So You Think You Can Dance – Comics?

I’m a little behind on my TV this week. I just finally watched So You Think You Can Dance – although I haven’t watched the results. This is my first season to watch the show – I was sort of bullied or guilted (or a combo) into it. You see, my favorite show on television is Dancing With the Stars. I can’t explain it – and I won’t take the time to defend it (hint). The point is – a dear friend got on my case because DWTS was the only dance reality show I watched – and there is so much more to see apparently. Yay America for having NUMEROUS reality dance shows…

The premise of So You Think… is dancers with different areas of expertise (Hip-Hop, B-Boy, Modern, Contemporary, etc.) are paired up and then given a choreographer each week and they dance. It can be anything from
ballroom to Latin to any of the aforementioned genres – it changes every week.

Some of the dancing styles I
can really appreciate – some I just don’t get. Contemporary dance would fall into the latter category. I spent a large portion of my childhood attending contemporary dance recitals and trying hard not to laugh. As an adult attending similar recitals I instantly revert back to my youth and snicker as men and women in peculiar clothes stand in weird poses and drip sweat on each other. It’s truly fascinating. To be fair, in many ways I do appreciate what they are doing. I understand that dancers have been to school and have years of training to be able to do that – and they are strong. Like… strong enough that I’m not going to get in a fight with a dancer. Anyway – I laugh – but I do appreciate what they do. I’m not completely heartless.

Comics – what? I’m getting there. You see – on the episode that I just watched there was a contemporary dance inspired by or meant to resemble “comics.” The choreographer annoyed the crap out of me – but I was also sorely disappointed that they didn’t spend more time talking to her about the concept of the dance. The kiddies dancing talked about how we read a comic frame by frame and that their dance would have lots of poses, like the different frames. Then they said something about super heroes and then they were sort of babbling and I sort of got bored with it. Then the dance started and it was… um… okay. Like most contemporary dances I’ve seen, I wasn’t really sure what I was watching. It left me uninspired.

But the idea of the dance has inspired me in a couple of ways…

First – I think that there is potential to make an interesting dance that is inspired by or somehow representing comics. Sure, we read panel to panel – but the idea is that our head is filling in the movement. It just seems logical that you could do a dance… right?

Second – The dance, or the idea of the dance really did make me think of the movement in comic books. With so many comic book artists representing different styles, countries, genres, etc. – there are so many different types of movement.

Third – With so many styles I find that I am only attracted to a few of them. I’d like to be clear that I am talking about movement here – not color or realism or anything like that – literally just the way that movement is shown. Certainly all those other elements factor in, but I am going to do my best to separate everything out.

Since I can’t talk about every book on my shelf – I’m going to pick just a few of my faves…

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Niko Henerichon. If you haven’t read this yet – pick it up. It is an amazing story. What I find most interesting about the “movement of characters” in the book starts with their complete lack of movement. The story starts with a pride of lions and some other animals living in a zoo. While the animals are behind the bars of the zoo they are virtually immobile. In the wild they are probably lazy part of the day, too – but in the zoo they have food, shelter and no predators. When the zoo is bombed all of a sudden all of the animals are free and seem to have a purpose to move. The purpose might be safety, instinct, food, anything and everything. The point is that a new type of action makes its way into the pictures. It’s beautiful.

300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. This is an interesting example because it was turned into a movie. A movie that a lot of people liked. Similar to Sin City, Frank Miller was able to translate the movement that he had already captured on the page to the silver screen. Maybe we should make a 300 contemporary dance…

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is another one that made the leap from book to film – and I think it is another great example. The art/style of the book is certainly different than what we get with Frank Miller. The art brings a certain type of adolescence to it – which is fitting to the story. The movement is very cut and dry – and the film translates the exact same way. Perhaps the Persepolis dance would be harder…

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about the choreography of Jim Lee or Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa of Sky-Doll fame. Or what about manga – there’s a whole new world of movement in there… but I know nothing about manga, so I won’t even start.

The real point is that I watch bad TV – but make up for it with good books. Keep reading… keep on dancing!

PS – If you are a dancer and you were offended by my comments on contemporary dance – please choreograph a piece based on your favorite book. Video tape a performance and post that to youtube. Email the link and or post it somewhere that I can see it – and I’ll watch it with an open mind.


  1. You may have just come up with the least boring interprative dance about lions ever to exist.

  2. I always look forward to your posts Gordon!

  3. Maybe you should stop supporting terrible contest shows and pick up a manga or two. 😉 Really, So You Think You Can Dance? Better yet, get some DVDs, or catch up on better TV.

  4. @esophagus – I think Julie Taymor took care of that before me…

    @leland222 – consider yourself part of a small (but proud) group.

    @VichusSmith – perhaps…

  5. Always something unexpected!

    It may support your case about contemporary dance when I say that my wife watches this show, and when the dance in question came up she said, "You have to watch this one! Comics!" but, having not heard the choreographer’s explanation, I had no idea what the dance had to do with anything. The only thing that seemed comic-related to me was that the woman looked like she was dressed in some wadded-up funny pages.

    It’s amazing how much dynamic kinetic information can be conveyed by static panels, and how little information can be conveyed by actual movement.

  6. Somebody already has paired "300" with dancing. It was called "Epic Movie."

    Don’t worry, I haven’t seen it either. 

  7. Here you go.

    This is what happens when heroes dance.

    Youre all welcome 

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    This is a really interesting concept, and I think it goes to the roots of comic technique.  How do you make static images move?  It’s sort of like the progression of time is dependent on movement in the same way taste requires a sense of smell. 

    Have you read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud?  Lots of interesting stuff about panel progression and transition in there.   

    Good stuff, man.  I keep hearing trusted voices recommending these dancing shows.  I’ll have to check it out.  


  9. Well i don’t what to say. I hate most rellty shows but three The mole, Top chef, The next food network star. Thats not say that i dd’t find tour acticle had some good points it did but this is really just not my cup of tea.

  10. Gordon, I’m also in that small but proud group. Always something unexpected, always a curve ball, but always fantastic. Bravo!

  11. Wow, didn’t see that coming.  Although it reminds me of a friend mine’s mother.  She coaches a gymnastics/floor routine type high school dance squad sorta thing (?) and for their last competition the theme was super-heroes.  Their team was assigned Spider-Man, and of course she immediately asked me for help designing their costumes.  Now, I’m not a garment designer of any kind, nor am I in the least bit interested in whatever the hell it was that they do, but I’m always willing to help someone out in a jam.  Bottom line, the costumes looked awesome but I’m guessing the routines they did had nothing to do with the actual super-heroes they were assigned.  Interesting though how comics seems to work it’s way into everything under the sun these days.