Centerwork: The So You Think Effect

May 9, 2011

While Paula Abdul’s television show Live to Dance died an early death after its only season, audience favorites such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, and sitcoms like Glee that feature dance, continue to attract millions of viewers. Dance seems to be part of the zeitgeist now (witness Natalie Portman’s Oscar for her portrayal of the batty ballerina in Black Swan), so Dance Magazine decided to look at the influence this popularity has had, if any, on dance studios around the country. Not surprisingly, the answers were as mixed as there are styles of dance, with some swearing by the TV programs’ impact and others seeing little effect on enrollment.


“My dad always said, ‘Anything that promotes dance is going to be helpful,’ ” says Amy Giordano, who for the last four years has been director of Chicago’s Giordano Dance Center. Founded in 1953 by her late father, Gus Giordano, the center is the oldest jazz school in the country.


With approximately 800 students, ranging from 2 to 80, and 25 styles of classes offered, including hip hop, lyrical, and jazz, the center has seen enrollment spike since the shows began airing. Says Giordano: “It used to be that adults danced all the time. That was their exercise, but people got away from it when workout places came around. So when people watch shows like Dancing with the Stars, and see people who never danced before—like a football player—the first thing they notice is how much fun they’re having.”


Giordano says she’s offering more ballroom classes because of the show, but while someone might enroll because of what they’ve seen on TV, the goal is to have a good student-teacher connection. “With So You Think You Can Dance, the public doesn’t realize how much training is needed to be a professional dancer, so when they come here, they can get that training.”


Tom Karaty founded In The Spotlight with his wife, Jane, in New Jersey in 1988. With 725 students ages 3 to 18, the studio presents recitals and prepares students for competitions. Karaty says the dance shows on television have not affected his business.


“The majority of our students don’t even watch the shows,” he notes, “although there is a core group—about 15 percent—who wouldn’t miss So You Think You Can Dance. I find that show has a preponderance of modern and barefoot dance that is angry and not uplifting, and I don’t think fathers and mothers see their daughters or sons doing that kind of dance.”


What Karaty has found, however, is that hip hop has become the most requested class. “That’s what the mothers and the kids see on videos, on TV. So a mother who doesn’t know the first thing about dance brings in her 5-year-old to start learning hip hop.” To that end, Karaty says he’s been offering more classes in response to demand.


Diane King has been director of Manhattan’s Broadway Dance Center, founded in 1984, for five years. With some 5,000 students and a faculty of more than 75, BDC, says King, has seen a surge in interest resulting from televised dance shows. “Not only are existing students coming to class more, but also an adult population who may not have really had their lives touched by dance are now attending.”


King says that their student population—between 18 and 24—is training to work in the field, be it concert or commercial dance, or on Broadway. “In terms of the adult beginner population, we’ve seen a 15 percent increase.” But unlike Karaty, King says contemporary dance has had a resurgence, adding, “It could be in part a response to seeing Mia Michaels on So You Think You Can Dance, where she garnered a following.”

Indeed, Michaels taught at BDC in the early 1990s and King says that even her own family, who is not involved in dance, admires the choreographer’s work. “It transcends a lot of barriers.”


BDC offers many disciplines, with hip hop, jazz, theater, and contemporary the most popular. “Because we have a lot of what is represented on SYTYCD,” adds King, “that makes us more interesting to the student who wants to get versatile training to put on a good audition. And because the dancers on So You Think train hard, that brings attention to the field in a positive way.”


In Texas, Marlana Walsh-Doyle has been managing director of the Houston Metropolitan Dance Center since 2003. With a staff of 15 teachers, the Center offers ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, and modern classes to 250 children and up to 500 adults a week, with hip hop the studio’s most popular offering. “Our numbers keep going up every year,” says Walsh-Doyle, “and I think the shows have made dance more popular. People accept it more as an art form. When the students see stuff on TV they see it’s good for the body and it’s fun.”


Leslie Carothers-Aromaa, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer and artistic director of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the pre-professional Colburn School, says the institution has been experiencing an enrollment boost since she arrived in 2005, but not necessarily because of the TV shows.

“They’ve generated more interest in dance overall,” acknowledges the director, “and my hope is that kids see the shows and somehow get excited about the technique. But it takes years of serious training in ballet—which is the underpinning of any of these dance styles.”


The Dance Institute at Los Angeles– based Colburn, with 400 students ranging from 5 to 87, does offer hip hop classes, but it’s a far smaller component, says Carothers-Aromaa, with tap and ballet the largest programs and musical theater dance also on the uptick. “That,” she adds, “I attribute to the Glee factor.”


However, Carothers-Aromaa says that, for the most part, parents enroll their children in dance classes for the same reasons they always have: “It’s good for them and kids love to dance.”



Victoria Looseleaf contributes to the
Los Angeles Times and teaches dance history at USC and Santa Monica College.


LiNK! rehearses at Broadway Dance Center, one studio that’s been affected by trends in TV dance.
Photo by Reese Snow, Courtesy Broadway Dance Center.