Why are you Cheering?

so-you-think-you-can-danceLast week I watched the finale of So You Think You Can Dance which my sister had recorded for me. Explosive. Extraordinary. And a bit disturbing.

I’m speaking of Mia Michaels’ dance to Sara Bareilles’ song “Gravity” which displays a man physically and sexually abusing a woman: throwing her on the ground, seizing her body, and even strangling her.


Now someone might say, “Wait Laura, Mia Michaels intended it to be about addiction, not abuse.” To this I would respond in the words of the great choreographer George Balanchine who said, “You put a man and woman onstage together, and it’s already a story.” While she may have intended a piece about addiction, what we saw was physical and sexual abuse.

I wasn’t disturbed so much by the dance itself (I can appreciate realism in art), but by the audience’s reaction to it. The audience erupted into applause and cheering both in the middle of the piece (at a point where sexual abuse was most strongly implied) and at the end of the piece.

Certainly the dancers did a phenomenal job and are to be commended for their discipline and artistry. But I want to contrast this to Tyce Diorio’s dance about a woman with breast cancer. This dance elicited tears from audience and judges alike because of the personal subject matter and tragedy of losing a life to breast cancer.

But isn’t the subject matter in Mia Michaels’ dance just as personal, and isn’t losing a life to abuse (or addiction) just as tragic? Why did his dance elicit tears while hers elicited applause and cheering?

What’s my point?

My point is to ask ourselves, How do we respond when we are shown images of abuse against women and men who are made in the image and likeness of God? How do we respond to art that portrays abuse? How to we respond to degrading comments or crude jokes? How do we respond when we start to suspect that a friend is in an abusive relationship?

Let’s take a moment to pray for those in abusive relationships as well as for those suffering from addictions.

I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me. Psalm 69:29

6 Replies to “Why are you Cheering?”

  1. Like all works of art, everyone has their own interpertation. Just like a homily on Sunday morning. You’d be suprised what you walk away with on Sunday and what someone else walks away with. The same I think can hold true for this video. I’m not so sure the audience was approving violence by their applause or just applauding for how well the dance was done. Your point about abuse of women is undeniably true, but what makes works of art so wonderful is that we all can walk away with different perspectives of how we interpret what we see. (the good and the bad).

  2. Like many things modern, this dance is ambiguous to me. I would not have know that violence toward women is depicted here unless you had told me. Most modern dance looks like a lot of pointless gyration to me. I wonder if the audience is also clueless and maybe this explains why they applaud. At any rate the meaning of th edance is not clear to me and its violence is not obvious to my untrained eyes.

  3. I started to take offense to what you were saying, then took a minute to take it all in. I apologize for that.
    I will admit, though, I AM pretty biased, as I believe Mia Michaels is the best choreographer my eyes have ever seen.
    I read YOUR perspective, and now I can only give you MY perspective of the routine, and I hope that rather than you get offended, that you take that all this in as well.

    Firstly, I personally, whole-heartedly disagree of your interpretation of physical and sexual abuse between a male/female. The subject was plain as day laid out for the audience; addict and addiction. To put your label on it totally ignores what we were told about the piece prior to the performance, and doesn’t shed light on the subject Mia intended.

    Mia has a way of blending perfect movement to perfect music. She tells a story, and though George Balanchine’s quote may be true to some degree, if you are fortunate enough to get inside the choreographer’s head to get a back story of the piece BEFORE seeing it, you get to look at it through different colored glasses. My interpretation came from the characters of that back-story. We were told it was about addiction; Kayla as the addict and Kupono as the drug. It was the battle between the two characters; not the people. I suppose if Kayla depicted an addict (which I feel in appearance she did) and if Kupono had on a costume of some sort of drug, a luminous cloud or scary monster it’d be easier for one to draw the line between addict/addiction and abuser/victim. But BECAUSE we were given that back-story, we were given the opportunity to see it through Mia’s eyes.

    In regards to the cheering of the piece versus the emotion of Tyce Diorio’s Cancer routine, if you replay Tyce’s routine you’ll hear just as much cheering throughout. Both pieces were danced PERFECTLY. The cheers, much like when one would cheer at their team’s touchdown, were in appreciation of the execution.

    Again, in my opinion, the emotion at the end of Tyce’s piece was as a result of a lot of people losing a loved one to cancer, remembering their struggles and celebrating their fight. At least that’s what I took from it. During the Addiction routine, just as in Tyce’s routine, I found myself crying seconds into it. Mia painted the picture exquisitely. I got it. I understood what she was trying to tell me. And it was as though I felt through movement, the addict’s struggle to get away from what had control of her. Most can relate to Tyce’s routine due to the overwhelming amount of people the disease has effected. That’s where the difference in emotion came from. As one who runs fan sites for Mia, I receive both positive and negative feedback from fans; those who put her on a pedestal, and those who don’t enjoy her work. This is the first instance of someone interpreting the routine the way you have. I’ve received comments from current and former addicts who related more to her piece than Tyce’s and others who were blown away by Tyce’s vision equally to Mia’s.
    As a woman, I appreciate you wanting to recognize the horrid and cowardly acts of abuse towards women, as well as recognizing those fighting through addiction; both subjects that deserve to be recognized.

    As a fan of SYTYCD, Mia Michaels, Tyce Diorio and dance in general, I’d encourage you to let Mia, Tyce and all the other choreographers take you into a world you may not be familiar with and enjoy the art for what it is and how it’s presented.

    I suppose, though, that both pieces have done what their intention was, to make us all think…and to be entertained.

    1. I whole-heartedly agree that Mia Michaels is one of the best modern choreographers out there! I never questioned her talent and never would! My focus was solely on the reactions to her piece.

      I do confess that I had not watched the original broadcast and did not discover that it was about addiction until after I had seen the finale performance.

      However I will present another question, perhaps for Mia herself. Why did she chose the man to play the drug role and the woman to play the addict role? Why was the man portrayed as over-powering the woman? Controlling her? Keeping her down?

      Why? Because we are already familiar with this scene and can therefore relate to it better. Mia Michaels could have chosen the woman as the drug and the man as the addict or she could have had two women or two men dancing together…but she didn’t. I believe that she was using a paradigm we are already familiar with (abuse) to show addiction.

      I certainly look forward to next season and discussing more of Mia Michaels brilliant and thought-provoking works!

  4. And a side note, thanks very much Laura for recognizing Mia’s immeasurable talent. Her fans couldn’t agree with you more. 🙂

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