Canadian Dance Outside of the Box: Not Just a New Reality TV Show

As I earlier promised, this is the third in my three-part series of ideas for new Canadian TV shows.  (In my post of October 28th, I presented an idea for a new Canadian TV comedy, drawn largely from my recent experiences dealing with our abundant urban wildlife here in Vancouver. In my post of November 5th, I presented an idea for a new Canadian TV drama, essentially an update for the digital age of the Canadian newsroom drama, “ENG”, that ran on CTV from 1989 to 1994.)

The above video, “Canadian Dance Moves,” pasted from YouTube, is included here because this post is about Canadian dance, and because I wanted to incorporate a video to illustrate some points I’ll be making in the latter part of this post.  I don’t have one of my own to use–and, if you haven’t already seen it, this one is fun.  To give credit where credit is due, the concept and dancing are by Stina Diös and Liam Kearney, and the song is by Julia Bentley & Andrew Gunadie.  (The lyrics for this song, “Canadian, Please,” can be found here.)  According to information available on YouTube, this video was first published on the site on September 19, 2012, and has had over 500,000 views.  (Because this video apparently is already relatively well-known–although I myself hadn’t seen it until last week–and because I don’t get a whopping number of readers on this blog, I hope its creators won’t mind too much that I have included their video here without first asking permission.)

Moving on now, this post originally was going to be simply about an idea I had a few years ago for a Canadian reality show focussing on dance, designed for conventional television.  Through most of the period from when I was a preschooler, four or five years of age, until I was in my mid-twenties, I took dance classes of various kinds, from various teachers, in both the Vancouver area and Montreal.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done a grand jeté; but my interest in dance has stayed with me through my adult life, even after I became just a spectator.

In the initial seasons of its ongoing, long, run, I regularly watched the American TV dance competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance.”  However, by the time a Canadian edition debuted as a summer show on the Canadian TV network, CTV, after the  American show already had been on the air for three seasons, I had lost much of my initial enthusiasm for this kind of show.  Out of a sense of patriotism, and curiosity, I did watch much of the first two seasons of the Canadian show.  (The young Canadian dancers on the show were at least as technically proficient as their American counterparts, and the production values of the show were very high.)  But, when the Canadian show was cancelled two years ago, after four seasons, I wasn’t personally disappointed. (Maybe it was a loss for “Canadian Dance” but, as just a TV viewer, I could do without it.)

These shows had given me a taste for dance on television; but I wanted more than just displays of technical proficiency and short dances put together in a very limited amount of time, performed by essentially amateur dancers.  (Some of the dancers seemed to have had some professional experience; but most seemed to be just promising amateurs.)  Also, the competition aspect of these shows was bothersome to me, not because I’m against dance competition as such but, rather, because it seemed odd to have dancers from different genres competing against each other and because the fate of the dancers seemed to depend so much upon the choreography they were given, that itself wasn’t in competition.

What I had in mind, a few years ago, was simply a weekly, national, television show that would feature different small dance companies, or soloists, from different parts of Canada each week, doing what they did best.  There are a great many small companies and solo dancers in this vast country who don’t have enough money to tour extensively, who would probably greatly appreciate the exposure on national television.  On the other side of the equation, it seemed likely there were many Canadians like myself whose taste for watching dance on television had been whetted by “So You Think You Can Dance” and its Canadian offshoot, but who wanted something more sophisticated, not necessarily involving a competition.  Of course, the financing for a television show such as this, that was unlikely to attract a huge audience, could be problematic.  I realized that then, and didn’t further proceed with this idea, beyond mentioning to a few people that such a show would be something I’d be interested in watching.

When I was preparing to write this blog post, I started to give the issue of financing for such a show greater thought.  I started to poke around on the Internet to see if others with an interest in dance were already exploiting the reduced costs associated with disseminating material on the Internet, as opposed to on conventional television.   Boy, was I naive.  Although  I’ve previously watched many short National Film Board films available on-line, through the NFB website and app, YouTube, the main on-line source for video, is one part of the Internet that I had barely touched–until I started working on this blog post.

There are dance videos galore available on YouTube–including not only videos of amateur dancers with poor production values (the kind of thing that a parent of a dancer in the troop might shoot, and then post on YouTube) but also videos using professional dancers, with very high production values.   Much of the dance material posted on YouTube is “posted independently”–by which I mean, it’s essentially a “stand-alone” video that isn’t posted with other related videos.  (I making up these terms.  This is all a new area for me.)  However, other material, especially the more professional material, is available on very sophisticated YouTube ‘channels’ devoted to dance, that include not only videos but also written commentary about the videos, as well as, in some cases advertising.  These dance ‘channels’ seem to function much like the websites of television networks, that include commentary as well as access to recent episodes of shows aired by the networks–and advertising.

One such ‘channel’ is DanceOn, based somewhere in the United States (I haven’t yet been able to figure out where in the US), that got its start a few years ago, and was one of the 100 or so ‘channels’ that YouTube funded as part of its $100 million investment in original content.  This October, it was announced that DanceOn recently secured $4 million in funding to expand its operations. Another of the more sophisticated dance ‘channels’ I’ve come across and with which I’ve been very impressed in my preliminary exploration of it is Dance Channel TV, this one based in Los Angeles.

Watching videos on-line isn’t the same thing as watching a national, or international, show on broadcast television, that, it can be safely assumed, a great many other people will watch at the same time.   But, so far as interesting, sophisticated, dance is concerned, it’s better than nothing–and, as interest in these YouTube channels grows, it’s likely that watching dance videos this way will come to have more of the shared-experience feel that watching conventional television now has.

So far, all of the really innovative ways I’ve come across of disseminating dance via the Internet are based in the United States, and it is American dance and dancers that predominate in these more innovative formats.  (A relatively small number of videos featuring more prominent Canadian dancers, such as Margie Gillis, are included on the two YouTube channels mentioned above.)  Although, I’ve come across many “stand-alone” dance videos by Canadian artists on-line–including the quirky “Canadian Dance Moves”–at least so far, I haven’t come across any good Canadian dance resources on-line, roughly comparable to the American YouTube dance channels I’ve recently discovered.

If Canadian dance isn’t going to get lost in the shuffle ball change of American innovation (I did some tap dancing, too–a long time ago), it seems more has to be done in Canada in terms of getting our current dance, and dance heritage, on-line.  If no Canadian business or dance organization is prepared to take on such a project, this could be a very worthwhile project for either our Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or perhaps Canada’s National Film Board–for which the Canadian filmmaker, Norman, created this beautiful animated dance film, Pas de deux, in 1968.

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