Dance Your Ass Off—Empowering or Insulting?

Dear Producers,

Let me start by saying that I am indebted to “Dance Your Ass Off” for any scintilla of cool I might have. Who knew what Fierce Thwacking was? Or Booty Cranking? Or thrashing as a dance form? And how fabulous to watch full-figured bodies rocking the rhythm in ways that skinny boppers can’t  begin to touch. But there are a few things about the show I don’t love…. [back in a minute with those.]

The Recap

If you haven’t seen DYAO on Oxygen, it’s basically The Biggest Loser meets Dancing With The Stars. Season 2, which just got underway, is hosted by Spice Girl Mel B, and features 12 contestants between 207 and 326 pounds living in a rambling Hollywood home that’s kitted out from ballet barre to “cheats” pantry. On each episode the hopefuls rehearse, diet, and drench themselves in sweat at the gym, before dancing their hearts out in front of three judges and stepping on a giant illuminated scale. It’s the combination of dance score and weight lost each week that decides who gets booted and who stays to compete for a $100,000 prize.    

 From the Set

This season’s cast is even more driven than the first, Lee Wall from Crunch tells me. Wall is the show’s resident trainer, who pumps each contestant into shape with dumbbells and treadmills. It’s a challenge. For one, “a lot of them think they’re going on TV and it’s all glory. At the beginning they’ll push back, ‘I don’t want to do that; I just want to dance,” he says. “Also, it’s not like The Biggest Loser where I can go and just kill ’em in the gym. I’m also thinking, they’ve got to go rehearse, too.” Because of their weight, Wall focuses initially on strengthening the joints and preparing their muscles to spin, spiral, and leap. A crucial strategy is to get them exercising on multiple planes—not just forward and backward, but side to side and across the body—while doing tons of moves on one foot to improve balance. Most difficult, Wall says, is getting them to believe in themselves. “Once these people find their self-confidence, though, it’s all golden from there.”

Back to the Producers…

Building confidence is excellent. And if contestants can improve their terpsichorean technique by becoming stronger and lighter on their feet, all the better. My big beef is making this contest about the scale. Why not just emphasize the “dance”—have that be the whole competition—and not the “ass off.” How can you booty crank with no ass anyway? If you guys are hung up on The Biggest Loser’s success, check out all the bad press it’s been getting lately. Here’s a New York Times article on how the first season’s winner peed blood to lose the weight, and is now back over 300 pounds. And here’s an interview from Jezebel with a season 3 finalist, who says the show gave her an eating disorder.

Showcasing bigger talent is definitely what we need to smash our lame tutu-body stereotypes. But to have a knockout performer lose to the scale is humiliating, and drags what could be inspiring, into the tawdry, tacky, and predictable. Furthermore, thanks to mounting evidence, it’s now clear now that the plus-size can be perfectly healthy if they’re fit. Why not make this the message? 

Oh, and I did want to put in a plea for better costumes.  I spent a year myself breakdancing in a furry rodent head for the road show of Alvin and the Chipmunks, so I’m not saying we all need to be Swan Lake here. But Sarah’s screeching yellow dress in the dirty jazz number on Monday? Way too Big Bird. And poor Briana in those sprayed-on silver bike shorts and sequined top, looked like a gyrating, mirrored disco ball.

Still, both those girls worked their numbers like no tomorrow and made me want to get out there and shake some anatomy.  Isn’t that the point?  

The Spinoff
So, hey, Shine ladies, what do you think? If the show makes you feel like dancing and you’re near a Crunch Gym, check out their DYAO2 class, which follows each episode by incorporating the moves and styles with strength training. “This week, we’re doing jazz because various forms were featured on Monday’s show, but through the season we’ll cover Latin, disco, hip hop, swing, country, the gamut,” says Carol Johnson, regional manager for Crunch in New York, who runs the DYAO instructor team. All shapes and dance levels welcome. “This is a class where everyone feels comfortable, she says.” There’s also a workout DVD from last season.

So what’s your take on the show? Empowering? Insulting? Inspiring? All of the above?