Free Shane Sparks
It’s not enough that other choreographers now take cheap shots at him and contestants now fear working with him because of increasing negative reviews from the judges, now Shane must work with one hand tied behind his back. But I remember better days; back when Shane was good; entertaining; a cut above. I will never forget Shane’s frenetic interpretation of the Ying Yang Twins’ Shake; e.g. with Destini Rogers and Jamile McGhee, two dancers who clearly understood his vision and had the hip hop authenticity to bring it to life. Admittedly, I know nothing about dance but I remember it as one of the most entertaining routines from Season 1. There were failures even then, but not because of Shane. Some dancers were simply culturally insulated and could never embody genuine hip-hop, so would have failed no matter what. In season #2, Shane continued to entertain us. Remember Soundmaster T's inner city anthem, Too Much Booty (In the Pants), with Donyelle Jones and Benji Schwimmer? I believe it was this routine (loaded with pelvic thrusts and booty shaking, especially Donyelle) that raised the collective eyebrows of Middle America and started Shane's downward spiral on SYTYCD. I’m not sure how well message boards reflect widespread opinion, but the complaints, somewhat muted after this routine, got very loud three weeks later when Shane, apparently still oblivious to the storm brewing about him, left all of Suburbia in a state of shock from which some have yet to recover, with his overtly sexual interpretation of Give It All You Got (by Afro Rican), with Ryan Rankine and Heidi Groskreutz. The audience loved it but some of Heidi’s moves clearly made Nigel uncomfortable. I believe it was this routine that got Shane shackled and subsequently robbed of much of his artistic freedom. I believe Shane was warned against Too Much Booty. The show’s producers and censors listen to Middle America. If they want advertisers with deep pockets and a high Nielsen ratings, they have to.
As I said, this is all speculation. I have absolutely no proof of anything. I’m trying to find reasons why Shane’s current work is so boring. The Booty Shaking we saw in Seasons 1 and 2 is almost for gotten; Shane never uses it any more. It was week 6 of Season 2 that Shane began his withdrawal; e.g., his artistic transformation. Both hip hop routines that week; Ivan Koumaev and Martha Nichols (Cassie’s Me and U), and, Benji Schwimmer and Natalie Fotopoulos (Pitbull’s She Freaky) were equally subdued and boring. But something wonderful happened to Shane in Week 7. He got to choreograph a couple that, in my opinion, remains the penultimate example of romantic man-woman chemistry on SYTYCD (real or imagined); e.g., the beautiful Allison Holker and very likable Ivan Koumaev. Building off the wonderful chemistry created and brought to the stage by Tyce DiOrio’s Why, Shane utilized the same theme in Ne-yo’s Sexy Love, his first foray into smooth hip-hop. It worked brilliantly. But it’s obvious to all of us now that nuanced routines like Tyce’s Why and Shane’s Sexy Love require amazing couple chemistry to make them work, and Allison and Ivan had that in spades. Because of the success of Sexy Love, I thought the softer side, the artistic side; of hip hop was the real Shane and all that Booty Shaking was an anomaly. I was wrong. I now believe Sexy Love was the exception; the anomaly, and Too Much Booty in the Pants is the real Shane because I haven't enjoyed anything he's done since Sexy Love. What Kaitlin and Jason did last night was like watching paint dry; there was no chemistry between these two at all. I believe the cause of Shane’s new found mediocrity is not solely because of the contemporary dancers he's sometimes stuck with but also because he needs Booty to define and shape his message, and to keep him interested and creative.
He's done his time. He's suffered enough. Let Shane be the Freak he was born to be. A lively Booty Shake or spirited Booty Bounce for Shane Sparks is like an emotional and beautifully constructed pirouette to Mia Michaels. I miss the naughty Shane; the entertaining Shane. If more Booty is what it tales to re-energize his artistic spirit, I say make it happen. I don’t have the answers. I don’t have to deal with advertisers, financiers, television censors and community, conservative, religious, and/or parent watchdog groups but I do understand the boundaries and the delicate spaces between. Surely there's enough common ground between the disparate parties to return to Shane at least some of the creative freedom he was deprived of in Season 2. Please, Nigel. Free Shane Sparks. Let him entertain us again.