On the Dancing With the Stars Season 16 semifinals, Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas were tasked with Afro Jazz, a style that, as the name implies, fuses jazz with traditional African dance movements. Mark and Aly's performance was undoubtedly energetic and exciting, but the costuming and staging choices were questionable, at best.
Their styling emphasized the African element of the style, if by "African" you mean an incredibly basic, stereotypical interpretation of the word "tribal." The performance was a hodgepodge of costumes you would expect to find at a Halloween frat party, tiger print lighting (why), unnecessary decorations, and, for some reason, a little pit of smoke in the background. (Was that supposed to be a fire pit? We're confused).
Those choices, combined with Mark explaining the dance style as "animalistic" and "tribal" when it can just as easily be contemporary and jazzy-lyrical, left us feeling like we were watching a worryingly shallow interpretation of what the "Afro" in "Afro Jazz" means.
Now, we're not trying to say Mark or Aly meant anything wrong. They are far from the only couple to go for an over-the-top interpretation of their special style (Ingo and Kym's Charleston involved a fake-sepia opening and a giant bottle of champagne, because, hello, 1920s!). But given Hollywood's history of othering and undermining native cultures by portraying them as "uncivilized" and, yes, "animalistic" while simultaneously appropriating their long-held traditions, we can't help but wish the costumes and staging had been toned back. Instead of resorting to tired, problematic stereotypes, they could have created something really great and interesting.
After all, there are so many other ways to tackle a fusion style like this. Part of the reason we loved Derek and Shawn's Knight Rider Bhangra last season was that the bizarre Knight Rider theme forced them to approach Bhangra as a style that, like all the other styles the show uses, can be interpreted in modern, innovative ways — instead of looking back at stereotypes, that dance looked forward; it understood that fusion should spur creativity. Mark and Aly's dance was the opposite.
Plus, Aly's dancing this week was good enough that she didn't need the distracting dramatics to begin with!
Did this dance bother you, or were you totally on board? Sound off in the comments below.
Catch the next episode of Dancing With the Stars on Monday, May 13, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaDMartin.