TV UK, 22 June

'Dance isn't a sport, so I'm not sure that a competition is the best way to exploit it.'

Dolan Cummings

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They’ve got them dancing now.

The other night I actually sat and watched Big Brother for at least 15 minutes, and the contestants were dancing. My flatmate – not the one who watches too much TV, the other one who doesn’t watch enough TV and is an expert on Big Brother – explained that this is a ‘task’.

Each contestant has a tune, and whenever it is played they have to get to a podium in the garden within 20 seconds and dance. I suppose this is a vague nod to the idea that the programme is supposed to be entertaining. After all, dancing has always been the last refuge of the talentless exhibitionist. Look at me! Look! Da-da-da, Da-da-da! Da-da…Woops!

I was almost entertained when somebody called Bubble fell over and seemed to hurt himself (herself?), but my guide assured me that contestants are allowed medical attention if necessary, so where’s the fun in that?

There is proper dancing on BBC Knowledge at the weekend. Let the Contest Begin (Saturday 23 June at 7.30pm) introduces Eurovision Young Dancers 2001. This is a showcase for new dancing talent, or might be if it were on a proper channel. The name is unfortunate (for Americans and high court judges, Eurovision is a notoriously kitsch annual song competition that has never recovered from Abba). In fact, this competition is supposed to be about dancing as an art form.

As an art form based on movement and music, dance certainly should lend itself to TV. Dance isn’t a sport, though, and I’m not sure that a competition is the best way to exploit it. I remember chuckling one Christmas morning at Michael ‘Riverdance’ Flatley’s Irish boys exchanging turns with some Cossacks in a dance gangfight. It was funny, but I’m not sure it’s the way forward for ballet.

Last weekend’s Cardiff Singer of the World (16 June, BBC2) had a similar problem. It is natural that young singers, like everybody else, should aspire to be the best, but for the audience that isn’t really the point. Having listened to a perfectly charming rendition of an aria or lied, I don’t especially want to be told where the singer went wrong.

Presumably the competitive element is supposed to make classical music more appealing to unfamiliar audiences. This betrays a lack of confidence in the music, and indeed in the singers’ ability to communicate it to the audience. The idea that people might simply enjoy a performance without wanting to give it marks out of 10 seems to have been missed.

Next!, the new ‘talent’ show on Sky One (Sundays at 7.30pm), has no pretensions about serving art. This features clips of poor schmucks performing in booths in shopping malls across the country, along with a bloke-on-the-sofa voiceover to help you mock them. The highlight of the first episode was a funny-looking skinny kid singing ‘Tragedy’ (the Steps version). Could that boy dance! This is somewhere between Popstars and Big Brother in terms of moral degeneracy, but at least it isn’t going to win any prizes.

If you like your spectacle competitive it is best to stick with sport. Monday sees the start of this year’s Wimbledon, covered by the BBC. Prepare for endless fawning over the dreadful Tim Henman, Britain’s weeny white hope. I have an unaccountable preference for women’s tennis anyway. The ‘talented’ Anna Kournikova isn’t competing this year, so we’ll be seeing much more of the Williams sisters and their huge talents.

I’m backing the feisty teenager Jelena Dokic, whose enchanting grimaces convey an infectious will to win. Along with grace and athleticism, that’s another thing conspicuously lacking from the dancing ‘competitors’ on Big Brother.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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