college travels

Monday, March 10, 2008

So you think you can dance?

What is it with Dance?

So You Think You Can Dance Australia has become an unexpected hit on Australian TV. Opening with 1.47m viewers, the Monday night results show is still attracting that size audience one month on. In particular, it has attracted 55% of the 16-39 age group.

So what’s this telling us about Australia? And what will a bit of critical reflection on this cultural phenomenon teach us about children’s and youth ministry?

Why is Dance Australia so popular?

Is it because Australian young people are really into dance? I think not. Yes, we watch a lot of music videos, and they dance a lot in them – but that might explain an interest in Hip Hop and Krumping, but Contemporary and Ballroom? And yes, Strictly Ballroom was a great hit at Australian cinemas in 1992, but we went to laugh at the ballroom dancing antics and cheer for the underdog who shakes off the confines of the establishment to chart his own course and finally win the day (another retelling of the great Australian colonial story?... but I digress).

Is it because Australians just love reality TV. Well, recent tv trends would suggest there’s a lot to that idea. Particularly the ‘talent quest’ type shows (think Australian Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and my personal favourite Americas Next Top Model, the world record holder in shallowness!). While there are probably a lot of people watching in tv land identifying with the contestants, imagining what song they’d choose for Brit Pop night, or practicing their own sashay across their living room floor, for the majority I suspect we like to sit in the judges seat.

Identifying with Matt, Bonnie and Jason, we’re given a sort of vicarious expertise, suddenly capable of sitting as authorities over the dancers who audition before us week by week. We sit back in our lounge chairs learnedly observing, ‘he’s not sitting into the beat’, ‘they’re unison is all over the place’, ‘her toes were floppy on that lift’. Add the power to pick up our phone and vote for our favourite the appeal of the original sin, ‘you will be like God’ is complete!

Is it also because it’s G rated sex? Is it just me, or was there a lot of sex and flesh on stage last night? I’m sure someone could do the analysis, but have the guys discovered that the way to avoid getting voted out is to make sure you appear without your shirt on? Maybe I’m just revealing that I’m not a dancer and couldn’t be one – but where the judges are saying, it’s not enough to act sexy and erotic but you have to BE sexy and erotic, well that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Is there suddenly a whole army of pubescent males who have suddenly found an interest in contemporary jazz fusion? Are are there a lot of unhelpful fantasies being fuelled by writhing bodies that leave just enough for the imagination to latch on to?

So perhaps there’s reason for pause when it comes to this show, but I must admit I’m still a fan. The bottom line is, I just think its amazing. I find myself turning to my wife and saying to each other ‘how on earth can they do that?’ ‘How can they remember all those moves?’ That sense of amazement I think is accentuated by the video package that precedes the performance. We see the dancers learn a routine and practice their lifts, and we get to see how hard it really is. But then come Sunday night there they are, effortlessly jumping and twisting and swirling across the stage, not only doing extraordinary things but communicating something as well. How do they do it?

Which makes me think, isn’t that what being ‘gifted’ is all about? To make something that’s difficult look like its easy? And for dancers who have perhaps not had the media attention in this country that they perhaps deserve (just ask yourself, had you ever heard of Jason Gilkison before Dance Australia?) then perhaps it’s a good thing to give them a moment in the limelight?
So what about those in your children’s ministry or youth group who have been gifted by the Holy Spirit?

We know that all who are in Christ have been given gifts by the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor 12:7). A key aspect of the pastoral task is to notice the gifts in others, to encourage them in using those gifts in love and to celebrate the presence of that gift among us. Are there gifts among the members of your groups that have gone unnoticed? Gifts that could be fanned into fire? Gifts that can be celebrated as another sign of the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit among us?

The challenge of course is to look beyond the beautifully gifted to find those who are gifted in a way that our world will never recognise. From watching Dance Australia you’ll know there’s a select few who get the ‘privilege’ of standing next to Natalie as she does her introductions – is it just a coincidence that they’re all good looking, well dressed with straight white teeth?

While our televisions might be good at celebrating some of the gifts of the beautiful, will our churches be good at celebrating all of the gifts of all of God’s people?

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  • Unfortunately, it is not only in the land of television that we see the 'beautiful' being given the key positions. I have often been struck by the similarity that is sometimes found in our churches. How many 'attractive' leaders are there in our leadership teams. Is leadership a gift that comes wrapped in a certain type of body shape and personality? Of course not! But are we unknowing subject to the values of the world and influenced by it. As I watch song leaders on some Christian worship programs and even at times at my local church I cannot fail to notice that many of these people are attractive. Is it because they are gifted in this ministry and shine as they serve their wonderful God, I truly hope so....or is it that we are quick to encourage those who are 'attractive' and give them opportunities that we fail to give to others?

    By Blogger Kerrie Newmarch, at 10:12 am  

  • Luckily they sometimes give the rest of us a chance too, Kerrie...

    By Anonymous Peter, at 3:51 pm  

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