Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Performances, Chaz Bono, and DWTS

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This week on “Dancing with the Stars,” it was Broadway Week — meaning every star had to do a ballroom dance of some sort to a Broadway song and also put some “Broadway inflection” into his or her routine.  Chaz Bono and his professional partner, Lacey Schwimmer, drew the tango — not an easy thing to dance to a Broadway tune — and the theme to Phantom of the Opera.

Now, I’ve written before about my liking for Chaz Bono before; I believe what he’s doing, in being open about his past gender identity struggles and being the first transsexual contestant ever on DWTS, is a very good and empowering thing.  I also think that as a heavier person, he dances well and shows that it’s a complete myth that “big people can’t dance.”

His routine tonight to “Phantom” was a tough one; his partner, Lacey Schwimmer, told him early on that he’d have to “step it up” and do more difficult choreography — that the “super-basic” routines he had learned up until now wouldn’t work.  (Note that last week’s samba routine was not all that easy; what I think Schwimmer was referring to was the rhumba routine and some of the routines before that, which were at the most basic level.)  I think this was difficult for Bono to hear, but he handled it, learned his routine, and performed it well.

Then came the judges, who were more critical than Bono had anticipated (they were about what Lacey Schwimmer expected, though of course I’m sure she’d hoped for better); they said that the role of the Phantom “did not suit” Bono (both head judge Len Goodman and judge Bruno Tonioli said this pretty much word-for-word, while judge Carrie-Ann Inaba said it in a slightly kinder way, referring to the “challenge” of acting a character that is not your own), that the dance of the tango wasn’t fiery enough or precise enough, and that Bono altogether “lacked the sense of menace” that a dance like this requires (Goodman, again).  No mention was made of the fact that Bono danced most of the dance in the half-mask of the Phantom; no mention was made that Bono’s movements were sharper and crisper than they’ve ever been, and that the form of the dance was preserved throughout.

As a performer myself (though not a dancer or actor), I’ve been there.  So I have some words for Chaz Bono that I hope he’ll heed tonight:  “Mr. Bono, please, do not listen to the harshness of these critics.  You have to understand that as a performer, not everyone is going to appreciate what you do, and you can’t do anything about that.  You can only control what you can do — which you did, as you danced the best I have ever seen you on the entire season of ‘Dancing with the Stars.'”

Or, in other words — I think the critics, while they’re certainly correct about the forms of the dance and maybe had a point about being more emphatic in your movements (the only way you could possibly have been more “menacing,” it seems to me, behind the Phantom’s half-mask, is to be very direct, cutting, and emphatic), are flat wrong about how you danced.

Look.  Your partner, Ms. Schwimmer, is correct about the way the judges will act.  This is just what they do; some of it is for effect, because they want to make a better show — and some of it is just how they are overall. 

Schwimmer knows this; she’s been dealing with these same judges now for several years.  All of her training is meant to help you withstand their criticism; she is an exacting teacher, yes, but also a kind and honest one.  She isn’t known for cursing or being upset with her pupils, in the main; she’s known for being able to teach anyone — including Steve-O of “Jackass” fame while he was just “getting clean” after finishing up some rehab for alcohol and drug addiction — to the point that her partners actually learn the dances, rather than just the routines.

Do you know what that means?  You’ll remember how to rhumba years from now.  You’ll know how to do the cha cha cha.  You’ll understand the tango, and be able to do it again once you’re off the show — that’s because she does teach the “super-basics” as well as the flourishes a show like “Dancing” requires, because she wants you to understand the dance as well as perform it.

The upshot of all of this, Mr. Bono, is this — it was very hard for me, as a viewer, to watch your face fall once you’d performed your routine to “Phantom of the Opera.”  I didn’t like seeing that, because that made me think that you’ve forgotten the most important person in the equation — you — and are basing your opinion of yourself on what other people think rather than what you think about yourself.

Granted, this can be very tough to do as a performing artist.  I have been there (I once had someone criticize my oboe playing who had listened to three hundred clarinets in a solo-ensemble music contest; it was the one and only year I didn’t go to the state contest in high school — I was the only oboist this judge heard all day, too, which made it all the more unfair) and I know how difficult it is.

Here’s another example for you:  I once had a saxophone lesson when I was going for my Master’s degree where I asked my professor, “Did I do anything right today?” 

His answer was, “Of course!  But if I don’t tell you what you did wrong, how will you ever improve?”   (Note that I was an “older” Master’s candidate, going for my Master’s past age thirty because I believed in myself and felt I still had a chance to improve my playing and perhaps work in my field.  I still believe that if my hands co-operate, I will be able to once again get back to where I should be and I really wish to work in my field, which is performing, teaching, and composing music.) 

This is why I have great sympathy for you doing something so far out of your “comfort zone,” because you obviously believe it’s the right thing to do.

I think what Lacey Schwimmer is doing by giving you criticism about how to improve your dancing and your overall performance is meant so you can take the criticism, incorporate it into your performance, and become a better dancer.  It certainly is not meant to wound you (even though it hurts, and badly, at the time).

As a performing artist (no matter how long I’ve had to be idle due to my carpal tunnel syndrome and other issues), I know that when fifty people compliment you, but one is highly critical, you tend to remember the one person who was so critical like it’s a burr under your skin.  I can only imagine what it must be like to hear yourself be criticized like that by three judges on national TV.

I know that I, as a viewer, saw both improvement and personality in your dance.  And I believe that as a performer, you did your job, because you did the very best you possibly could — you lived up to everything your teacher asked of you — in the best way you possibly could do it. 

So what I’d like most to tell you is this: keep on dancing, Mr. Bono.  You’re doing a fine job; you’ve learned a lot; you’ve hung in there and you’ve done everything in your power to improve and you have, indeed, shown improvement.   And while your overall likeability is one of your greatest strengths, do you know what your best strength is?  Your perseverance.

So keep on keepin’ on, and non illegitimi carborundum.

———

Oh, one other thing: if I listened to “the critics” regarding my saxophone playing (now that I can’t do as much as before, or at least as quickly as before), I’d not even be making the attempt to play.  So yes, improvement must be taken into consideration here — which is why every single week, I’ve voted for Chaz Bono and Lacey Schwimmer and it’s why I plan to keep doing so.

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  1. […] I said last night in this post, I believed Bono wasn’t given enough credit for what he actually did during his […]


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