PureDWTS Discussion Post: Spencer Liff on the Choreography “Controversy”

I saw this the other day and kind of ignored it. Mainly because I don’t really consider it a “controversy” OR new information. But I’m bored – the dog days of summer and waiting for DWTS Fall Season news to break is getting old. Plus Vogue is on vaycay and me and Court have to try to fill the void. 🙂

We’ve known that outside choreographers help for YEARS. Derek just mentioned it in a meet and greet the other day when asked about choreography. I don’t recall the context, but he said that he only used an outside choreographer for his and Shawn’s bhangra, but he knows that others do it more frequently….and he can always tell when outside help was used. He’s very observant, so that’s no surprise, plus he knows all of them very well. He apparently didn’t think it was a huge deal – and neither does Spencer Liff. Spencer makes some interesting points and seems to defend Witney (if she needs defending) pretty clearly. He says that outside “help” doesn’t have a right to the statue. What are you going to do? Count the steps that you contributed? What he seems to be saying – at the risk of putting words in his mouth – is that the contracted individual is responsible, is in charge and deserves the credit for that. What do you think?

Also, what I found interesting was that Spencer said he has “ghosted” on DWTS “many times” – this is intriguing, just cuz I’m nosey. 🙂 But the money comes out of the DWTS pros pocket when they get help, and it’s done away from the regular rehearsal spaces – and he says take your paycheck and keep your mouth shut. Very interesting conversation in the first five minutes of the video I’ve posted, below.

At the end of the day, Witney tried and gave full credit to her assistant and DWTS apparently tried as well. But the Academy has rules. Someone else mentioned in the video that the producers are limited to THREE nominees also, even if more producers were involved. Too bad. Those of you “helping” either need to stop helping without being contracted to the show, or suck it up and take the pay the DWTS pros give you.

Courtney: First off, a tip of the hat to Spencer – I’ve always found him to be one of the less “diva-ish” choreographers on SYTYCD, and while I may not have always been wowed by his choreography, I think he’s always done a good job of giving routines that are appropriate to the style he’s been assigned (unlike others, who seem to take “jazz” as an opportunity to do a contemporary routine).  I think he also did great job of explaining what’s what as it pertains to the nominations – it was very “Look here, guys – as someone who’s been nominated before, let me tell you that if you are ghosting on a routine, you are just that – a ghost.  Do not expect credit unless it was truly a collaborative effort – you don’t get to say ‘But I choreographed 20% of that!’ after the fact.  Your money is your compensation – take it and shut up.” Anyone else get the feeling he was a tad irked that some people were even trying to pull that stuff? 😉 Now, with that being said – I feel like him comparing his “assistants” on SYTYCD is maybe not a perfect analogy to what we think the situation has been at DWTS.  I’ve always gotten the impression that those “assisting” on SYTYCD were just helping the choreographer to show the routine to the couple they’re choreographing – they don’t actually contribute much, creativity-wise.  They’re just a body.  The impression I get from DWTS is that it’s one pro actively contributing to another pro’s work – giving advice on choreography.  But, I do agree with Spencer – it gets to be really tricky determining how much credit you give for a partial contribution by another pro. I look at a true collaboration as something akin to Derek & Chelsie’s acoustic paso back in season 10 – they agreed to work together and both were involved every step of the way, therefore a co-nomination was appropriate; but I get the feeling that the dances in question (presumably Witney’s, though I see the female pros are still dancing around naming names) were more like Witney getting somewhat into choreographing something and saying “Crap, I’ve hit a wall with this part.  Hey Sharna (or whoever), can you help me work through this part right here?” And then Sharna (or whoever) contributing something to a portion of the dance, and then walking away.  It wasn’t as if Pro A and Pro B started off choreographing from the beginning together; the concept of the dance was probably Witney’s idea, and the bulk of the spacing/set design/costume design/choreography was also hers. But anywho – the degree of entitlement being what it is amongst the pros at DWTS these days (as well as the degree of butthurt-ness), can’t say I’m surprised that some of the pros are basically scoffing at what has been standard operating procedure at the Academy for many years and feeling as though they are due some sort of credit.  Cause everybody is a winner and a special little snowflake that deserves an MBT, and Emmy nomination, and whatever his/her little heart desires – because FAIRNESS, guys. But yes, please do continue to throw shade at other pros for something that was likely out of their control, anyway – and then get indignant when fans try to guess just who you’re passive-aggressively tweeting about.  Such a good look 🙂 Funny how people think WE start “fan wars”…the pros are doing a fine job of it themselves…

Heidi: Yeah, they do it all by themselves – instigation through passive aggressiveness. And yes, I think Spencer was miffed at the topic and that some expect more credit. As for his analogy – it could actually be more on target than we realize. Who’s to say that a large chunk of the “help” is akin to what Derek does all the time – that is show male celebs how to correctly move their body for certain parts of dances. Lot’s of people have mentioned that he’s done this in the past. The question is: where do you draw the line? If, for example, Derek is choreographing a routine and he gets stuck on a spot and Mark walks in and says, “Why don’t you put a flip right there?” is he co-choreographing the routine?? Hell no. One trick don’t make a dance. And a choreographed piece is just that – an entire piece. Even if you add a little section – is that a “significant contribution” as required by the academy? I don’t think so. So, of course Spencer would be miffed – look at it from his perspective. You put blood, sweat and tears into a storyline, concept, music and the choreo and someone tweaks one little move to make the routine better or more cohesive or more flowy and they should be co-choreographer? Um, hell no. That some would feel entitled to a co-nomination in any of those situations is annoying. And you’re right, Court – it all goes back to the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that seems to have permeated DWTS the last few season. Um, by the way, kids, Derek hasn’t won in four seasons now, which means that others have won. So please retire the pee wee baseball mentality.

Courtney: Several years ago, I remember reading a piece that a lawyer in the entertainment industry wrote about plagiarism/copyright infringement/whatever the hell you would call one choreographer copying another choreographer’s choreography.  It pertained to a certain dance on SYTYCD that a choreographer was complaining was a “blatant copy” of a dance he had choreographed a few years before (don’t ask me what dance it was, because it’s been so long that I don’t remember – but I vaguely remember Benji Schwimmer somehow being involved), and the main crux of the argument was “Can you claim copyright infringement/plagiarism/whatever in a choreographed work of dance?” And I remember the lawyer explaining that dance is just such a different beast from works of writing/art/music/etc. that it becomes very, very difficult to prove whether a choreographed dance has been unfairly “copied” from another – not only is it hard to quantify movements in the same way one might count words or musical phrases that match up, but so many dance steps are considered part of a standard dance “vocabulary” that it becomes hard to prove that a certain step really belongs to a certain choreographer or one of their works.  I apply a lot of those same principles when thinking about credit for choreography: can you really say that a piece of choreography is yours if it’s just a sequence of familiar steps done in a certain order? If you only contribute a small section of 3-5 steps (which likely aren’t anything super new and different) to a routine (and you get paid for it), can you honestly claim creative credit for it as well, even though you didn’t choreograph the bulk of it? It really just adds a whole new layer of “Really, people?!” to the argument, I think – the fact that most claims of creative credit on a dance wouldn’t even hold up in the court of law makes me think that it likely doesn’t mean a damn thing to the Academy, either.  “Oh, you helped with 10 seconds of a 1:30 routine? That’s nice.  You want a cookie or something?” And if a pro ghosts for another pro, gratis – then I don’t think the situation changes. And perhaps that pro should have learned better by now. 🙂