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How do TV dance pros get their partners ready each week?
November 19, 2009 12:37 PM   Subscribe

What do pro dancers do to get their celebrity amateurs so good, so quickly?

In shows like Dancing with the Stars, the pro dancers manage to get their amateurs to perform at a pretty respectable level, given that many of them have no previous dance experience and they're learning a new style each week. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for So You Think You Can Dance: although the choreographers are working with talented dancers, the dancers are often learning a brand new style, and yet they perform it incredibly well in just a week.

How do the pros in these situations manage to bring up their dancers to such a high level so quickly? Obviously, part of it is spending 6+ hours a day on the routine, but even so, those are grueling days, and I don't know how the pros keep their ams mentally sharp over that long of a practice session. So how do they do it?
posted by philosophygeek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
The routines on Dancing With the Stars choreograph fairly easy routines for the stars, while doing very complicated stuff themselves. Also, a good number of the stars have dance or athletic experience, being actors, singers, and athletes.

6+ hours of dancing every day for a 2-3 minute routine will make you very good at that particular routine. I'd bet none of the stars could come up with their own choreography or ad lib anything the way that the pros could.
posted by xingcat at 12:41 PM on November 19, 2009


Also, the celebrities themselves seem to be good at practicing, focusing, accepting and incorporating criticism, and above-average in intelligence.

What I've been dying to know is where to get that "posture bar" I saw Donnie Osmond using.
posted by amtho at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2009


Also, you keep refilming takes until you get a good one. All the previous bad ones go into the bit bucket.

That's been a standard part of the industry for 90 years. In one of his silents, Buster Keaton needed to hit a baseball back to hit the guy who threw it at him. It required something like 90 takes before he succeeded.

I doubt it required 90 takes for this, but even in front of a live audience they often do more than one take, and only broadcast the best one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:50 PM on November 19, 2009


Chocolate Pickle, even when people are voting on the outcomes? I've watched Dancing with the Stars a few times, and I've definitely seen some really bad routines, including one in which the celebrity hurt himself pretty badly.
posted by MadamM at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


With SYTYCD, I think the Vegas semifinal week has a lot to do with it - the dancers have to learn and perform 4-5 different routines in different genres in three days, and I think they have about 3-5 hours to learn each routine. They cut about 90% of their semifinalists at this stage, so I imagine that the twenty finalists who actually end up on the show, in addition to being talented and charismatic, are very quick studies.
posted by lunasol at 1:11 PM on November 19, 2009


The routines on Dancing With the Stars choreograph fairly easy routines for the stars, while doing very complicated stuff themselves.

And the choreography is combined with camera directions that flatter the amateurs. It'd be possible for the production team to select camera angles that would accentuate any mis-steps or weaknesses identified in rehearsal, but Strictly/DwtS isn't that sort of reality show.
posted by holgate at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2009


DwtS is a show about professional entertainers *not* looking bad. They clear their schedule to do it. They practice every day for hours. They have a dance coach, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a partner who is a professional dancer. This is a support group of at a minimum of 6 to 1: for 6 minutes of dancing in a week.

They are entertainers, many come from families of entertainers - many have been dancing their entire lives. They know how to take direction. Entertainers as "amateur dancers" is not the same thing as Tax accountants being amateur dancers. Notice? I took the quotes off.

As for SYTYCD? by the time they have the top 20 - maybe 4 aren't strong dancers - they'll survive six weeks tops. Those that are making it are steeped in dance already - they aren't (hey... I think I might be pretty good). The guy that won SYTYCD a few years ago that was big into West Coast Swing was a major deal on that scene before he was in the contest. That's why all of his dance offs were west coast swing style - because he could dominate that style.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2009


The athletes that always seem to do well also have spent their entire lives being coached physically. At a very general level, it's not *that* different than the physical moves they had to do as a professional athlete.
posted by COD at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2009


Also, you keep refilming takes until you get a good one. All the previous bad ones go into the bit bucket.

Dancing with the Stars is a live show. They do a dress rehearsal prior to the live event, but the dancing you see on tv is supposed to be done live (with a few seconds for time delay). The dress rehearsal would allow them to figure out what angles to shoot the dancing best from, but that's about as close as you get to anything close to re-filming.
posted by Atreides at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


the celebrities themselves seem to be good at practicing, focusing, accepting and incorporating criticism, and above-average in intelligence.


You might add that they are intensely focused because all of the the celebs that go on these shows are on the downslide and really have noting else going on.

The ratings numbers for these shows are very strong and most of them realize this is their last gasp at avoiding becoming "has-beens" (or starring in a Nickelodeon sitcom). So they better take full advantage of the opportunity.
posted by Zambrano at 3:26 PM on November 19, 2009


I heard an interview with Mark Ramprakash (who won Strictly Come Dancing in the UK) saying that sportsmen have an advantage in that they are used to having to perform live so can perform better.

In there the British show there are usually several soap stars in each season who have had a stage school background where they would have studied song and dance as well as specializing in acting.

And in the times I've seen it, it's fairly obvious that with the less good amateurs the pros are essentially dancing around them
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2009


In shows like Dancing with the Stars, the pro dancers manage to get their amateurs to perform at a pretty respectable level, given that many of them have no previous dance experience and they're learning a new style each week.

I don't think this is unusual - if you go to a regular ballroom studio, and watch the engaged couples who come in to learn a wedding dance, they are often complete beginners worse off than the stors, but because they don't need to learn how to dance - they just need to learn how to perform a routine - the results from just a few hours of lessons and several hours practice can be stunning compared to the people who are learning all the extra stuff involved in being able to dance a style. (lead, follow, real-time choreography on the fly, timing, repertoire of steps that can be pulled out of the hat, how to combine and style things in the absence of choreography, etc)
I'd say the time and results are comparible between wedding couples and star "amateurs", though the couple spread their time into less time per day but (hopefully!) over more weeks.

Another reason they may get startling results - as 9/11 has taught us; never underestimate the power of terror!

The same is true, to a lesser extent, for So You Think You Can Dance: although the choreographers are working with talented dancers, the dancers are often learning a brand new style, and yet they perform it incredibly well in just a week.

I don't know that there is much mystery to this one. Dance is dance. Once you have that kind of control over your body it's not hard to do new stuff. And good dancers look good doing anything, because the underlying principles of human magnificence don't change, so even if they do the new style badly, it's usually going to look like they're doing it well. :-)
posted by anonymisc at 4:53 PM on November 19, 2009


Having been a very novice dancer and danced with an instructor/very experienced dancer...whooooooosh. It's amazing. It's magical juju that gives you superpowers.

Being a really good lead involves being really aware of your inexperienced partner's center of gravity, how they step, how to teach them, and maybe most-importantly, the ability to overcorrect for the inexperienced partner's less-controlled sense of balance. (The pro-dancer women are backleading.)
posted by desuetude at 4:53 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


SYTYCD has a tendency to play down the dancers' experience in other genres. A few years ago every routine by Sara Von Gillern was judged as "I can't believe it's a b-girl doing [genre] so well!" but in fact she'd been taking classes in various dance styles since age four.

The contestants' bios at Wikipedia make interesting reading. It's rare that somebody with no prior training makes the top twenty, and when they do, there's usually a visible gulf of skill between them and the rest of the dancers. Phillip Chbeeb from season five was a good example. He's clearly incredible at what he does, but he struggled to perform anything else. The week he stopped being partnered with the eventual winner, he was out.

This is not to take anything away from the dancers, who are all amazing. But the show does like to suggest they have less training in fewer genres than they do.
posted by Georgina at 5:47 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


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