Diversity: who are the real winners?

01Jun09

I’m not a regular watcher of television, let alone reality television, but the combination of half-term holidays and Honey’s enthusiasm for Britain’s Got Talent drew me inexorably into watching the show on Saturday night.

Most of the acts left me cold, including the much-vaunted Susan Boyle (Cinderella-like acscension notwithstanding), but I loved the three dance acts – Flawless, Aiden Davies & the eventual winners, Diversity. All three showed a magical combination of musicality, athleticism and storytelling, with so much energy and precision that it looked effortless, and it was a joy to watch. We’d already agreed that Honey could make a single vote on the night, and I was pleased that she chose Diversity: their choreography was amazing.

If you missed it, here it is from youtube

I’m glad they won on two counts: firstly, I did think they were by far and away the best act on the night. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I felt great that a young, forward-looking act had won. There’s no doubt that Susan Boyle has talent, and that she represented the most astonishing surprise package of the series, but if she’d won, I think it would have been a retrograde move back to the staid and stuffy solemnity of ‘serious singers’. Diversity’s victory, I think, is an incredible positive because it brings a freshness of approach and direction to the rather dull Variety Show, and, perhaps more importantly, because I think it offers hope to the dance establishment in this country, should they be in as much need of it as they often claim.

Listening to BBC Radio 5 later that night, much was being made about the short shelf-life expectancy for Diversity, that they are a novelty act, and that there’s no money to be made from promoting them. This sort of negativitysurprised me, until I realised that the ‘expert’ they were interviewing was running his own variety show, which was a ‘wartime cavalcade’  of some sort (I’m envisioning lots of Vera Lynn & Dad’s Army/It Ain’t Half Hot Mum acts). His audience is not the audience for a group like Diversity, for obvious reasons (even though I’m sure that my grandmother, a huge dance fan who taught tap-dancing to the over-60’s back in the day ;), would have loved them) and, perhaps more to the point, if we’re talking about short shelf-lives …. well, it would probably be cruel & tactless to labour that particular point. Maybe Simon Cowell won’t make money out of them (something to which I remain supremely indifferent), maybe he will, but I can’t help but feel that appealing to a younger audience is a better bet in the longer term.

This chimes in with the regular hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth from the dance establishment that they are not attracting enough young people to shows, and that the future of dance is in jeopardy and is rapidly becoming a declining, elitist irrelevance. I know from Honey’s ballet experience, that boys in dance are few and far between (there is one in her class, and none in either of the prior or subsequent grades). Yet here on television we see not only whole groups of boys – dancing – but that there is obviously an appreciation and appetite for watching them. I’d say that there’s an opportunity waiting to happen here, though whether the arts establishment and the media moguls are quick enough to seize it is another matter.

I think that the 3 performances on BGT silenced once and for all the criticisms that street dance is not a valid form. Flawless and Diversity both presented coherent pieces of dance with distinct storytelling elements, delivered with skill and precision. What is not to like? Thye were fast, fresh, attention grabbing, visually and aurally appealing and both made an oblique comment on the experience of living in this society. I see no reason why acts like this wouldn’t fill dance venues that regularly and successfully host ethnic and street dance forms from other parts of the world – I’m thinking of venues like Sadlers Wells’ Peacock theatre.

Furthermore, if you combined acts like Diversity and Flawless with other groups that were in the same continuum of contemporary and street dance, is there any reason why those who came to see Diversity wouldn’t be as struck with, say, the Cuban spice of Havana Rakatan or the hot, raw flamenco of Paco Pena and Sara Baras, or cool, controlled Capoeira, or the expressive, polyrhythmic dances of sub-saharan africa, all of which influence the development of the both the street dance genre and contemporary dance?  How could such interest not benefit the wider dance community?

The potential is mouthwatering. I hope I see some of it realised.

There’s a third reason I’m glad Diversity won BGT: I think they offer an alternative vision of young Britain at a time when we need it.

The newspapers fall over themselves to portray the young people of this country as knife-wielding, hoodie-wearing thugs, intent on causing death and mayhem wherever they go; worthless, directionless wasters to be feared and whipped back into line and turned into ‘productive’ or ‘useful’ citizens. So, whilst I’ll appreciate that this might apply to a minority of Britain’s youth, AND that not the whole of that demographic is dancing in their bedrooms (or the streets), I think the presence in the final of that most mainstream of shows of not one, but three, ultra-talented hard-working dance acts who combine that talent with obvious courtesy and decency is a big step towards disproving that unflattering stereotype.

I think there’s little doubt that their generation do not fully share the same values and norms of either my generation or that of my parents, but on what basis should be demand that they should? I do not think we are in a position to take the moral high-ground, given our track-record, and when we are failing so abysmally to solve any of the problems we have created for ourselves, why should they look to us for the answers to any of their questions? To expect them to do so exposes us to the same accusations of arrogance that we level at them, particularly when we exist in a society which actively excludes young people – financially – from so many of its benefits and opportunities.

I don’t think that Diversity’s victory will significantly change things: after all, they are only a dance act, not ambassadors for a generation. What I do hope is that their performance, their talent, and their passion and dedication to what they love doing will make ‘Middle Britain’ think twice the next time they look away rather than make eye-contact with a young person, or cross the road to avoid a group of young friends, or condemn them for not conforming to a lifetime of boredom and drudgery without a struggle. They’re not all bad, and we shouldn’t label them as such.

We should accept them, and welcome their talents and their fresh take on things when we have run out of steam, out of ideas, and pretty much out of time.

Diversity won Britain’s Got Talent. If we take their passion, dedication and enthusiasm to heart, we could all be winners.

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2 Responses to “Diversity: who are the real winners?”

  1. 1 Erin

    America’s version — American Idol — so far as I know, only features singing. Dancing is on other shows, such as Dancing With the Stars. Or something like that — I don’t watch reality shows. Watch too much TV as it is.

    Anyway, American Idol has an age limit, and Susan Boyle could never have appeared on it. Here, they only want young people who can be packaged as the next popstar, which to me is more depressing. It says that we place no value on experience and wisdom, on people who have put in time. I think our society is too much enamored of youth and forgets what older people have to offer.

    I don’t know if that’s a perception difference, or a transatlantic difference, frankly.

    I’m too tired to watch the video tonight, but I’ll watch it tomorrow. I love dance!

  2. 2 Erin

    Okay, just watched the video. For fun, I also watched the Flawless and Aidan Davies videos, too. Very awesome dancing all around, and I had the kids watch, too.

    I think Flawless impressed me more at first viewing, but I preferred Diversity on repeated exposure.

    Thanks for the pointer!


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