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So I Think I Can Dance

Boston Legal, gone. Desperate Housewives, done. American Idol, counted, crooned, concluded. With all my guilty pleasures zapped from the small screen, and facing a summer devoid of beloved brainless diversion, I watched So You Think You Can Dance the other night. With two Emmys already under its spandex waistband, the popular Fox reality competition opened its third season with almost nine million viewers.

I hated it.

But let me be clear: It’s not the calculated exploitation of hopeful no-names that bothers me; anyone who inks his name on a reality show contract deserves most of the kudos and cut-downs that he gets. Besides, I’m the first person to cover my ears and howl, “Show us some mercy, you sadistic coyote!” when an Idol contestant hits a sour note — I don’t care how far she drove to audition, or how bad her mama needs that operation.

Standing in a spotlight belting out “Piece of My Heart,” though, is an entirely different exercise than standing there busting out a watusi. Singing is supposed to sound good. But dancing, to my way of thinking, is supposed to feel good. And I don’t enjoy watching heart-driven hoofers get sized up and knocked down by chair-bound technicians determined to strip each whole-body hoedown into meager, meaningless shreds of rightness and wrongness.

But then I’m not a “dancer” per se. I never took a ballet, jazz, or hip-hop class in my life. Put me under a disco ball and crank up the “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and what you’ll see is something resembling a dangerously malfunctioning windmill — elbows and shins flashing frighteningly around a laboriously churning middle.

I have no illusion otherwise. Still, the simple act of animating my extremities to an organized rhythm makes me happy. Even euphoric.

I recognize that professional terpsichoreans must aim to exceed certain standards of artistry and, well, bendability. But to the rest of us — that fella with whom I hustled through the Electric Slide at my cousin’s wedding, and the hip-shaking 60-year-old ladies in my Jazzercise class (pause here to snigger if you must) — dancing is an exercise not in judgment but in joy.

Other than in freeway traffic and during decent intercourse, when do we get to move in rhythmic unison with other life forms, collectively pumping to a tribal thump, closing in on the same transfixing back beat? Plus you can pretend you’re in a music video, which doesn’t work so well in traffic or in bed.

Dancing is not cerebral. It’s not measured in dollars, or calories. If you’re doing it right, it’s not even careful. It’s instinctive, primal, personal. My father starred in a touring 1960s production of the musical Hair. Every night he leapt from stage scaffolding, beat his chest, and paraded through the audience — even climbing over people’s seats — wearing only a loin cloth. (I know. I try not to go there, either.) Dad’s a kick-ass singer, but had no dance training. He nabbed the lead role in the controversial rock opera because he was on hallucinogens during his audition. When the music began, he found himself spinning and flapping around the stage, chasing the long fringe on, um, his own leather vest. The technical term for this behavior is “tripping out,” but the casting directors called it “way groovy moves” and gave him the part.

Which goes to show that great dancing is subjective. I’m glad I don’t have to get jiggy in front of judges. I even avoid doing it in front of mirrors, which rudely refuse to reflect the psychological samba, the emotional shim sham, the deep-down do-si-do taking place beneath my flailing, unfunky limbs.

So, yeah, I think I can dance. And I’d just as soon no one tells me otherwise.

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