Let's Talk About "Live to Dance"

Last night, Paula Abdul's new dance show "Live to Dance" premiered on CBS. I have many thoughts about the show. Care to hear them? Let's discuss.


So the tagline for the show is that they're looking for "America's Best Dance Act" (versus "So You Think You Can Dance," which hunts for "America's Favorite Dancer"). It's so different from anything we've ever seen.


Only not really.


Entrants can be "any age, any size, any style," as long as they live to dance. It comes as no surprise that the first episode (which occupied an entire 2-hour prime time slot) opened with a pint-sized dancer, and eventually graduated to an 80-year-old tap dancing couple.


From what I could gather—though I found it a bit confusing—the format of the show is as follows: First, Paula and her esteemed team of judges (Kimberly Wyatt of The Pussycat Dolls and former Michael Jackson dancer Travis Payne) travel to cities for open auditions. They set up their "specially constructed, state of the art dance dome" which is basically just a big bubble. Crazy! Awesome! Blech. Next, each dance act takes the stage one at a time for an "America's Got Talent"-esque setup. If the dancers receive two or three "gold star" votes from the judges, they're on to the next round, which is the judges' "short list." If the act gets 2-3 "red stars," they're done. No $500,000 prize for you! I'm honestly not sure what the short list is, but eventually 18 acts will go on to compete in the semi-finals.


In other news, Ms. Abdul recorded a song for the opening credits. Obviously awesome.


The show is hosted by Andrew Gunsberg—I've never heard of him. He has an accent, but I don't find it to be all that sexy.


Alright, let's get to the auditions, shall we?


First stop: L.A., where we meet 9-year-old Jaden, an adorable b-boy in a sky blue track suit. He's tiny, and I want to put him in my pocket and then pull him out and have him do headspins all day (he did more than a dozen during his audition routine). Paula goes nuts in her seat watching him—no surprise there—and Jaden is through with three gold stars.


Immediately I realize that I don't like the "no age limit" rule. I understand that "SYTYCD" alienates many dancers with its 18+ age requirement, but this just seems to be a ratings ploy to make the show different. I mean, of course the 90-year-old tap lady is going to get a standing ovation.


Later in the L.A. auditions we're introduced to Jill and Jacob, who perform a contemporary duet. This piece enraged me. I was sitting on my couch yelling "What?! Are they serious?!" at the TV screen. This performance wasn't good. The producers blew up the whole "history" and "love story" between the two dancers, and maybe some people liked that, but I thought it was cheesy. The dancing wasn't good. And yet they get three gold stars and Paula says she "had goosebumps" the whole time. This makes me question how much Paula knows about technique and how qualified she is to be running her own dance show [insert snarky comment here].


Suddenly the show doesn't have that competitive feel that I enjoy so much about "SYTYCD" and even "Dancing with the Stars." It feels kind of cheap, like those chocolate candies that you get in those big plastic candy canes at Christmas. They're trying to be M&Ms, but they're grainy and off-color and lack that exclusive logo.


After Jill and Jacob, I did some fast forwarding. Thank goodness for DVR tonight.


I stopped when I saw a familiar face: Gregg Russell! Love of my life! Well, I wish. This guy is such a talented tap and hip-hop dancer with the best personality. I first met Gregg in 2006 when I was an intern working at the Dance Teacher Summer Conference (now the Dance Teacher Summit). I liked watching his classes so much that, in 2009, I returned to the conference with my own tap shoes and took his class. Gregg's act last night, Tap Sounds Underground, was fast, fun and enjoyable. Gold stars! You get three gold stars! (Plus one more, from me. With a kiss on the side.)


Then we see some people who dance to Paula Abdul songs. I think it's lame. She loves it.


Dancers from The Vibe perform. They're fantastic.


Remember the "Single Ladies" debacle that went down on YouTube this summer? Well, these tiny, sassy dancers are back, and they've actually dubbed themselves "Single Ladies Remix." Though they're performing to a Justin Bieber song... Anyway. They're wearing more clothes than they were in their infamous "Single Ladies" competition performance, but they're using the same over-the-top, ridiculous facial expressions. They only get one gold star, because Ms. Pussycat Doll "likes their commitment." But Paula says she got caught up in their faces (we agree on something!) and says the girls need to learn to rely on their dancing. Travis adds that he felt like he was watching a group of soloists and didn't feel a connection between the dancers.


Next up: Kendall Glover, a regular on the competition and convention scene. She's 11, she's an overachiever and the judges adore her. Personally, I thought her technique was pretty weak and could use some work. But her stage presence was fantastic. Paula told her to wear less makeup (agree) and asked her if she choreographed her own solo (really, Paula? She's 11).


OK, L.A. auditions are complete. Now onto NYC.


Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward.


I like Kimberly Wyatt. I think. So far. She's honest with the dancers and her personality doesn't annoy me.


We meet some intense stage moms and teachers who are stressing out backstage. Then we get lots of close-up shots of little girls hysterically crying after not getting through to the next round. Then a dancer falls smack on her head and a giant egg forms on her forehead while she's talking to the judges. "I'm fine," she says. Uh, really? Medic?!


The NYC auditions wrapped up with some cute little kids, who were fun to watch. But as the show goes on, I am not really sure what Paula is looking for. I look forward (kind of) to seeing what tonight's auditions bring.


I miss Cat Deeley.

Did you watch "Live to Dance?" Let us know what you thought of the show!

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

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