On the May 28 episode of So You Think You Can Dance, a dancer named Anthony Bryant’s audition offered an unfortunately clear case study for how gender policing works and why humility is a privilege.
Let’s be honest, SYTYCD is not exactly a bastion of social justice to begin with. Their treatment of “Ribbon Boy” is far from unique in terms of sexist incidents on the show. And don’t even get me started on the apparent glee with which the costume department partakes in racial stereotypes, appropriation and orientalizing. Oof.
BUT. I am a sucker for the dancing, so I still occasionally catch myself watching the show. We all have guilty pleasures. Mine, unfortunately, led me to witness some pretty explicit gender discrimination.
Anthony Bryant had auditioned in past years, including with this ribbon dance, which Nigel Lithgoe, SYTYCD producer, judge, and chief of the gender police force, deemed “not masculine enough.”
This year, Anthony delivered a stunning audition piece, presenting the judges with undeniable skill, body control, artistry, and talent. I’m no television dance competition judge, but to my untrained eye this was an equisite work of art, and certainly strong enough to earn him a ticket to the callbacks in Las Vegas. Instead, the judges told him he was brilliant but needlessly strange, and yellow-lighted him for choreography. Anthony replied, “Oh. I actually don’t want to continue then.”
The show made him out to be a drama queen, ignored any legitimate reasons he might have had for refusing to go through choreography, and even encouraged viewers to make fun of him on social media using the hashtag #inawhilecrocodile.
So You Think You Can Dance in general, and producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe specifically, constantly repeats the idea that women dancers must be feminine and male dancers must be masculine. Choreography that juxtaposes the “manly” and the “feminine” (in the narrowest sense) is exhalted, and individual dancers are praised for their adherence to traditional gender roles.
The reactions to Anthony are no exception to this rule. The judges object to his “dress” costume as being too weird. In their flashback of past years we see explicit gender policing as Nigel informs him outright that the reason they aren’t choosing him is that he isn’t masculine enough. When he speaks out against this criticism, the show mocks him by echoing the word “ribbon” (ribbon, ribbon). Continue reading