On Saturday I devoted my “Sightings” column in The Wall Street Journal to a cold-eyed consideration of the desperate state of dance in America:
Thirty-two million Americans tuned in the other night to see Emmitt Smith, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, win the Cheesetastic Disco Ball Trophy on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” The network claims that the latest episodes of its primetime ballroom-dancing competition were the most widely viewed programs of the current TV season. That’s an impressive statistic no matter how you slice it, but it’s noteworthy for another, grimmer reason: If you want to see dance on TV, “Dancing With the Stars” is pretty much all there is.
Things were different in the ’60s and ’70s, when Edward Villella would fly through the air on “The Ed Sullivan Show” one week and swap one-liners with Tony Randall on “The Odd Couple” the next. Those were the days of the “dance boom,” the heady interlude when America was dance-crazy. Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Jerome Robbins, Broadway’s hottest musical-comedy director, made popular ballets like “Dances at a Gathering” on the side. Even George Balanchine was a celebrity, thanks in part to “Dance in America,” the PBS series that introduced a generation of TV viewers to ballet and modern dance.
Back then, dance was the most glamorous of the lively arts. Now it’s the one most in danger of slipping through the cultural cracks. New episodes of “Dance in America” are as rare as funny sitcoms. Mr. Baryshnikov was the last classical dancer to become famous, and he stopped appearing in ballet years ago. As for Balanchine, how many Americans under the age of 40 even know the name of the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, much less that he was as significant an artist as Pablo Picasso or Igor Stravinsky?…
Now the Journal has posted a free link to this column, which has been stirring up talk. To read the whole thing, go here.