PureDWTS Season 21, Week 6 – Top 5 Complaints About “The Lift” And Why They’re Kinda Dumb

As I mentioned earlier on Twitter – I find it funny how all of the armchair dance critics just seemed to come out of the woodwork and point out everything that was wrong with “the lift” in the past 48 hours or so 😛 Every one of them was quick to point out Derek’s “shaking arms”, Bindi’s “bad posture”, or offered up examples of others who did “a much better job”. Just one question for, critics: you have attempted this lift yourself, haven’t you? I mean, for you guys to be so critical of it yourself, I assume you’ve researched it extensively and have honed the technique enough in order to offer up intelligent arguments about everything Derek & Bindi did that was just “sooooo wrong”? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Fortunately, I’m actually uniquely qualified to talk about it, as I HAVE done this lift, and my senior kinesiology thesis in college was a 25-page analysis on how to do the lift from Dirty Dancing.  After one very long semester of hours logged in the lab with a crashmat and my partner (and a few injuries), we got it down to a science, and wrote a very arcane paper full of physics & kinesiology jargon that explained how to do it – and we got an A 🙂 Now, as it has been quite a few years since I graduated, and the computer I had from college has since crashed, I was unable to dig up a copy of my original paper (I even went so far as to email my professor to see if she had a copy – turns out, she’s on sabbatical this semester). However, I still remember a lot of what I said in the paper, and I doubt many of you care about things such as concentric/eccentric muscle contractions – so I tried to condense it as much as possible here, and make it relevant to DWTS. So I decided to tackle the top 5 complaints I’ve been hearing about the lift, and explain why I think Bindi & Derek actually did a damn good job, given the circumstances.

1.) “Derek’s arms were shaking.”

And most peoples’ probably would be too, save for professional body builders and men who bench press over 150 lbs on a regular basis. First, an explanation of what exactly the shaking is: it’s muscle fatigue, and it’s bound to happen to everyone given enough time, dependent on the amount of effort being exerted. The more work your muscles have to do to complete a certain task = the quicker muscle fatigue sets in. Go grab a 5 lb bag of flour or sugar from your pantry – hold it out in front of you, arms extended and at shoulder height.  And then tell me how long it takes before you feel your arms starting to quiver.  Happens quicker than you might think, no? Now imagine that weight multiplied by 25 and imagine how quickly your arms would start to shake. It’s one thing to be able to lift something for a quick interval – but it’s entirely another to actually HOLD it there for a sustained period of time.

Now for a man in his 30’s, the average max bench press is considered to be roughly equal to 93% of his body weight – for Derek, let’s just estimate a body weight of 160 lbs, which means the average man his age and build could probably bench press about 149 lbs (assuming he is in good physical shape).  Now let’s take two other factors into account: the lift actually goes beyond the range of motion of a typical bench press – rather than pushing a bar against the forces of gravity at a 90 degree angle, you’re now pushing against gravity at 180 degree angle, which means you have to exert a lot more effort just to get your partner into the lift. The other factor? Professional male ballroom dancers (save for those competing in the lift-heavy theater arts or cabaret division) are typically encouraged not to develop too much muscle bulk, as it limits range of motion and doesn’t look as “pretty” out on the floor.  Therefore, most male ballroom dancers are not going to have as much muscle mass (and thus strength) as your average gym-rat man. So theoretically, let’s say Derek could perform the lift with a reasonable level of competency with someone that weighs around 140 lbs. I’m terrible when it comes to estimating women’s weight, because any musculature we have seems to hide behind a bit more padding, so let’s just say Bindi probably weighs somewhere around 130 lbs. So in theory – Derek can get her into the lift, but because her body weight is likely quite close to his bench press max, his muscles are going to get tired fairly quickly.  Watching the video back, the lift took 8 seconds from start to finish – about 2 to get into it and out of it, and 6 of sustained holding. Now to put this in perspective – imagine trying to bench press the maximum amount of weight that you can, and then being told to hold it for 6 seconds without moving it back into a resting position. Guaranteed, most folks would be shaking like a leaf.

“But Court, he could have easily transferred some of the weight-bearing to his leg muscles!” Well…yes and no.  The problem is you can’t really lock your legs in place in order to support the weight of your partner aloft over your head, because there is bound to be some teetering and you need your legs unlocked in order to compensate for it. You also can’t really lock your arms for the same reason – you need a bit of wiggle room in order to compensate for balance issues.  The only way to get through this lift is basically just brute force: hoist her up there, and hold on as best you can through the discomfort of the fatigue.

2.) “Bindi’s posture was not good.”

This lift takes a good amount of core strength from both the lifter and liftee in order to stabilize and maintain balance – in the case of the liftee, you have to be able to pick up your head, neck, and shoulders at the same time you’re lifting your legs…but keeping your waist neutral. The best exercise I can liken it to is this: find a standard picnic bench, and lay on it crossways (perpendicular to the length of it) with your waist on the bench.  Now pick up your head, neck, shoulders, arms, hips, and legs and hold that position, Mission Impossible-style. How still can you stay? Do you feel your core muscles getting tired? Now imagine having to balance your waist on something half that wide and also wobbling…and it’s also 5-6′ off the ground. Not easy AT ALL, especially when you have to kinda launch yourself into position and either get too much/not enough momentum to land in a sustainable, level position. Once you’re up in the air, it’s also kinda risky to try and shift your body weight a whole lot, lest you throw off your partner’s balance. Again, like the lifter: once you’re up there, all you can really do is engage those core muscles and ride out the lift.

3.) “It wasn’t as good as when Patrick & Jennifer did it.”

Um, DUH. Patrick & Jennifer had a few months to get this lift right, and they had the added benefit of getting multiple takes to nail it.  Bindi & Derek had 5 days to learn it, and only 1 attempt to actually do it on live, national television.  On top of that, Patrick had been trained in ballet from a young age, and a big emphasis is put on male ballet dancers to be excellent at lifting their partners – Derek’s training has been predominantly in Latin, which doesn’t emphasize (or even allow) lifts in competition, and he has admitted that lifts scare him because there’s “such potential for injury.” For what it’s worth, though, Patrick’s dancing in the movie is actually considered to be pretty mediocre in terms of ballroom technique – I always found him to be a bit too “Broadway” with his moves.  But anyway, the general takeaway here is that Patrick & Jennifer had a LOT more time to nail the lift than Bindi & Derek did – and that does make a huge difference.

4.) “Rumer & Val did the same lift last season and Val’s arms didn’t shake!”

Well, Val was also only holding the lift for 2-3 seconds, max, and was doing it with a trained aerialist.  Go back and reread what I said about muscle fatigue, and also what I said about core strength – your muscles aren’t as likely to get tired if you’re only sustaining a movement for a couple seconds, and it’s also going to be easier if your partner is both lighter AND in possession of some above-average core strength.  I also find it funny that the camera gave them a pretty wide angle when they taped this lift – it’s possible there could have been shaky arms under that puffy-sleeved shirt, had we actually been close enough to observe. The camera unfortunately panned in pretty close on Bindi & Derek, showing us every quiver and shake.

5.) “Bindi was just too heavy.”

Ok, weight isn’t everything when doing lifts – while it certainly is easier to lift someone lighter, it’s not the be-all, end-all. A lot of times, weight distribution is more of a determining factor in how successful a lift will be.  Repeat after me: it is easier to lift a short person than it is to lift a tall person, even if they’re the same weight.  Remember the 5 lb bag of sugar I had you lift over your head earlier? Do it again.  Now hoist a 2″x4′ over your head.  Tell me: which one is it easier to hold steady? The 2″x4′ may be lighter, but I’m guessing it was harder for your to find your balance with all that length sticking out in front of you and behind you, and you probably had to move around a bit more in order to maintain it.  The bag of sugar, on the other hand, was small, compact, and easy to balance. The same principle applies to people: it would be quite a bit easier to balance petite, 4’11” Bindi in this lift than it would be to balance 5’8″ Tamar, because her center of mass is more evenly-balanced than the leggy Tamar’s.  It’s also easier for someone like Bindi to get the height necessary on the jump to get into a lift like this, without overshooting it, than it is for someone taller.

The bottom line: this lift isn’t easy for ANYONE – I don’t care how easy Patrick & Jennifer made it look, it took a lot of practice and a good deal of experience to get right…and it was experience and practice time that Bindi & Derek just did not get. You want to poo-pooh someone because you didn’t like how they did the lift? Poo-pooh the producers, then, as they were the ones that were really gunning hard for them to put it in their routine.  Or poo-pooh the notion of “iconic dances” week in the first place, because there was just no way possible for everyone to live up to the hype of the originals. But if you’re going to start nitpicking about shaking arms or bad posture? Then I suggest you grab a crash mat and a buddy – and hope & pray that you don’t end up like these poor souls: