America’s Love for TV Dance Shows Has Long History


Editor’s note: While many popular culture observers assume the recent upsurge in competitive dance programs on commercial television is the result of the current reality TV trend, televised dance competition shows have a long history in the United States, dating back nearly to the birth of the television age.

Dance/USA wishes to thank Ovation TV for its Title Sponsorship of the 2011 Annual Conference in Chicago and for the contribution of this article.

Dance in America is bigger than ever. Popular shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” have enraptured the public and inspired a whole new generation to get up and dance. It seems nothing has had an impact on the mass appeal of dance more than television. But TV’s love affair with dance isn’t new. In fact, dance on TV goes back to the earliest days of the small screen.

How It Began
In 1950, the first dance show waltzed onto the airwaves. It was called “The Arthur Murray Party,” hosted by famous ballroom dancer and instructor (and businessman) Arthur Murray and his wife, Kathryn. Each week, the couple performed a mystery dance and the viewer who correctly identified the dance would get free lessons at a local studio.

Just two years later, “American Bandstand” debuted, featuring the perennially young host Dick Clark. For nearly 40 years, kids from around the country would tune in to see the hottest new dances, the fashions and the regular couples on the show. Then, in 1971, “Soul Train” offered a new, funky version of the dance show concept and was so successful that it lasted 35 years.


Stepping Up The Energy
Later came such TV dance hits as “Dance Fever” with Deney Terrio (1979-87), “Solid Gold” (1980-’88) and “Dance Party USA” (1986-’92). Then, in 2005, came what would become ratings smashing hits: “Dancing with the Stars,” which was a spin-off of the U.K. TV show “Strictly Come Dancing,” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” the competition show that, like “American Idol,” holds auditions for dancers to win a spot on the show. Finalists compete for a new car, cash, and a Las Vegas dancing contract.

The Trend Continues
Today, such shows are bigger than ever and the arts channel Ovation is featuring encore presentations of seasons 6 and 7 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” along with some fantastic extras with the dancers, choreographers, judges, and creators of the show on air and online at Ovation. The channel is also launching a contest called “One Dance. One Chance.” for aspiring dance students. The competition is open to all dance groups, classes, ensembles, troupes, and crews, with dancers ages 13 and up. For more information, visit Ovation TV.  Whether you’re a kid, a teen, an adult, or a senior citizen, you’re never too young or old to enjoy dancing.

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