America’s Best Dance Crew: “J.LO”
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America’s Best Dance Crew: “J.LO”

Listen, I think you all know how I feel about America’s Best Dance Crew at this point. It’s my favorite reality competition currently on air. I’ve been watching it since season one, and at my old job I used to have YouTube clips of my favorite routines bookmarked on my computer as emergency happiness-inducers. So last Friday, when I ventured out to the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank for a taping of the J Lo Challenge, I think it’s safe to say I was more than a little excited, but at that point I didn’t think it was possible for me to love the show any more. Five hours later (yes, these tapings are long) I was sitting in the empty parking garage, trying to convince my friends I hadn’t gone crazy even though I was texting them in all caps about how ABDC made me cry tears of joy.

But more on that later. First of all: to those of you who have been criticizing the camera work on this show, I agree with you now more than ever. Watching the edited show last night, I was amazed at how much a few cuts and poor angles took away the impact from several routines I remember loving in person. Mos Wanted Crew wasn’t my favorite of the night, both in person or on screen, but the push-up wave during “On The Floor” looked way cooler live, and a match-cut in the on-air version completely mangled one of my favorite smaller moments of the routine, a unison knee-iso that was slick enough to make me laugh during the taping. Plus, prior to the routine, Ian (who apparently is a big heartthrob—the girl in front of me was practically hyperventilating over him, and when I asked who she was talking about she answered “Ian?” like he was some hipster buzz band I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate,) taught the audience the bit of choreography that the crew all ended up doing in unison around the edge of the stage. I didn’t even attempt it, obviously, but it was a fun moment and further proof that Mos Wanted know how to work a crowd.

Here is my humble suggestion for the producers, which is an idea I actually got from them: I don’t know if this counts as a “dirty” secret or not, but after each routine is performed and judged, the crews do it one more time for an alternate shot; either an aerial camera, or the dolly-track cam that circles the stage. (I didn’t get the sense that this “do-over” affected the outcome of the competition at all, since the judges points were already tallied, but it does affect the way we see the routines at home.) I was watching the camera’s view on the monitors while this was being shot, and realized that it’s not the moving camera that’s the problem, it’s the cuts. Watching one uninterrupted crane shot, as it swoops over the stage, from stage level to birds-eye view, let us see the whole routine while getting that extra visual drama that is necessary for television, but we still see the whole routine as the crew intended. Just my two cents; though I doubt MTV’s about to put a stop to the hyper-cutting any time soon.

Of course, a really outstanding routine can withstand even the most egregious editing, and RNG and Elektrolytes’ performances still would have been my favorites even without seeing them live. (We did miss Ben’s badass Spider-Man pose that ended Elektrolytes’ routine, but other than that, I think the storytelling and stuntwork translated perfectly.) And here’s something that may surprise you: RNG now may be one of my favorites at least for the finale. I talked with them backstage before the show, and was surprised at how professional they truly are—I don’t think it’s normal for kids their age (seriously, they are children who “weren’t around” for the 90s and don’t remember the Roger Rabbit; I can’t even deal with that right now,) to be so obsessed with technical perfection. Even though I love 8 Flavahz, a lot of their drive is still coming from that little girl ideal of being the cutest or prettiest; surely remnants of their dance pageant days. RNG just want to be undeniable as hip hop dancers, and it seems like growing up in Mukilteo, WA (and being the first-ever Northwest crew) makes them feel like they have a lot to prove.

Not that 8 Flavahz don’t have anything to prove—and I was seriously puzzled by some of the comments last week that suggested the group was going to rely on the pity of the judges and the audience to get them through the competition in the wake of Angel’s mother’s death. Do I think that the judges (D-Trix and Lil Mama, particularly) are going to go easier on them for the next couple weeks, judging-wise? Sure. Will America pity-vote? For a little while, probably. But it would be unprecedented for a crew on this show to decide to “coast”—it flies in the face of the culture of hip hop dance. This isn’t the freakin’ Bachelor, people. There’s no real strategy here other than to be really amazing at dancing, and that’s part of why I love the show so much. Their “Get Loud” routine was another that suffered from camera work—up close I noticed a few flubs, and overall the group seemed to be thinking way too hard. But I don’t think you could call a routine that incorporated pair dancing and extended hand-walking “phoned in.”

RNG, Fanny Pak and Collizion Crew landed in the bottom three tonight, and while RNG easily danced their way out with another best-yet routine to “Do It Well,” (probably my favorite J Lo song, gun to my head,) it was a close battle between the other two crews. Collizion had the bad luck of going first, and of having JC as their lone critiquer. JC is obviously the best of the three judges, but pretty much sucks as a hype man, and D-Trix and Lil Mama’s respective enthusiasm for RNG and Fanny Pak got the room fired up and undoubtably had some bearing on the final decision. I thought it was pretty unfair; Collizion had yet to turn in a less-than-great routine, and this week’s was no exception. But it lacked a gimmick or any jaw-dropping tricks, and Fanny Pak have been doubling down on gimmickry as of late—sure, there were more memorable “moments” in their “robot to rainbow” routine, but Collizion were without a doubt the superior dancers.

But here’s the real reason that Collizion should have stayed, and why I found myself near tears at Friday’s taping. During a lengthy break in between takes before the elimination was revealed, guest DJ Pauly D (who the kids in the audience went nuts for, so I guess Jersey Shore fever isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) started spinning a mash-up of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” and Avicii’s “Levels,” possibly two of the most ecstatic, cheesy dance anthems of the last couple years. The bottom three crews had nothing to do but stand on stage and wait for the judges to deliberate and for the crew to start rolling again, and so what did Collizion and RNG do? Start a dance-off, naturally. It kills me that nobody will see those five or so minutes of unbridled joy on stage—and how amazing all the dancers in both crews are even when coming up with stuff on the fly. Even though there was plenty of showing off and one-upmanship going on, it was all completely positive and in the spirit of fun—a bunch of confident, happy young people just loving what they can do and loving that they can share it with their peers and the audience alike.

Fanny Pak were conspicuously not taking part in the dance-off, perhaps feeling a little sour over landing in the bottom again. I guess it wouldn’t be right for an off-camera moment like that to count in the overall competition, but it really surprised me that Collizion weren’t rewarded not only for their skills, but for embodying everything this show is about. I’m glad Mario took the time to thank them for what they brought to the show; add them to the long list of crews on ABDC who went home too soon.

Stray observations:

  • The grade for this episode is based on my experience seeing it live; as an episode alone I'd probably give it a B+.
  • Again, judge me all you want, but the taping also made me realize what a great host Mario Lopez is. Perhaps this is because I’ve spent the last few months recapping the tone-deaf exploits of robot MCs Carson Daly and Steve Jones on The Voice and The X Factor respectively, but the guy’s a pro and is clearly having a blast on the show—just look to his A.C. Slater moment after RNG’s routine for proof.
  • And color me shocked that the judges deliver their critiques about five seconds after the routines are over - they are edited down for the airing, but I'm impressed that they can catch all those details (and the occasional slip-up) with just one viewing.
  • I was sitting literally in the middle of last week’s eliminees Stepboys for the live show—mustache guy was right on my left. We were all the way at the top of the bleachers, and behind us you could look down into the “garage” area, where the groups prep and do post-show interviews. It was pretty cute how supportive Stepboys were to the younger crews, cheering them on in between takes like a bunch of proud, dorky dads.
  • I think Elektrolytes and RNG are strong contenders for the win, but it’s going to be hard to compete with Mos Wanted’s rabid fanbase - the decibels pretty much doubled anytime they were on stage.
  • Olivia (a.k.a. Chachi Gonzales) from I.aM.Me was also in the house—apparently she’s a correspondent for the YouTube channel World Of Dance. See, there’s life after Dance Crew!

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