America's Best Dance Crew: I Really Appreciate That

americasbestdancescrew2I want a t-shirt with “I appreciate that.” ABDC’s judges have taken that sometimes-kind-of-a-compliment statement to a whole new level.

But we’ll get to that. First, it’s mid-season review time of my favorite dance competition, where we make our predictions for the final two and rant and rave about the crews, the dances, the eliminations so far, and everything else season 4.

Let me start by summing up how I feel about Season 4, following a great battle in Season 3 between Quest Crew and Beat Freaks: WTF Randy Jackson? It’s Season 2 all over again. And for those who may have forgotten, Season 2 was awful. Yes, Fanny Pak came to us out of all the other forgettable crews that year, but ABDC’s sophomore season was a huge disappointment with the level of talent.

Now, here we go again. Much like Season 2, the crews, though they can all outdance me just by keeping rhythm, lack the style, technique, and skill of crews from seasons 1 and 3. Whereas crews like The Jabbawockeez, Status Quo, Quest Crew, and Beat Freaks bring a polish to their amateur moves, the crews this season lack that clean style. I’ve been to an ABDC audition, and I know there are some incredible crews with talent that deserve a spotlight such as this. I also know there are some crews out there just looking to get on TV, or crews who, with a few more months or years of practice will blow us away. Season 4 comes from the latter group. In casting’s decision to bring a more varied range of crews to the competition, they’ve forgone a lot of their other requirements and brought crews who probably shouldn’t be here.

If you’re a fan of previous seasons, you know what I’m talking about. Some crews seem to have been cast based on skill (Rhythm City, Massive Monkees, Fr3sh), others seem to have been cast merely for variety, regardless of talent (Beat Ya Feet Kings, Southern Movement, Vogue Evolution). For those of us who watch this show for the power and entertainment of dance, we’ve been disappointed this time around. The performances are ordinary and the dancers visibly scrambling to step up and understand what choreography means. Which results in disappointing television.

However. Though I’m disappointed in the casting choices and the general direction of Season 4 (I almost don’t care who wins, at this point), I will admit that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Vogue Evolution, whose inclusion originally seemed like a stunt, has performed a few great numbers, even though Leiomy has only one real move (some turning and then flopping to the ground with one knee bent) and the crew’s repertoire is very limited. Nevertheless, as Lil Mama has called them, they are entertainers, and they have put together some visually fun numbers. We’ve had to listen to one too many stories of Leiomy as “the face of transgender,” but when the time comes, the group delivers.americasbestdancecrewvogue-evolution-5240

Artistry in Motion, this year’s all girl group, turned out not to be another group of former basketball dancers or cheerleaders, but joined the show as a group of women with different body types looking for the opportunity to show their stuff to a new audience. Another “group with a message.” It was nice before MTV turned this into another one of their reality shows. Again: However. Artistry in Motion also took me and my cynical assumptions aside, gave us a scolding, and performed their own share of creative, entertaining numbers. In fact, they should have stuck around a lot longer, as their creativity was dismissed too early. They brought a different sensibility to the show.

On the other end of the spectrum, crews like Beat Ya Feet Kings stayed way too long – I don’t know what their sloppy dance-kick-stomping moves were supposed to represent, but they tried too hard and the Irish tapping/stomping thing felt forced.

Which brings us to our remaining crews: AfroBorike, Rhythm City, Massive Monkees, We Are Heroes, and Vogue Evolution. I think it’s great that Rhythm City, whose audition I watched last year (along with Fr3sh, both of whom I thought deserved a spot on the show) has made it so far, though their women seem a weak point for them in terms of skill and intensity. Vogue Evolution, as I mentioned, continues to surprise me, though Leiomy’s diva moments may bring down the team. (MTV lives for that shit, if this week’s pre-performance package means anything. Leiomy looked pissed getting lectured by the judges!). We are Heroes, this season’s Beat Freaks, are generally just as talented and creative, but seem to lack star quality. Possibly, they’re getting lost in the Very Special Stories of other crews.

AfroBorike also surprised me. They rely on pairs dancing to highlight their Latin-American roots and dance style, and I thought for sure this was another stunt casting. However, a third time. They’ve rocked each of the challenges and pulled off moves that make all the “It’s so hard!” drama of So You Think You Can Dance contestants sound like whining from beginners. Don’t make me turn into Mary over here, because I will scream at the TV (yes, I will!). Finally, Massive Monkees, another traditional dance crew for ABDC (along with Rhythm City) would have shined last year, but they’re just a little too sloppy and a little less creative, and therefore, aren’t standing out among all the other crews.

As for the challenges themselves, we’ve watched the crews tackle Beyonce, Karate, and Bollywood. The challenges have been great, with the best performances so far coming in the Bollywood challenge. And before Nigel Lythgoe gets up in here proclaiming that SYTYCD changed television with their inclusion of Bollywood and blah blah blah, ABDC took the time to explain the various kinds of Bollywood dance, and I learned more in that episode than I did in a year of SYTYCD (yes, I did!). There’s at least six different kinds of Bollywood! The crews then needed to fuse the different style of dance with their own, and the result was some creative, entertaining performances – some of the best we’ve had on the show ever. At least, for this season.americasbestdancecrew2

The judges are on their game, with none of the weird tension that started off Season 3, though Lil Mama’s early favoring of Vogue Evolution was hard to watch. Shane Sparks seemed a little dazed at the end of last season, but he’s back as well, finally calling all the crews out during the third episode for their immense suckage. I haven’t agreed with all of their elimination choices – or rather, the order in which crews were eliminated. I’d prefer Fr3sh were still around, and Beat Ya Feet Kings should have left long ago, but otherwise, the five remaining crews provided a great show last week, so I won’t complain too much.

Though I think it’s necessary to point out the judges’ over-used phrase “I really appreciate that.” It’s like – “I appreciate that you tried to follow our instructions and do well. You didn’t, but I appreciate that you tried.” Although sometimes, the phrase has the connotation, “If I say ‘I liked it,’ I’d show too much favoritism like Lil Mama, and I don’t want to sound like Paula Abdul (you look so beautiful up there!), so I appreciate how awesome you guys were.” I think we should retire the phrase altogether, or at least start a drinking game around it.

My prediction for the final two? I’m not sure I can guess, since the judges and I are so not connecting this time around. I’d like to see AfroBorike and Massive Monkees, though if We Are Heroes steps up, they could be a strong contender. I have a feeling Vogue Evolution will be top 3 unless they implode first.

And so, a disappointing season thus far. Hopefully, following last week’s surprisingly awesome Bollywood challenge, the crews will continue to raise their game and fight to win (sorry for the clichés – just call me another judge). Though we could still end the season with some great performances, we’re nowhere near the level of Quest Crew or Jabbawockeez. I’ll still be watching though, every week, and still wishing I could do half (or a quarter) of the things these dancers can do.

Just please, crews, aim to entertain. I Really Appreciate That.

Listen to The J Factor with J.B. and Jaimie here or on iTunes.

For more on America’s Best Dance Crew, click here.

Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on MTV

Photographs courtesy of MTV

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