ensemble. Before they appear on stage the audience can hear the dancers warming up in the wings with various chanting and verbal exercises. On stage during camera breaks there is gentle support for fellow dancers who are, as decreed by the format, also their competition.

As Gilkison knows, ‘hoofers’ and ‘gypsies’ are quick to create trust and even within the television format, the troupe of 20 has effectively formed an intimate dance company.

“The one thing about dancers is they wear their heart on their sleeve. They’re such emotional beings as performers. The drama is to let them be themselves and to show it through their passion,” he says.

“I think people can connect with that if they are given a chance.”

So You Think You Can Dance Australia airs 7:30pm Thursdays on TEN.

11 Responses

  1. It’s a shame that the move to Thursday hasn’t helped the show. It got a measly 318K viewers.

    This show is ten times better than MKR and the Block and it is suffering from the Ten jinx I think.

    Everything on Ten is rating poorly right now – regardless of its quality.

    If Lachlan was a decent boss – he would ask Oztam to review the households with people meters.

    Seems to me that these households have their meters permamently fixed to Seven or Nine.

  2. The talent and choreography on this season is brilliant.
    Michael’s ‘dance for your life’ was one of the best performances I have seen and has changed my opinion of him.
    It must have been great to see live David ?

  3. I came to this show through my wife, who did dancing in her younger years.

    I would be a fairly typical bloke liking my contact sports (Go Bunnies). I have to say that after watching the US version for the past 9 years I have the greatest of admiration for these dancers. The level of athleticism, stamina and ability to push through significant pain barriers is comparable to many contact sports.

    Then to add great photography, sets and music, you get the visual and emotional connection and enjoyment.

    So I think this type of show has go a lot going for it.

    Why it doesn’t rate as high as singing events is a matter of conjecture. Personally I think knowledge of this form of sport / entertainment has been limited to people who have participated. They know what the dancers go through, hence their enthusiasm in the studio audience.

    I truly believe that 10 executives killed…

  4. The production of this show is top notch, the talent is top notch and there is plenty of entertainment during the show through performances and music, the show has been shortened and doesn’t drag out like most shows. So what’s not working?

  5. David you said that you saw 2 recordings on the one day. Does that mean that viewer votes are not counting as they have an elimination at the end of each episode.
    Thank you David if you can clear this up.

  6. If MKR is the only reason SYTYCD didn’t do well, then this should be reflected in the ratings on Friday morning. However I predict that if it does better than the 333K it did last week, it won’t be by much. I say that with a heavy heart too as I really want this show to succeed. The ratings do not reflect the superb production values nor the incredible talent. I’ve argued before and will repeat again – Ten has lost its mojo in a big way, and great shows like this don’t have the clear air required to succeed in the way they deserve to.

  7. It’s been stated many times by many people that the dance genre is regarded by the majority as a side act. Arguably, this should not be the case, but reality decrees it is. Some of the side acts on Australia’s Got Talent were brilliant to say the least, yet the show’s ratings were mediocre at best.

    The originality and amazing talent of the Cirque Du Soleil performers have set the bar at a level very few would or could ever reach, yet being circus, television ratings have never reached respectable levels because of the content.
    If the Canadian performers can’t do it, what hope do a bunch of talented, yet amatuer dancers have?

    Also Mrs_Mangle should have added after ‘negative tasteless people’ four words, namely, ‘like on Big Brother.’

  8. I thought last weeks episode was the best I’ve ever seen on both australian and American versions of the show. It’s sad that the viewing audience would rather watch people with no talent arguing than people with talent supporting each other. It says a lot about the state of Australia at the moment. When Masterchef launched 6 years ago it was successful because of the positive attitude from the judges, it was like a breath of fresh air, we’d also voted a government in that wasn’t afraid to make amends and say “sorry”, we now like negative talentless people and have voted in a government that’s arrogant and want to abolish any kind of support network we have.

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