An Open Letter to DWTS

Dear Dancing with the Stars producers and executives:

May marks the beginning of free dance events, beginning with Downtown Dance at the Los Angeles Music Center. The Music Center is also the place where the newly invented “grass roots” event, National Dance Day” gets people together to promote dance, health and Nigel Lythgoe’s program “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“So You Think You Can Dance” began in 2005 and is going into its 10th season this summer. The program was discontinued in the U.K. (and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scandinavia, South Africa and Turkey) but has on-going incarnations in Armenia, Benelux, China, Finland, France, Poland, Vietnam and Ukraine as well as the U.S.

“Dancing with the Stars” is based on the British TV series “Strictly Come Dancing” and is, according to Wikipedia, licensed to over 42 territories as of last year.  Despite this wide reach and intent to promote dancing, I’m always surprised that I don’t see more “Dancing with the Stars” in Los Angeles.

The show is filmed in Burbank. Several of the professional dancers such as Cheryl Burke, Karina Smirnoff and Anna Trebunskaya have established dance studios in the Los Angeles area (Burke in Orange County which is south of Los Angeles).

Yet you don’t see the professional dancers of DWTS or DWTS promoting dance in Los Angeles like we see “So You Think You Can Dance” do for the so-called National Dance Day.

In May, beginning this year on 3 May with salsa/merengue, the Music Center hosts Downtown Dance. They have a dance floor and a place to check your bags. There’s usually a 30-minute lesson and then dancing to the tunes spun by a DJ or even a live band.

Last Friday, 17 May, was 90s night. Not sure what kind of dance that was. But I’ll be there for Argentine tango on the 31st when a live band will be playing. It’s all free and starts at 6:30 p.m. and goes until 10 p.m.

  • May 31 – Argentine Tango
  • June 14 – Line Dance & Two-Step
  • June 28 – Bollywood/Bhangra
  • July 12 – K-Pop NEW!
  • July 26 – Cumbia
  • August 9 – Disco
  • August 23 – Ondo
  • September 6 – 60s Night
  • The Music Center Plaza
  • And September 20 – Samba*
  •     *special evening in Grand Park

Downtown Dance starts up just after National Dance Week. You won’t see any TV celebrities promoting National Dance Week at the Music Center though and no one has matched “Dancing with the Stars” with Downtown Dance even though it would seem a natural partnership, particularly when you consider what happens in July on National Dance Day–Lythgoe, some SYTYCD current or past competitors and a STYTCD choreographer show up at the Music Center and perform a dance flash mob.

After watching sixteen seasons of “Dancing with the Stars,” I can’t help but wonder why the producers at ABC and Disney don’t do more to support National Dance Week. With all the preparations for the semifinals and finals, you might think there isn’t time and that the celebrities really don’t go outside of their own schedules and the TV show. You could say, they don’t have time to make appearances, but that isn’t true. In the past the celebrities have had time to appear at Disneyland and on other shows such as “Extreme Home Makeover.” We’ve even seen former Playboy bunnies, Hugh Hefner girlfriends or former Playmates at the Playboy mansion. When you can juxtapose Playboy with a Disney product, you know that this is a weird and perhaps misguided attempt to appeal to all audiences.

“Dancing with the Stars” does bring on notable dancers and performers. With the money behind Disney and ABC, you’d think they could do better than Fox and “So You Think You Can Dance.” That show created a holiday to promote itself: National Dance Day. Because of this promotion, the real grassroots dance movements that have been struggling are struggling even more to now get out from under the long shadow cast by Lythgoe and his National Dance Day.

It’s no fluke that National Dance Day happens to occur just toward the end of the SYTYCD season. If Nigel Lythgoe was really sincere about dance and health, it would be better to do such a push while the public schools are in session instead of mid-summer when kids are on vacation. Think about it. This year’s National Dance Day, according to Lythgoe’s Dizzy Feet Foundation, is 27 July 2013.

Perhaps you think kids have more free time during the summer, but doing something during your freetime doesn’t make something into a habit or way of life. I remember learning dance when I was in elementary school (square dancing and Filipino folk dancing). My husband remembers learning hula in school in Hawaii. For dance to really influence one’s lifestyle it has to take hold in daily life, in those nine months when one has a regular schedule and not during a single month during what is to most people a vacation. For regular health benefits, dance can’t be like fishing–something done when one has a weekend to get away.

Imagine if SYTYCD had survived its maiden foray into the regular TV season (season six). National Dance Day might be in fall or spring. Instead of creating a whole new day, Lythgoe might have supported National Dance Week which began in 1981, long before “Dancing with the Stars” or SYTYCD. That’s the most positive outlook because his Dizzy Feet Foundation could also work during the SYTYCD off-season when the professionals and alums have more time and support National Dance week. They would also then support  International Dance Day (29 April) which is a UNESCO event first introduced in 1982.

Because both these events (National Dance Week and International Dance Day) lack network sponsorship, they have been overshadowed by National Dance Day. What National Dance Week and International Dance Day need is a sponsor who would give them a higher profile and DWTS could do it.

Eight of the sixteen seasons of DWTS coincide with National Dance Week and International Dance Day. Each year I wait and listen for DWTS to take part and promote these events as the dance community grows.

How hard would it be instead of attempting to come up with pre-shows and post-shows  and different dances, to attempt to address what’s already there? DWTS has various incarnations internationally and could easily pull together to support something that isn’t ABC-related but could possibly become Disney-related such as International Dance Day.

So I’m asking the DWTS production company to consider helping to make dance part of regular community life by encouraging public schools, from elementary to high school to promote dance. DWTS could begin during their fall season and culminate a product during their fall season.


Jana J. Monji

Argentine tango and East Coast Swing dancer

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