The Arthropologist

A dance snob admits to reality TV secret: So You Think You Can Dance had her at its first groove

A dance snob admits to reality TV secret: So You Think You Can Dance had her at its first groove

The seventh season of So You Think You Can Dance premieres tonight. I'll be tuned in from Buffalo, N.Y., where I am visiting my folks.

My addiction to dance on TV is no secret. My Facebooking, tweeting and yelling at America's misguided voting across the living room during SYTYCD is legend among dance peeps. Probably annoying too. My kids miss the days when I was a first-class dance snob.

To put matters straight, my idiot box dance fixation dates back to 1960, when I would snuggle up with my granny to watch The Lawrence Welk Show. She had a crush on Welk, me on June Taylor's amazing kaleidoscopic compositions. Taylor knew how to use the camera, crafting dances that fit beautifully on our tiny vintage TV. Watching the June Taylor Dancers burn up the screen on The Jackie Gleason Show could be life changing (at least, if being a dance fiend was your future).

Taylor went  on to found America's first mega dance studio, a model for today's high-volume studios, such as Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center.

Back during the variety show era, the stars were all expected to be smooth movers. Joe Tremaine, known as the father of dance conventions, was Hollywood's go-to man to the stars. He even did a stint with the June Taylor Dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show. Once Tremaine started teaching, he held court in the famed Moro Landis building, where everyone who was anyone learned to dance.

Tremaine insisted on teaching aspiring professionals, but made an exception for one talented 12-year-old youngster, Paula Abdul. The famous Los Angeles dance building, since razed, spawned Millennium Dance Complex, today's hotbed for commercial dance.

When variety shows bit the dust, so did dance on TV.

The drought ended with the golden years of Dance in America, which chronicled the growth of dance in the U.S. Alive from Off Center, highlighting more edgy tribes, followed. PBS, can you bring these back?

Then came the gap years, quite literally, because the only thing moving on TV were those clever Gap commercials. We critics got overly found of using the phrase, "It looks like a Gap ad." Claire Danes (a trained dancer) and Patrick Wilson were adorable in one. Their 2009 Holiday ad echos Taylor's signature overhead camera. American Apparel spoofed the GAP's chirpy ad in their hilarious No Ho Ho.

Momix certainly jazzed up Hanes underwear. The bendable bunch will be showing Houston what's possible with more clothes on for their Society for the Performing Arts (SPA) show next October. Pilobolus livened up the Academy Awards with their human alphabet.

Ellen DeGeneres dances every chance she can get, whether she's hawking American Express or a future president. How many of you independents came aboard when you saw Barack Obama groove out on her show?

Driving dance interest

Back to So You Think You Can Dance. It's entertainment and makes no pretense to be otherwise.

The show gets people talking about dance, which is key to the art form's survival. I sure wish they would be more adventurous in their choice of guest dance companies. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Complexions Contemporary Ballet are great choices, but how about taking a chance on Larry Keigwin, or Aszure Barton, who recently blew the roof off of the Cullen Theater last month during her SPA show?

I applaud the producers' efforts to expose America to concert dance and wrote about it in Dance Studio Life.

Can we have a little more variety in the genre department? I will scream when a contestant pulls "postmodern dance" out of that dance style hat. Why not? Bill T. Jones, a postmodern guru of our time, won the 2007 Tony for Spring Awakening and again in 2010 for Fela!

As far as reality shows go, SYTYCD gets the congeniality award for staying clear of mean-spiritedness. Perky personalities drive the show. I always enjoy chatting with the alumni. Someday, I am going to frame the e-mails from krump founder and star of the 2005 movie Rize, Lil C. He goes down in my book as the most articulate judge of a reality show ever.

This year, producer Nigel Lythgoe plans to shake things up a bit. Just 10 contestants compete with 10 veterans. Think dancing with the

So You Think You Can Dance 

stars. My Buffalo brother and season five heartthrob, Neil Haskell and almost winner Lauren Gottlieb (one of the dancers that America got wrong) are in "all-star" category. Haskell has gone to film and Broadway shows, and did some outstanding dancing right here in Houston while on tour with the show.

Tonight, Gottlieb does double Fox duty on So You Think You Can Dance and Glee as a member of Vocal Adrenaline. And no, she doesn't have to sing and dance at the same time.

"That would be impossible if you have seen the choreography we do, " she says. "It's straight up jazz 101, but super fast. The lifts are crazy, terrifying sometimes."

Gottlieb has been on a steady work roll since the show with appearances on Hannah Montana: The Movie, Nip/Tuck, along with sharing the stage with Mariah Carey and Shakira.

She's excited to be back with her old dance pals doing what she does best, contemporary and jazz dancing. Gottleib is free and clear of the dreaded quick step, the down fall of many hopefuls.

"The best part is that we don't get judged or eliminated," the Los Angeles-based dancer says.

For Gottlieb, being on the show proved larger than dancing. "I paid attention to behind the scenes things like hair, makeup and the show's fabulous host, Cat Deely. I am interested in everything about the TV world, especially camera angles."

Somewhere, June Taylor is smiling.

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Lauren Gottlieb
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Lacey Schwimmer and Neil Haskell team up for the lindyhop. Courtesy of FOX Broadcasting Co.
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Neil Haskell and Sabra Johnson put on a great hiphop performance. Courtesy of FOX Broadcasting Co.
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Neil Haskell Courtesy of FOX Broadcasting Co.
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"So You Think You Can Dance" 2010 contestants
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Dominic Sandoval and Lauren Gottlieb
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