6th June 2011

MTV’s REAL WORLD was my first experience of Reality TV. This was back in the early 90’s and I was around 13. At that age, I was completely oblivious to any editing tricks the producers may have used to amplify the ‘drama’, and the show’s portrayal of its protagonists was by no means slick. They were however, uber cool young models and artists living in New York so it wasn’t hard to make life interesting!!! For a school attending, pop culture consuming, dancing teenager with a penchant for Fame (the TV show – also based in NYC); Friday night’s REAL WORLD was just about the coolest thing on telly.

Cut to 20 years later and we are knee deep in Reality Shows and gasping for air! Okay, okay, I’m not going to lie, I’ve danced on X Factor, Popstars: The Rivals etc and loved it. Plus, I can on occasion, be found watching Kerry Katona and Peter Andre !!! Don’t shoot! But I do wonder how long these shows will maintain their popularity; and what the knock on effect is for ‘professional’ performers.

As a dancer/ choreographer, you are surrounded by a brilliant and sometimes crazy mix of people. From the outside looking in, it can be intimidating and superficial but it can also provide a safe place where you know that you’ve all sweated your little ballet tights off to get there. You might look like you swan around being a commercial dancer but you all know you’ve attended horrendous auditions and had monumental put-downs thrown at you, even if you are the girl of the moment. Dancers get it and I love that.

First of all, lets get one thing straight, I’m not coming from an “Old Skool” perspective. I’m not one of those dancers who has been around a while and starts muttering about how ‘in my day, everything was better…and more difficult (we had to walk to ballet class in the snow you know, with paper bags on our feet)’. Like everything, some bits were easier, some bits were harder, but there was a general understanding that it took time, patience, talent and hard work to master your craft as a dancer. The thing that many reality shows have in common, is the notion that you can become a PROFESSIONAL in the space of a few days, weeks, or months. I think this is a mis-leading and potentially dangerous message to send to young hopefuls.

Conversely, the absolute beauty of the first (and maybe second) series of Big Brother was that for example; Craig was blissfully unaware that by standing his ground with Nasty Nick, it would lead him to win. 5 years later and the whole ‘sociological experiment’ becomes void when the only people that enter are desperate for fame in whatever form it takes. Be careful what you wish for Imogen Thomas!! We know that every talent style game show has to have a winner, but sometimes the imaginary conveyor belt of talent fails to procure anyone with real substance and stamina. Look, we all understand that TV is about smoke and mirrors, but when the fantasy creeps into real life, it’s a worry!

Take the mum, who injected Botox into her daughter’s head aged 8 so she could be a ‘famous star’. Who knows what this girl may look like at 15. Perhaps she will travel the world as a Supermodel or might turn out to have a voice like Leona Lewis, but shouldn’t she be encouraged to find something she enjoys, that she’s good at, and work hard at it? Shouldn’t talent and skill be valued more than looks and fame? Surely, that’s the REAL road to confidence and self esteem? Perhaps if we lived in a true meritocracy, that would be the case. Unfortunately, we don’t. Those that are talented and work hard don’t always succeed, and those who lack talent often do. Thems the breaks.

Consequently, a whole new generation have bought into the narrative that it’s ok to do nothing because you can still get rich and famous! As a result, I often see young dancers who COULD be good but have decided not to train very much in the hopes that luck will be enough to secure them a future. Sometimes luck does come up trumps, and that’s brilliant. But most of the time, stars fade as quickly as they shine, when the novelty of the new guy/girl on the block wears off and their lack of skill and professionalism has pissed off every agent and choreographer in town.

I have no idea where this will lead in 5 years time, or what the bigger picture will be. An anti – reality show perhaps with performers who are skilled in pretending to be ‘real people’. Oh, wait…that’s what actors do, isn’t it?

The thing is, skilled performers (especially dancers) make it look easy, so everyone thinks it IS easy. Factor in the ‘instant fame button’ currently being passed around, and suddenly everyone thinks they can dance. I’m not saying a good dancer is equivalent to a heart surgery pioneer,* but if you want to build any sort of long, respected career you have to sweat it out in the studio. There is no quick fix.

I have never been more grateful for my parents, who are from a working class northern background. I also appreciate how very lucky I was to fall in love with dance early in life. As a result, during all those years of hard graft I had a goal to look towards. Not everyone has the good fortune to know what they want to do so young. But surely, part of being fufilled in life is wanting to be good at something? Even if it takes years to figure out what that is.

In my view, fame alone should not be an ambition. If that’s the Reality Show effect, I’ll take Eastenders any day.

*Litza says; “I wonder if heart surgeons stand around saying ‘come on guys, this is hardly dancing now is it?'”


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