Neil Haskell and Kent Boyd
The FOX reality series So You Think You Can Dance can be an incredibly frustrating experience for gay viewers. The stunning choreography and dancing have always impressed. And there have clearly always been some gay male dancers to root for, even if no dancer has ever been expressly out while on the show.
But what can be terribly frustrating is how the judges (in particular Nigel Lythgoe) seem hellbent on playing up the romantic “chemistry” aspect of the couples’ dancing.A lot of the choreographed pieces are eroticized duets. (Rhumba anyone?), and male dancers who fail to look like they want to sexually devour their female partners seem automatically penalized and discounted.
The few times two men actually dance together, the concept is carefully spelled out as not romantic. It’s “Two princes going to war,” “Two beat boys fighting over the same girl,” or “Two regular joes playing baseball!”
But those aren’t the sort of pieces an audience emotionally connects to. To really engage viewers you need passion. And maybe a little sexual tension.
And so it seems as if the straight male dancers automatically have a major leg up in this dance competition.
But something happened on last night’s show that might change that equation moving forward.
Choreographer (and season two contestant) Travis Wall put together a contemporary number for dancers Kent Boyd and Neil Haskell (Kent is competing this year – Neil is a returning “All-Star”), and it gave the audience a taste of what two guys dancing together, passionately, could look like.
The piece brought down the house.
Of course, this being SYTYCD no one could come out and just say the dance was about a bad breakup between two men. In the rehearsal clip in fact, they went out of their way to describe the relationship between the two dancers as “best friends.”
Travis: The story’s about two guys who are… best friends…
Neil: …we’ve grown together. We’ve really built this friendship together. You know, we’ve played baseball together.
Kent:... I learned that Neil wasn’t the friend that I thought he was.
Neil: Were at the point in our friendship right now where I need to move on, and even if it does hurt Kent I just really need to move forward.
Kent… He’s never there for me. He did something really mean to me and just stabbed me in the back.
Travis: When Kent gets stabbed in the back it’s a pain in your heart, your stomach, you want to throw up. And he turns around and looks and he’s like, “You’re not gonna get away with this.”
Kent: I decide that I’m not gonna put up with this and actually do fight back. I come to the realization that I just need to walk away and that it’s not worth the trouble. Me and Neil just gotta go on our separate paths.
Okay, I added the italics above, but “best friends” my ass! The dance was gorgeous and passionate and was clearly about something more than a platonic male friendship.
It even left Nigel impressed, but almost comically wanting to avoid any on-air reveal of what the piece was really about.
Nigel: Forgive me one second to ask Travis and NO NAMES! but did somebody stab you in the back recently? Is that what you were inspired about?
Travis nods from audience, a tear in his eye.
Judge Mia Michaels was similarly moved.
Mia: I think it’s the first time that I can’t find words. Can’t find the words. Sorry, it’s so real. And so uncomfortably awful and that is what true true genius and an artist is. And I think the combination of the three of you was perfect.
Who knows what Travis’, or Kent’s, or Neil’s orientations are. I’m not going to speculate here, and it’s completely beside the point anyway. What is important is that the performance last night was clearly about a gay male relationship.
Given that, it will be interesting to see if this piece hurts or helps dancer Kent Boyd’s chances of winning. Viewers of all stripes will obviously see through the fiction that the dance was merely about a couple of friends. If people watching at home still connected to the performance as the judges and the studio audience seemed to, then perhaps this will give SYTYCD the courage to air more.. um… “passionate” same-sex dances in the future.
At any rate, last night was a step in the right direction.