Did 'So You Think You Can Dance' Cross a Line with its Geishas?
Recently, “So You Think You Can Dance” premiered and featured a geisha-themed top 10 women’s routine (see this video before it is pulled by Fox):
One of the reasons I have been a fan of SYTYCD since the third season is that the choreography draws on an exciting and eclectic mix of dance traditions from countries across the world. For example, the fourth season’s Katee Shean and Joshua Allen painstakingly learned the meaning behind classical Indian hand gestures as well as the correct ways to do them so as not to offend for their Bollywood routine. So, I find it puzzling that SYTYCD, the same Emmy-winning show that normally exercises such cultural deference, would use its abundant resources to create a gross caricature of the rich cultural practice of the geisha.
As a cultural icon, the geisha tradition is not well understood outside of Japan due to a complicated heritage that is largely based on exclusivity. The word “geisha” means “artist” in English, and that’s exactly what geishas do—create art, particularly through music and dance. They are often talented performers, educated and enjoy a respected social status. Choreographer Sonya Tayeh could have easily used some of the graceful hand and arm movements from traditional Japanese dance instead of the cartoonish head-wobbling and bowing that characterize the performances.
In the end, I think Tayeh and SYTYCD probably had good intentions but could have used the geisha theme in a more respectful manner. What do you think?