Sunday, July 12, 2015

(Euro) White Girls Can Dance (Street)

Last week on Season 12 of So You Think You Can Dance, the judges finally whittled down this year’s crop of contestants to select their top 20 who will be performing in the live rounds. The final selection came down to a decision between Czech krumper/animator Jana “Jaja” Vankova and French popper Marie Bonnevay (stage name “Marie Poppins”), both of whom should have been quite familiar to avid followers of the street dance subculture.

Jaja was previously a winner on America’s Best Dance Crew in 2011, where she teamed with renowned popper Phillip “Pacman” Chbeeb (whose Season 3 audition for So You Think You Can Dance still rates as my favorite in the show’s history). Marie Poppins is a commercial dancer who has appeared in advertisements and music videos with Justin Bieber and Tiesto, among others.

So You Think You Can Dance viewers likely remembered both women from their auditions the previous year. At the time, I thought they were far and away the two best female street dancers the show had ever seen. Neither of them was able to assimilate the other styles of dance well enough to make the final cut, although Jaja came very close.

Jaja Vankova - So You Think You Can Dance Season 11 Audition

(Video uploaded by CDplayABDC6)

Marie Poppins - So You Think You Can Dance Season 11 Audition

(Video uploaded by Terry Byrd II)

This season introduced a new format, however, splitting the top 20 equally into stage and street teams, opening the door for a greater number of street contestants than any previous season (apparently at the expense of standard ballroom representation, hence why judge Mary Murphy is absent this year).

Jaja and Marie both returned this year to try for a spot on the street team. In her audition, Jaja looked, in my opinion, considerably sharper than even just a year ago, having trimmed any lapses of inspiration from her choreography, as she melded mesmerizing animation poses with fierce whiplike krumping motions. Marie’s audition, meanwhile, was relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clip within a montage of judge-pleasing routines. With these early episodes being taped and edited well in advance of broadcast, usually when a known contestant gets montaged, it’s because they auditioned to music that Fox didn’t get the license to. At any rate, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to see Marie’s Season 12 audition, but she was still named and briefly spotlighted in subsequent rounds, where her fluidity and rhythmicality remained superlative.

Unfortunately, although the new format meant the show could accommodate a larger number of street contestants, it also meant that auditions drew more (ladies especially) than ever before, and so there was simply too much competition for both of them to make the cut. Personally, I might still have taken both of them over some of the other dancers who made it onto the street team, but that’s probably just because I love to watch that robot-like style of dance. Perhaps, with both of them also being white Euro females (and the street team, as a whole, being already 60 percent female with the addition of just one of them), they were too similar stylistically and demographically for them both to be on the show at the same time.

Interestingly, although the show never mentions this (even though it probably would have made for more dramatic TV), Jaja and Marie were actually well-acquainted with one another before they ever appeared on So You Think You Can Dance. In fact, by the later cuts, many of the contestants are people who have crossed paths before in the world of street dancing. Another contestant this season, Mexico’s Lily Frias, as far as I know the first waacker ever to make it to the live rounds, has collaborated with both Jaja and Marie before. It makes sense. The dancers who audition for this show are, after all, often masters already in their chosen disciplines. You don’t rise to that level without others in your field noticing.

There are several videos online of Jaja and Marie Poppins performing together, perhaps most notably the “White Girls Can’t Dance” video they made together.

And, of course, as both ladies came up through the world of dance battling, it’s inevitable that they would have battled one another at some point. Earlier this year, they appeared together to put on an exhibition at Urban Street Jam 2015. Not a serious battle, as there were no judges nor any real winner or loser, but still both women brought out some sick moves.

Ultimately, for Season 12 of So You Think You Can Dance, it was Jaja that got the nod for the top 20, where hopefully she'll go far. Who knows whether there will be a Season 13, whether Marie Poppins will get another chance, but I’m sure she’ll continue to have a successful career in dance regardless.

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