The Body, Willing & Able

On September 30th, Fox aired episode 4 of its popular show, So You Think You Can Dance, which is now in its sixth season.   During the episode, we meet Jessica Jensen a contemporary dancer who  had her hand amputated a year and a half ago, to stop the spread of cancer.

Cat: So tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had in life….

From Kate Ward at,,20309150,00.html:  Anyway, first off, we had Jessica Jensen, a dancer that Cat branded as SYTYCD‘s ”bravest” contestant yet. (How many times have we heard that?) Of course, even if Jessica wasn’t the bravest, she certainly had gumption. Just over one year ago, the dancer lost her hand to soft tissue sarcoma. And not only does the girl have a sense of humor about her tragedy — she told Cat she made a joke to another contestant about gnawing off her fingers — but she danced beautifully. Strangely enough, Jessica’s strongest suit as a dancer was her upper body. Her gracefulness, and the way she was able to align her body so her missing hand wasn’t as obvious, really impressed the judges, and yours truly. She definitely was lacking in strength in her lower body — you could see her legs shaking while trying to maintain her developé — so I believe Nigel, Mary, and Lil’ C (as guest judge) were smart to put her through to choreography. Perhaps she fell behind, or perhaps the judges realized how difficult it might be to ask other dancers to conform to her disability, but she ultimately was denied a ticket to Vegas. Too bad — the girl had talent, with drive to match, even if she wasn’t close to top 20 caliber.

Throughout the show’s run on Fox, the personal narrative has propelled the framing of contestants – acting to bestow them with the title of show “darling,” “underdog,” or simply “not good enough.” That personal narrative is often deeply impacted by the race, gender, ability, and (presumed) economic class of the dancer in question.

Dirty Dancing:

Allison Becker SYTYCD audition:

Allison Becker/21/Contemporary – She had spinal meningitis as a young child and is consequently deaf, dancing by feeling the vibrations of the music. Okay, they’re clearly picking her for the story, but come on – that’s some story. It totally kicks the ass of that girl last week who had the paralyzed mother. Just sayin’. And Allison’s dancing is surprisingly strong – I wouldn’t ever have guessed that she couldn’t hear the music. I didn’t find her contemporary routine especially interesting, but Nigel loves her movement and her face (while conceding that her technique is a bit weak). Mary is very touched personally by Allison’s story, and they send her on through to choreography, where she excels. Right on, lady.


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