PureDWTS Season 23, Court Rants: Why I Don’t Really Care About the Troupe

Let me preface this rant with this: I know everyone is excited for the season to start.  I know that there hasn’t been a whole lot to report (yet). So I’m willing to cut people a little bit of slack – I think we’re all just looking for stuff to discuss until the next piece of intel falls into our laps. What’s puzzling to me is that of all things there is to talk about, I’m seeing an inordinate number of questions about the troupe – a fixture on the show that I find to be of little consequence anymore.

Not sure if it’s just not as exciting to talk about the pros that we’ve seen year after year or if people really do feel passionately about the troupe, but I guess it’s just hard for me to relate when people seem very invested in whether or not [insert dancer here] is going to be in the troupe again or might get a shot at pro a certain season.  It’s of such little interest to me that I don’t even really actively seek spoilers about the troupe in the pre-season – I’d rather focus my efforts on the pros and their celeb partners, so you’ll have to forgive me if I respond with a bit of frustration when I get questions on Twitter about “Have you heard who’s in the troupe?” or “Do you think so-and-so will get promoted to pro this season?”

So for those of you who don’t understand why the troupe is not all that important to me (and Heidi, really), I give you this: the 7 reasons why Court doesn’t care about the troupe.

1.) The odds of getting promoted from troupe to pro are actually relatively slim. 

Since the troupe was  introduced back in season 12, we’ve had 24 different dancers that have done time in the troupe.  Of those 24, only 8 have ever gone on to be a pro at some point after their tenure in the troupe. We’ve had 2 dancers that started off as pros (Lindsay & Gleb) and then got demoted to troupe; of those two, only Lindsay was ever able to get a pro spot again; Gleb was let go after his season in the troupe. Two pros started off in the troupe, got a pro spot, and then were sent back to the troupe (Sasha & Henry); of those two, only Sasha was able to get a pro spot again (Henry was let go after 2 additional seasons in the troupe). Are you starting to see the picture I’m painting? I also feel it’s worth noting that, of those 8 promotions of troupe members, 5 of them happened over 6 seasons ago – Tristan, Peta, Sharna, Sasha, & Emma were all promoted between seasons 13-17. Only 3 promotions have happened within the last 5 seasons – Henry & Witney in season 18 and Artem in season 19.  Beyond that, the only other dancers we’ve seen move up to pro from the troupe for the past 2 years have been Lindsay & Sasha, who had already been pros before. We’ve also seen 2 dancers bypass the troupe completely and go straight to pro (Allison & Keo) in the past 2 years. If I haven’t made it clear enough at this point, I’ll spell it out: these days, if you’re in the troupe, your statistical odds of getting promoted to pro are pretty dismal; therefore, of the three new male dancers added to the troupe last season, statistically, only one of them probably stands the chance of ever getting promoted to pro – and that’s being optimistic. I personally just don’t see the sense in getting very invested in a dancer that we may likely never see as a pro.

2.) Troupe members generally don’t have a whole lot of longevity on the show these days.

Here’s a few more stats to chew on: four troupe members have only lasted one season before being let go (Dasha, Sonny, Julz, & Nicole); the record for longest tenure in the troupe without being promoted to pro is shared by Oksana & Jenna, who both have 5 seasons under their belt (I feel as though I should point out that Oksana was let go after her 5th season in the troupe).  Aside from those two extremes, most troupe members have seemed to last 2-3 seasons before either getting promoted to pro (less likely) or sent packing (more likely). I get the feeling that those that aren’t fortunate enough to get promoted either fail to impress TPTB, or get tired of waiting to get promoted and pursue other projects. And really, when the casting process for the troupe seems pretty lax, can you blame TPTB for cutting their losses before too much time has passed and they realize that a troupe member may not hack it one day as a pro? Hell, these days, it seems like if you either were on SYTYCD/were a Burn the Floor cast member/have been on the Dance With Me payroll at some point/have been coached by one of the current pros, the show will give you a shot – if not at troupe, than as an extra dancer for big group numbers. If you can’t impress during that time? Sucks for you, but being a pro on the show is not for everyone. Doesn’t mean you can’t still have a successful dance career.

3.) There’s very little variation amongst the pro lineup from season to season.

We’ve said it before – the pros on this show have become celebrities in their own right, and are the real draw for some viewers.  Therefore, it benefits the show to keep a fairly consistent pro lineup – and our pros have a tendency to stick around for awhile, until something else comes up that basically forces them to step down.  In order for troupe members to get promoted to pro, first we gotta lose some pros – and if the pros ain’t leaving, then there’s no room for promotions. These past two seasons have been a bit of a unique situation, as we’ve had injuries and pregnancies that shook up the lineup a bit – two events that we had no real precedent for on DWTS up until a year ago, and both affecting the female pro lineup, which seems to have more variation from season to season than the guys.  But we also seem to currently have a bigger roster of female pros than male ones, anyway – we actually have about 1-2 more “regular” female pros than we do spots on any given season, anyway.  So for any female troupe members hoping to make the jump? Start praying that there’s a DWTS baby boom, or that the current female pros suddenly get the urge to move on (unlikely – this show is a pretty plum gig).  As for the guys – with the exception of Derek’s exit, I don’t really foresee the current roster of male pros going anywhere, anytime soon.  I get the feeling Tony, Val, & Keo in particular will be available to DWTS as long as DWTS wants them. So no pros moving = no pro spots for troupe members to fill.  And if there happens to be a vacancy created by a pro’s departure, it’s usually only one here or there – not a mass exodus of established pros that need replacing. Sorry, fans-who-want-to-see-all-the-guys-in-last-season’s-troupe-promoted-to-pro-this-season (yes, they exist).

4.) The show doesn’t place much emphasis on getting to know the troupe on a personal level anymore.

Back in the early days of the troupe, when it was still a very novel concept and TPTB seemed more serious about using it as a training ground for future pros, they put more time & effort into letting us as viewers get to know them – they did cute little packages where the troupe told us their names and a little bit about themselves, we heard them speak on camera – either to Tom or as part of one of the couples’ packages, and they did more troupe-only dances so we got to see them dance as individuals.  Now, we’re lucky if Tom calls them out by name in passing, they get lost in the musical numbers amongst the hoard of pros, and we don’t really get to hear any of them speak unless it’s directly related to one of the couples (i.e. Alan filling in for Mark in Paige’s salsa, Shannon putting Von through the paces of MJ choreography).  If the show isn’t making an effort to tell us about the troupe, sorry – I’m probably gonna assume they’re not important and I’m not gonna care much about them. Back when Peta, Tristan, Sharna, Sasha, & Emma were in the troupe, the show made such an effort to introduce them to the fans, that when they finally did become pros, they already had a halfway-decent fanbase – hell, I credit Tristan advancing as far as he did in his rookie season to so many fans becoming obsessed with him while he was in the troupe. Now? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a significant number of viewers who can name more than one member of the troupe – the troupe fanboys and fangirls seem limited to hardcore internet fans, anymore, and I have to wonder if it’s more due to the fact that troupe members are generally more accessible and likely to interact with fans on social media, rather than the viewers being huge fans of the troupe’s dancing.

5.) The troupe’s main responsibility on the show these days is simply to fill in gaps.

While in the early days, the purpose of the troupe was to cultivate future pro talent as well as take some of the pressure off the main pros to do bumpers/pro dances/etc., nowadays, it seems more like a reserve squad that gets tapped to fill in when there are vacancies.  Need more dancers for a big pro number? Troupe, you’re up.  Mark hurt his back and needs someone to put Paige through the paces of her salsa? Grab a free guy from the troupe.  Aly’s having trouble being sexy and needs a female to show her how to do it? Brittany/Jenna, this one’s yours.  All the eliminated pros are taken and you need a 3rd dancer for your trio? Pick from the troupe.  Some celeb’s routine is rather unimpressive and you need the troupe dancing in the background to distract from their mediocrity? The troupe’s all yours, son. If DWTS is a Broadway show and the pros are the main cast members, then the troupe is the chorus members-cum-understudies.  No speaking lines, just filling in space on the stage and secretly crossing their fingers that one of the leads comes down with the flu so they can fill in and have their moment in the spotlight. The bulk of them probably won’t ever got a shot, but they can always hope.  At this rate, I don’t think the troupe is a helluva lot different than the pre-troupe days when they just hired on extra dancers whenever they needed more for a pro dance or whatnot.  Literally – just there to fill a quota. The only benefit to the troupe is that the show doesn’t have to call the talent agency each week to book x number of extra dancers for that week’s pro numbers.

6.) Some of the troupe members aren’t even primarily trained in ballroom.

And this, kids, seems to be my biggest gripe with the show these days: they seem to be hiring an alarming number of hip-hop/jazz/contemporary dancers that have only had a crash course in ballroom, and not the other way around. And to me, an “alarming number” of this particular kind of dancer is anything more than maybe one – this show is still primarily a ballroom dance show, and only dabbles in contemporary/jazz.  I’ve learned to justify Allison’s presence by assuming she may increase the likelihood of an Emmy nom for the show sometime in the future, and the fact that she has a relentless work ethic that I’ve seen on SYTYCD; not sure I can justify it for anyone else. Hayley has trained her entire life in contemporary; she only started picking up ballroom when she toured with Derek & Julianne and then got hired into the troupe (ahem). Shannon’s dance dossier seems rather vague, as he claims to have trained in “all Genres of Dance” (yes, it is suspiciously capitalized in the bio on his website) but doesn’t specifically name ballroom, and judging from the gigs he cites, he seems to have much more of a ballet/gymnastic/jazz background.  If TPTB would suddenly decide to promote these two to pro tomorrow (and I have no reason to believe they would, just using this as a hypothetical situation), could we really trust them to be able to help their celeb partner hang with celebs being taught by pros who’ve done ballroom their entire lives? Sure, they may slay their contemporary and jazz dances under Hayley & Shannon’s tutelage, but what about the other 10 ballroom/Latin dances the show includes? I still struggle from time to time with Allison, who has had somewhat more than a crash course in ballroom & Latin, but is still not an expert like the rest of the pros on the show – some of her ballroom & Latin is still pretty cringeworthy.  So you’ll have to forgive me if I raise an eyebrow to those tweeting me with #Hayley4Pro and #MakeShannonAPro, because it really does not strike me as a good idea.

7.) It takes more than just being a good dancer to be a good pro on this show.

This one is the most obvious to me, and it’s the one so many diehard troupe fans seem most eager to overlook when it comes to breaking down why their favorite troupe member wasn’t promoted to pro. I hear so many fans whining that “[Insert troupe member here] deserves a pro spot, he/she is such a great dancer!!! WAHHHHHH so unfair!!!!” Errr…y’all do realize that there’s more to being a pro than just being a good dancer, right? You also have to be a good teacher, at least have some experience in choreographing, you have to be patient, you have to be emotionally stable enough to deal with a potentially emotionally unstable celeb partner, you have to know how to showcase your partner’s strengths while concealing their weaknesses…I could go on and on. Want a good example of someone that’s a great dancer, but generally not a very good pro? Keo. Yes, he can dance his ass off, but he leaves a lot to be desired in the teaching/choreography/etc. departments when it comes to partnering a celeb.  Yes, he’s getting better; but it’s been a long time coming.  I would argue that we do not need any more pros like Keo on the show – so it’s kinda beyond me why so many troupe fans assume that any dancer that has served a season or two in the troupe is automatically entitled to a pro position.  Great dancer doesn’t always equal great pro – and given that we don’t get to see much more from the troupe than dancing, I’m not sure how some of you are assuming they’d be a good at teaching, choreography, etc.  And being a pro on DWTS is not the be-all, end-all – you can still have a very successful career as a dancer without ever checking “Pro on DWTS” off your bucket list.

So yeah, from now on, when I get questions about “Who’s in the troupe???”…I’m just sending them a link to this post. 😉