By Nikole Darnell
Since it premiered ten years ago, Fox’s dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance has cha-cha’d its way to the top with nineteen awards and sixty nominations (“So You Think You Can Dance: Awards”). The show has frequently been praised for its outstanding choreography, staging, lighting, and more. Married couple Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz, better known by their respective stage names, Pharside and Phoenix, are the award-winning choreographers for the show. Their intricate pieces generally feature a theme, especially their hip hop numbers.
In Season Twelve, the duo choreographed a freak show-themed routine for the top seven members of Team Street to Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” While, at first glance, the number seems innocent and simply entertaining, one can definitely find problematic elements in it, from the choreography and costuming to the types of characters that the dancers are instructed to portray. There are stock carnival characters, such as a clown, a ringmaster, and a tight-rope walker. Then there are also more dated characters, like a strongman and a bearded woman. However, the dance also features a pair of conjoined twins, the only performers in the dance whose costumes refer to the circus’s dark history of exhibiting people with congenital disabilities. Is it really acceptable for the non-disabled to mimic the disabled? Representing conjoined twins as freaks undermines their humanity and, in this case, makes them into something to be feared rather than what they really are– human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.
No matter what the role, the performer is made up to look dark and scary, indicating that this particular carnival is something to be feared. Every character in this piece is a little bit frightening, but the costuming and makeup choices definitely accentuate this in the conjoined twins, played by Dancers Yorelis Apolinario and Ariana Crowder. Their hair and costumes are definitely out of the ordinary, but the real anomaly is their makeup, which is done so that it appears that blood is running from the girls’ eyes. Of course, everyone is made to look horrifying, but the other costumes seem a little less so. Virgil Gadson, the dancer who plays the clown, wears a typical clown suit and makeup. Many people are terrified of clowns—Virgil’s appearance could have provided a perfect opportunity for the show to capitalize on terror, if that is what they desired. There are all kinds of designs for creepy clown makeup. After realizing this, it seems especially odd that the show would choose to make the conjoined twins’ makeup more frightening than the clown’s. After all, a clown makes the choice to become a clown. Conjoined twins do not decide to be conjoined twins.
While other characters have choreography that matches their roles, Ariana and Yorelis are given moves that make their characters seem even more disturbing. At 0:23, Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge seems to lift the tightrope walker with only one arm. The tightrope walker, Jessica “JJ” Rabone, pretends to do her act from 0:59 until 1:09. The bearded lady, played by Džajna “Jaja” Vaňková, can frequently be seen stroking her facial hair. But for the dancers portraying the conjoined twins, the actions are very different. At the beginning of the number, from 0:00 until 0:13, Ariana and Yorelis mime activities that could actually be performed by conjoined twins until the ringmaster, played by Megan “Megz” Alfonso, appears to cut them in half. This part of the choreography is incredibly insensitive to those who are actually conjoined twins, given that it seems to deny the reality of their experiences., At 0:32, Yorelis is instructed to make a disgusting face while the rest of the dancers appear to unscrew her head. At 1:42, the girls join hands and run off to their final position, only to appear to be “re-conjoined.” Choreographing the girls to be split and then put back together is not only unrealistic and disturbing, but it reinforces common stereotypes about conjoined twins. For example, when “normate” people imagine being conjoined, they often imagine what they would feel like if another non-conjoined person were suddenly attached to them. This denies that being conjoined affects a person’s experiences and worldview. All of the other characters were given reasonable choreography, so why is it that the conjoined twins were made to look so terrifying?
It is important to point out that Yorelis and Ariana were simply doing the choreography that was assigned to them. They are actors playing a role and were trying their very hardest to win the show. There are plenty of other characters the show could have incorporated into the routine, such as a lion tamer or even some circus animals. In a society that is shifting towards a more accepting, politically correct world, it is appalling that no one else seemed to be upset that the dancers were mimicking conjoined twins in such a grotesque manner. This questionable choreography is another instance of how society fears what they do not know or understand and make it into something ugly or unclean. After all, conjoined twins are real people. They do not exist to fuel our nightmares.
“Pharside & Phoenix.” The Movement: Talent Agency. The Movement—Dance Talent Agency, 2015. Web. 16. Oct. 2015.
“So You Think You Can Dance: Awards.” IMDb.com. IMDb.com, Inc., 2015. Web. 16. Oct. 2015.