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Should Contemporary and Jazz Dances Be on ‘DWTS’?

Julia Delbel

Julia Delbel

‘DWTS is mostly known for ballroom dancing, but the show has also featured a few other styles over the years. Two that have become regular dances used on the show are contemporary and jazz, but is their inclusion more of a positive or negative thing?


Contemporary and Jazz on DWTS

The Classic Ballroom Styles

Krisit Yamaguchi and Mark Ballas dance a Viennese Waltz on Dancing With the Stars

Before we get to contemporary and jazz, let’s take a brief look at the traditional ballroom styles used on DWTS and why they work so well for the show.

There are 10 dance styles in the main ballroom syllabus: under the standard ballroom category are foxtrottangowaltzViennese Waltz, and quickstep, and under the Latin ballroom category are cha-chasambaPaso Doblejive, and rumba. These are the 10 styles traditionally taught and performed in most ballroom competitions (and are the 10 that don’t allow for legal lifts).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyy4ht67QnE
Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater dance a Viennese Waltz on Dancing With the Stars

This is important to know because these are the styles the majority of the pro dancers on DWTS have been trained in their whole lives. They are very familiar with all these styles and know how to teach and choreograph them. There are also couple other ballroom styles that aren’t part of these 10 that are also heavily featured on DWTS – most notably Salsa, Argentine Tango, and occasionally charleston – but given their similarities to the other styles, the pros who might not be trained in them are generally still able to competently work with them.


Contemporary

A lot of fans claim to have contemporary as a style gives a couple an unfair advantage like jazz since it also allows for lifts and doesn’t have as much of a syllabus of steps to follow as the ballroom dances do. Let’s clear a few things up about that.

Ginger Zee and Val Chmerkovskiy perform a contemporary routine on Dancing With the Stars

Contemporary has been featured on shows like So You Think You Can Dance for a long time, but it was first introduced to DWTS a few years ago. It is very different from the aforementioned ballroom styles; yes, it does permit lifts, but there are a bunch of steps in its syllabus just like the ballroom dances. The actual problem with having contemporary on the show is that only a few of the pros have actually been formally trained in it. The ones who haven’t been tend to deliver haphazardly-choreographed and awkwardly-executed performances with their celebrity since they’re not experts in the style the way they are with the ballroom dances.

Riker Lynch and Allison Holker (who is formally trained in contemporary) perform a proper contemporary routine on Dancing With the Stars

Another issue with contemporary on the show is head judge Len Goodman’s disdain for the style. He really shouldn’t be judging routines on whether or not he personally likes the assigned styles (the teams don’t usually get to pick what they dance) but the fact of the matter is he has openly admitted to scoring lower because of it, creating another reason for contemporary to be a potential disadvantage for a team to have.


Jazz

Jazz gets many of the same complaints from DWTS fans as contemporary: permits lifts and allows the couples to do whatever they want. Only this time, these claims are absolutely warranted.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough perform a proper jazz (to actual jazz music!) on Dancing With the Stars

Like contemporary, jazz as a style is very distinct from the ballroom dances and has its own syllabus of steps. However, unlike contemporary, DWTS has effectively decided to ignore all that and use “jazz” as an umbrella term for almost any style that isn’t one of the previously mentioned ones. This is most often done with dances that should really be labeled as “hip-hop” but has been for other styles as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdyTdQwbOCQ
Kel Mitchell and Witney Carson perform a jazz routine – with few true jazz steps – on Dancing With the Stars

So unlike with contemporary, pros don’t need to be trained in actual jazz dance in order to succeed with that style assignment. It’s like giving a couple an extra freestyle prior to the finals.

Other Dance Styles

James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess perform a jitterbug on Dancing With the Stars

A lot of fans have wondered why DWTS includes contemporary and jazz among the main styles when there are other ballroom styles they’re not often using, such as swing, mambo, or jitterbug.

Wanyá Morris and Lindsay Arnold perform their jazz routine – which is essentially just a re-creation of *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” choreography (as was assigned to them) – on Dancing With the Stars

The most likely reason for contemporary and jazz being prioritized above these extra ballroom styles is music. These two styles – jazz in particular since it’s basically DWTS’s code for “miscellaneous” – can use different music than the more rigid ballroom styles requiring a certain beat. This allows for the producers to have many more options for songs that can be used for routines on the show, and is most likely why we see these two styles so much on themed weeks such as Disney Night and especially “Famous Dances Night” on which the couples have been encouraged to copy the original choreography from iconic dance routines.

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gF40P2SG0xU
Ariana Greenblatt and Artyon Celestie perform a jazz routine on Dancing With the Stars: Juniors. (Despite the music clearly being a hip-hop song, the judges later praised choreographer Brandon Armstrong on a rare case of including plenty of true jazz steps in addition to the hip-hop ones.)

Contemporary and jazz could work well on DWTS if there were enough cross-trained pros and they were required to stick to the syllabus like with the ballroom dances. Unfortunately, the wider music library their current form opens the show up to is probably way more valuable to producers than any of the benefits restrictions or elimination of the styles altogether could bring.

Do you enjoy seeing contemporary and jazz routines on DWTS? Sound off in the comments below!

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About the Author

Julia Delbel
Julia is a writer at Talent Recap and hails from the Greater Toronto Area. She is currently pursuing a degree in Media Studies. When not sharing her latest reality TV hot takes she's likely enjoying a game night with friends, collecting enamel pins, or spending time with her cat, Zoey.

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