Reality TV

Stars Dancing

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Byrne Miller isn’t my biological mother, but I did inherit one of her genetic traits. I’m a dance snob; I admit it. So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to watch the final two episodes this week of “Dancing With The Stars” in Milwaukee this week– a concession to the sweetest inlaws a girl could ask for. Joe and Angie, like almost all of America apparently, love this show and they think, since I’m a dancer, that it’s a natural fit. They don’t know about my aforementioned genetic trait; I like to keep them in the dark when it comes to my failings.

This season, apparently, the point of the show was to bring back all the winners of previous seasons and have an all-star dance-off. Like all reality talent shows on TV, it managed to stretch exactly six minutes of dancing into an hour Monday night and about 15 minutes of dance into two hours for the finale. The rest was filled with hyberbole-laden “judging” and staged, behind-the-scenes rehearsal moments filled with tears, injuries, miraculous recoveries and spats between the celebrity dancers (amateurs) and their muscular, foreign professional partners.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I realized that Shawn Johnson, the former Olympic gymnastics champion with the giggly little voice, was one of the finalists. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a national-level rhythmic gymnast. My “sport” elicits the most vehement arguments against being in the Olympics (I agree) and the contortionist flexibility of rhythmic gymnasts attracts an almost morbid fascination (again, I agree, it’s weird) But what can’t be denied is that rhythmic gymnasts at the Olympic level could write their own ticket to any ballet company or Cirque de Soleil (where many of them end up) By contrast, “artistic” gymnastics – the kind Shawn Johnson dominated – are like little wind-up fire hydrants whose dance skills are more in line with cheerleaders or robots.

Shawn, cute and giggly as she still is, is no ballroom dancer. Splits and flips do not belong in cha-chas and waltzes. It was almost painful to watch, except for her exuberance. The other two finalists were, I think, soap opera actresses and reality TV stars (same thing?)– which turns out to be much better training for “Dancing With the Stars” than tumbling around a gym.

The hosts and mock-experts spent the better part of the finale hinting at rumored romances between the brunettes and their professional partners. They were both rail thin and waif-like, except for the requisite showbiz cleavage. Their mouths naturally pouted and their expressive eyes were expert at producing spontaneous tears. And they both managed to deliver lines about “incredible journeys” and “feeling so blessed” and “no matter what happens I’ve grown personally” like the professional actresses they are.

But lest you think I hated all of it, in the end I found something to love about it. The truly non-dancers (this show featured race car drivers, football players and even Kirstie Alley) actually seemed to glow when their professional partners moved them around the floor. I saw in their faces the same joy that I used to see when I taught dance classes for adults at Beaufort’s Green St. gym. Byrne saw the same thing when she turned Marine Corps sergeants, nurses, teachers, sign painters and architects into modern dancers every Saturday morning at the YMCA (when it was in Pigeon Point Park) That’s why Joe and Angie love watching the show. They don’t care if the quick step is a little less than quick, or if football players don’t all have the hip wiggle of Victor Cruz. They watch it because dance elevates the ordinary, adds a little grace and lift to the everyday and when these “celebrities” go on national TV and try something new they become a little more human. I think even Byrne would begrudgingly acknowledge that. One of her favorite quotes was “First there were people, and then there was dance, because the people just needed to move.”

The Week Women Will Want to Forget

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Okay, so maybe a private viewing party for Lifetime’s debut of “The Week The Women Went” last night was a little catty. Afterall, a wonderful producer who pitched my first screenplay to Lifetime last month got a pass. “We love the true story part,” an executive apparently said about my work, “but it’s just doesn’t have that ripped-from-the-headlines feel.”

So I had to see what Lifetime does consider worthy of producing. Turns out it’s a new reality show starring the now-thoroughly-embarrassed town of Yemassee – with bit parts for Beaufort.

a promo shot of the women leaving the train station

It’s billed as a “unique social experiment” which consists of separating the women of Yemassee from their husbands, children and jobs for a week. I’d read that many of the 100 women who agreed to share their lives with TV cameras have been dreading the heavily-edited final product. I feel for them. I’ve been in TV – I know how easy it is to change the context and sensationalize moments of candor. I also know how children ramp up when cameras roll, even ones who don’t routinely pitch temper tantrums that would peel the paint from your car. And when a local paper published a quote from a town official saying he’d gladly volunteer to have the show come back – as long as this time the men got to choose which women came back – I knew it was bound to be a walk of shame for our sweet, unsuspecting, neighboring town.

I can’t begin to put a “what would Byrne Miller think” spin on this blog posting – she simply couldn’t have imagined the scourge that reality TV has become in our time. I steeled myself for cringes – and they started with a four-year-old dancer. She’s the self-titled “drama queen” of her Yemassee family and the cameras relished showing her mortified mother as the little girl performed a bump-and-grind routine worthy of a burlesque show back in Byrne’s day. Wow – somebody please open a ballet school in Yemassee.

As Gary predicted, the men of Yemassee were almost uniformly portrayed as bumbling, uncouth idiots – a practise borrowed from contemporary TV advertising, which he despises. I was equally not surprised by the abundance of breast-enhancing tight dresses and heels higher than I’ve ever seen anywhere near the Yemassee railroad station. (maybe I’m not there late enough at night?)

But it was an admission of the fire chief’s mother that literally silenced our color commentary. Someone correct me if we all misheard this – but this mother of a 21-year-old, able-bodied, gainfully-employed man said she does everything for him – and that she might even bathe him if he asked her. Thankfully, he asked a normal-seeming young woman to marry him instead – right as the Amtrack headed south rolled into the station to take the women away for this week-long “experiment” that will drag on for five weekly episodes on Lifetime. “The Week the Women Went” airs Tuesdays at ten if you’re a fan of train wrecks unrelated to Amtrack. Sorry normal and decent friends in Yemassee, I think the four of us saw enough for a lifetime.