“So you think you can dance”… without a powerful man flirting with you? Nope!
One of the most successful reality dance series in modern history, premiering in 2005 from So you think you can dance marked a lively new chapter for the place of dance in popular culture. The show drew 10 million viewers and quickly became the number one show on television at the time. Once relegated to the background and overshadowed by other more prominent types of performers, dancers finally had their own stage to dazzle. The Judge’s Table was hosted by Mary Murphy and pop icon Paula Abdul, shouting “Hot Tamale train,” and the show made celebrities of couple Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Allison Holker, Travis Wall (who has went on to win an Emmy for her reprisal on the show) and 2022 Oscar-winning actress Ariana DeBose.
However, in recent years, the show had become insignificant. The industry has changed. The face of dance—both on stage and in leadership positions—diversified, with black performers gaining belated mainstream recognition for their choreography while continuing to spotlight a majority of white choreographers. And just when it seemed like the show had driven the final nail into its own coffin, Fox announced a new trio of judges, bringing the corpse of a franchise to life.
In April, JoJo Siwa, tWitch and former Joy star Matthew Morrison has been named as the series’ new mainstays. Less than two months later, and not even two weeks into the new season, Morrison had been fired to cross a line with a competitor. Earlier this week People reported that the 43-year-old married father of two was removed from the show after he had an inappropriate direct messaging relationship with a contestant. “They didn’t have sex, but he contacted her through flirty direct messages on social media,” the source added. “She felt uncomfortable with her comment line and went to the producers, who then implicated Fox. He was fired after they conducted their own investigation.
I don’t care that Morrison and the contestant “never met out of sync.” As a judge with the ability to dominate the fates of dancers on the show or send them back into obscurity with a single “no” vote, Morrison’s abuse of power is both egregious and not at all surprising. That he took advantage of his closeness to a candidate – as if young women weren’t stalked, harassed or assaulted enough, let alone believed – is even worse.
The dancers who audition for this show are not only 18 years old, but are often in precarious situations financially or professionally. We have known for a long time that dance as a whole don’t pay well, and herds of dancers line up for industry auditions like cattle to fight for limited spots and gigs (which are then often awarded based on superficial markers like hair color or the need to fill a niche of symbolic diversity). Because the whole ecosystem makes notoriety in the field almost impossible to achieve, many young candidates see So you believe like their ticket to stardom – a pass in front of the line – which gives way to an expected amount of desperation and vulnerability, which is then exploited throughout the filming process with teary close-ups and gory storylines. So, you can imagine the horror a contestant might feel if one of the judges who could make or break their future in their industry of choice slipped into their DMs.
The dance industry, including commercial and artistic ballet companies, is collapsing over relentless allegations of abuse. First, they are famous choreographers proposal underage dancers for inappropriate sexual relations and touching of Break the Floor event attendees (including Travis Wall of So you believe fame was accused of “widespread sexual harassment”). Next, teenage dancers talked about a popular instructor and his wife, a former Boston Ballet dancer, who cared for them for sex. At the University of North Carolina, former students of the School of the Arts deposit a lawsuit alleging rampant sexual abuse and harassment. Abuse of power in dance is unfortunately the rule, not the exception.
The new season of So you believe was to mark the beginning of a new era of dance, more inclusive and safer. The dancers were supposed to be able to practice their profession in peace. Instead, the same shitty white man archetype abused that power like he used to.