PureDWTS Season 24 Court Rants: The Real Problem With The Girl Group Team Dance

And no, it’s not solely just “sexism” from the judges/audience/viewers – stay with me.

Over the past 48 hours, I have rolled my eyes so hard over some of the complaints about the group dances that it’s a wonder they haven’t gotten stuck.  The majority of the ridiculous comments seem to be coming from the disgruntled #TeamGirlGroup crowd, who seem eager to complain about “sexism” on the show. Yes, sexism is a problem on DWTS – a big one, and one that Heidi & I will attempt to tackle in a future post. But why the Team Girl Group fans are complaining, I’m not sure, because the girls got one point more than the guys did – last I checked, the “winner” of the team dance was determined by who got more points. So congrats – you won. Why are you so upset?

My guess is that they’re mad about Team Boy Band generally getting more positive feedback from both the judges and the viewers – to which I say “well, tough luck” because people disagreeing with you is kind of a fact of life. You’re never going to agree with everyone, all the time. But in the interest of turning this into a teaching moment, I’m going to indulge some of you and explain just what many of us found wrong with the girl’s dance, and what the boys team did right. Whether you choose to actually consider it is up to you – but I can tell you now that empty accusations of “sexism!!!” undermine the real instances of sexism we encounter on a daily basis; and within the context of DWTS, believe me – women in general (particularly the female pros) tend to get screwed on a regular basis.

First, let me lead with this: I do not blame the female celebs for any of the failures of their team dance, so if you’re trying to twist this into “You’re being mean to Normani!” or “You’re being really unfair to Heather!”, you’re putting up straw men, you’re gonna get called out, and you’re gonna look dumb. The onus is on the pros to create and choreograph a suitable routine to make their partners look good – and I feel like the male pros failed their partners. EPICALLY. I also don’t blame the judges, because for once, I think they were pretty on-the-money with their critiques and scores (I’ve written off the extra point as a sympathy point, given as a bit of an “oh boy, your pros really screwed you – here, have an extra point!” consolation prize) – I don’t think they were completely off-base in what they were saying. And actually, I don’t blame the powers that be, either – I actually think the girls got a much better set of songs to work with (including one sung by one of the girls on the team – ahem) that gave them a lot more creative potential than the songs that were given to the boys’ team. Really and truly, the stars were aligned for the girls to really slay the team dance – and then the male pros kinda shat all over the opportunity.

Problem #1: The dance did not utilize the enormous amount of talent the female celebs have.

Probably the grossest offense the male pros committed was simply failing to utilize the ENORMOUS talent pool of their female celebs. Every woman on Team Girl Group was a ringer, to some degree – two Olympians (one gymnast, one skater), a PROFESSIONAL dancer, and a singer with extensive dance training. These women could have done all manner of acrobatic and flexibility power-moves, classical jazz & ballet steps with exceptional technique, and at least two of them probably could have even made worthwhile contributions to the choreography itself. Instead, we got an aimless mixture of basic ballroom steps and a few tricks peppered in, which wasn’t terribly impressive or exciting to watch, on top of not really having anything to do with the music; there was also the frivolous preening at the beginning of the dance, with the girls doing silly moves with hairspray and admiring each other’s nails. This was really how Maks, Val, Artem, and Sasha wanted to showcase the talents of their respective partners??? I swear, they were basically given a gift-wrapped win in the team dance, with the amount of talent they had to work with – and they completely blew it. I think they should consider themselves very, very lucky that the judges took pity on them and gave them a score that was one point more than the other team.

What Team Boy Band did differently: In terms of dance skills, the female pros had a tougher row to hoe – none of their partners are trained dancers, and the only one with a considerable amount of natural skill is Rashad. So what do you do when you don’t have a lot of dance talent to work with? You focus on their other strengths – in this case, SHOWMANSHIP. They weren’t going to be able to beat Team Girl Group on choreographic difficulty (although they had no idea at the time that the opposing team’s choreography would be so…bland), so they stuck with simple choreography that the guys could do cleanly and in sync, and just made sure the guys SOLD THE HELL OUT OF IT.  And I think it worked out in their favor – the showmanship of Team Boy Band far outweighed the technical execution of Team Girl Group, which is why I think they got a much more positive response out of the judges, audience, and viewers.

Problem #2: The staging was poor.

Aside from the obvious lighting issues at the end of the dance (not their fault), I just felt like the stage was poorly-lit for the bulk of the dance, and we lost a lot of the nuance in the performance as a result – namely facial expressions, which help us as viewers connect to the dance. In addition, there seemed to be spacing issues (there were a couple times where couples nearly bumped into each other, or weren’t evenly spaced about the floor) and generally, just poor use of the space itself – after the girls ran off the bedroom set at the beginning of the dance, the rest of the dance basically took up the same rectangle of space in the middle of the floor; and within that rectangle, the only shapes they seemed to be making were horizontal lines and circles – very basic formations, visually.

What Team Boy Band did differently: They were using a lot more of the space – they were dancing on the stage, in front of the stage, on the opposite end of the floor as the stage, and then on the platform extending from the stage.  That alone kept things interesting – and then they also added in some interesting shapes: they were lining up horizontally and vertically, they did a cool triangle formation with Nick at the front at one point, and they had the girls dancing in line behind the guys and vice-versa. It kept things really interesting, visually, which is what I think a lot of the winning team dances in the past have done. The guys surprisingly also seemed more aware of their spacing and placement than the ladies did, and there was very little in the way of collisions or overlapping spaces.

Problem #3: None of the ladies seemed to be having much fun.

One could argue that part of this had to do with the aforementioned poor staging/lighting, but I didn’t see a whole lot in the way of smiling/seeming energetic from the girls – and some of the smiles I saw felt a bit forced & pageant-y. The whole “My Boyfriend’s Back” section was just cloying, and pretty much everything they did during “No Scrubs” seemed so serious.  Nancy in particular seemed pretty pained, which I can’t entirely blame her for – with as childish as some of the portions of their team dance ended up being, I’d probably be a tad embarrassed, having to do the steps as a grown woman. The rest of the time, they seemed to plaster brief smiles on their face, or get caught up in remembering choreo and go a bit blank. At the end, I was just left with a feeling of joylessness – like none of the ladies had really had a good time with the routine.  It felt like a chore.

What Team Boy Band did differently: Kinda simple – they actually had fun. They had fun every step of the way, from the guys coming up with their own choreography in rehearsal to trying to come up with a band name. At some point during the performance, I saw each of the guys just absolutely grinning – and it was the type of grin where you can tell they’re about to just bust out laughing, because they’re having such a good time. David in particular seemed to be relishing the experience of being the heartthrob of a boy band, and really put his heart into it. Even the female pros seemed to be having a great time – at the end, when they were all onstage bowing together, the women just looked ELATED…like the team dance had actually been fun for them too, and not another task on their to-do list.

Problem #4: There was sexism in play – but probably not in the way you think.

Seems like a lot of the Team Boy Band detractors want to complain about “the men took off the shirts and got praised for it, but the women didn’t try to be sexy and got penalized for it!” I think deep down, we all know that’s not the real issue here – but while we’re on the topic of sexism, I’d like to point out a few sexist things I noticed in the girl’s routine.  First, the whole beginning section (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) – note that the routine started with the camera panned in on a monitor showing the male pros all flexing and preening with their shirts open, and then proceeded to show the female celebs fawning over them like a bunch of schoolgirls at a slumber party. That alone made me question who the real focus of this routine was going to be – it’s supposed to be about the women and them being empowered, so why have we reduced them to google-eyed, boy-crazy teenagers? Then they proceeded to do a bunch of simple, fluffy choreography where they used hairspray, admired each other’s nails, and did a few turns before doffing their bathrobes. About the only slumber party stereotypes missing there were the topless pillow fights and lesbian experimentation *eye roll*. And really, if you listen to the lyrics of “My Boyfriend’s Back”, it’s about a girl telling off a guy that’s been spreading nasty rumors about her because she wouldn’t go out with him. So in other words – completely at odds with the tone of that opening section. Then we move onto “No Scrubs” – a song about a woman demanding more from a man than sexually-aggressive catcalls from a loser who can’t even afford his own ride. It starts out with the women in chairs, getting lapdances from the male pros (who seem to think very highly of themselves) – ok, a good representation of the sexually aggressive men the song talks about. But rather than shutting down that bravado, the ladies seemed to respond in kind with a lapdance of their own, complete with lustily stroking down the guys’ bare chests. I like to think the choreography was TRYING to be sassy, but ended up a bit…ambivalent. Then it led into a sort of Argentine tango section, which, while decent, didn’t seem to have much to do with anything, and seemed to just take up space. Then we move into “B.O.S.S.” – probably the most empowering song of the bunch, and the one ripe with the most potential for choreography to showcase these ladies’ many talents. We get maybe 10 seconds of shimmying Beyonce shoulders, and a couple hair flips with their hands on their hips, while battling the smoke monster…and then they’re back with the guys, doing samba. Really??? If I had been the male pros, I would have made this the section the girls did individually, and borrowed heavily from Mandy’s “B.O.S.S.” routine for the female pros a few seasons back. THIS was the song that would have really let them shine. But instead, we got more generic ballroom steps that really didn’t a) let the girls shine, and b) didn’t really fit the tone of the music. Issues with the lighting notwithstanding, I was left kinda wondering “Did that really highlight the women? Or was it more a display of the male pros (at least some of the them) and their inflated sense of self?” I’m gonna go with the latter, and I actually find it really disheartening that a group of extremely talented, hardworking, successful women were reduced to giggling, boy-chasing schoolgirls following the lead of a bunch of chauvinists.

What Team Boy Band did differently: I’ll admit, with a theme like “boy bands vs. girl groups”, there’s bound to be at least a little bit of sexism. And sure, you may look at the section the guys did with the chairs and criticize it for using cheap sex appeal – that’s your prerogative, but I will say that I actually think it was very age and body-positive (and actually kind of refreshing) that nobody had any hangups about Grandpa, a guy that is clearly much older and not exactly possessing the physique of the other three men, doffing his shirt and gyrating along with the other three guys (and having fun doing it!) But where I think the guys went right was not falling into the same trap that Team Girl Group did, by turning their female pros into squealing, fangirling adolescents that were besotted by their every pelvic thrust – they weren’t even present for the chair part, and during the rest of the dance, they felt like teammates, as opposed to fly girls/backup dancers/fans.  And yet, the female pros still managed to allow the male celebs to shine – but they didn’t have to make fools of themselves to do it.

So basically – Team Girl Group wasn’t getting penalized for “not being sexy”; they were penalized for not doing really anything at all. The choreography wasn’t up-to-snuff, the dancing was low-energy and disconnected from the music, they weren’t really using the space, and they got stuck in gender-stereotype pitfalls. But I’m guessing most of you already knew that, and are probably just trying to find something external to blame that absolves anyone on Team Girl Group from any responsibility whatsoever for the failure of the dance.  Whatever helps you sleep at night, I guess – just don’t be surprised if your favorite couple ends up eliminated earlier because they refused to heed the advice of the judges…