“Dancing with the Stars”: A Survival Guide for Lesbian and Bi Viewers

The show is transparently rigged.

Remember those judgely prejudices I mentioned earlier? They (and whatever producer prejudices those are attached to) pretty much run the show. The each week’s results are “a combination” of the judges’ scores and the audience call-in votes, but you’ll notice that they’re never very clear on how heavily anything is weighted. Which means the results are whatever they want them to be. 

(Personal to Martina Navratilova’s manager, or whoever talked her into doing this: I hope you explained this part of the show to her. As a professional athlete, she’s going to be used to line judges and chair umpires who have to work within the basic constraints of at least mostly being fair because there are people watching. If you let her walk into this thinking that’s what she’s going to be dealing with, you are going straight to hell.) 

You might be assuming that the DWTS judges can’t throw the show results too hard, because after all their scores have to be at least to some extent based on the dances. You would be wrong. There was a guy on the show last season to whom I have sworn to never again give so much as a single Google hit. You have probably heard of his sisters, who somehow have seventeen thousand simultaneous television shows and branded product lines in spite of the fact that none of them ever actually do anything except, apparently, get married and divorced. 

Anyway, Rob Kersplashian always, always danced like your dad’s embarrassing friend from high school who shows up at wedding receptions and expects one Scotch-fueled disco point to make up for 75 minutes of lumbering around the dance floor and refusing to commit to anything. 

Three or four weeks in, either someone decided Rob was their draw for teen girls or the Kornmashian family gave everyone gold-plated robot puppies and a Swiss chalet, because suddenly the judges were talking about what an amazing, sexy dancer Rob was, and how he was turning into a Real Man right before their very eyes. 

This was in direct defiance of what had actually happened on the dance floor each week. It was like the judges thought that if they said it enough times, the viewing audience would get hypnotized and believe them. Or maybe the judges didn’t think the cameras were on for the dancing part. I don’t know. I just know that objective reality wasn’t part of the equation. 

Contrariwise, once the judges take on a particular hatred, a dancer is doomed for seasons, if not generations. Last season, Hope Solo made the grave mistake of having beautiful muscular arms, which made the judges decide she was not a real lady and was quite possibly an evil being from space. Then she and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy compounded the hostility by forming into an actual team, bonding with each other, and treating the judges’ obvious lowballing of their scores with the open disdain it deserved. If Terpsichore herself had descended from Mount Olympus to bless their final dance, there’s no way the judges would have given them anything more than grudging sevens before returning to their tongue-bathing of Rob’s lavishly gelled hair. 

I’m already concerned for Melissa Gilbert’s chances as Chmerkovskiy’s partner this season. The judges still hate him from last year and will probably hate him until the end of time. Unless Chmerkovskiy agrees to some sort of Humbling Redemption Plotline, my guess is that the producers will keep him long enough to milk the drama of the hate, then drop the couple like a hot rock. Sorry for the spoiler, Ms. Gilbert. 

If you have internalized anything like a basic sense of fairness, this aspect of the show will drive you insane. Even though it’s an aggressively stupid show, and even though it’s only an ugly trophy on the line, watching people get unfairly boosted or docked week after week starts to take its toll both mentally and spiritually. I recommend a threefold approach. 

  1. Prolonged meditation to remind yourself that the material world is an illusion and none of this really matters.
  2. Schedule some volunteer work to prove to yourself that there is still good left in the universe.
  3. Arrange to meet with a friend at least once a week. Insult each other, then hit each other in the face as hard as you can. You will need to be reminded that the world is a place that still has consequences.

 It won’t stop the madness, but it will stave it off for a few hours. 

The judges are horrible.

I’m not saying they aren’t qualified on paper. They all have dancing and/or choreography experience. It’s just that they’re a) totally willing to throw the show and b) so driven by their own inner demons that they frequently forget that this is supposed to be a competition, and they are supposed to be the impartial adults in the room. 

First, there is Bruno, The Judge Who Needs You To Know He Has Had Sex. Were you aware that he has had sex? You will be. His comments, every week, have words in them that are sometimes theoretically about the dancing, but what he actually says every week is “Look at me! I noticed something sexy! And then I pointed it out while making a broad hand gesture! Aren’t I simply wonderful?” 

Well, not every time. Last season he broke things up by taking time out to openly insult Chaz Bono’s appearance every week. And then he acted astonished that people would think his insulting remarks were meant to be insulting when clearly he was just being adorable! 

You’d think that Bruno would be hands-down the most appalling judge, but Carrie Anne the Useless Judge really creeps up on you. She never grew out of that insecure high school I-need-to-be-pretty girl way of looking at the world. And, sad as that is in theory, in practice it is maddening. Carrie Anne needs to know that she’s pretty, so she needs to be sure she has a clear handle on what pretty is, and so she becomes the biggest enforcer of the show’s rigid gender roles. Because if someone pushes the boundaries, how will she know where they are anymore? 

Carrie Anne also wants desperately to be cool, but of course that very desperation rules out the kind of cool where you follow your own heart and mind. So she goes for what television tells her is cool, which means she goes “Whoooooo!” a lot and does some unconvincing, half-committed fist-pumping. And sometimes she pre-writes a comment, waits for the audience to stop making noise, and then attempts to deliver it “spontaneously” using her cool voiiiiiiiice and booze cruise DJ speech patterrrrrrrrrnz!” 

If she weren’t so busy being spectacularly unfair and sexist to the dancers, it would be one of the heartbreaking things on television. 

Warning to the contestants: Like all deeply insecure people, Carrie Anne is unable to let a perceived slight roll off her back, no matter how small. If you do anything, even inadvertently, that makes Carrie Anne feel like she’s being dissed, she will claw your face to ribbons. 

The third judge is Len, the Mandatory Cranky British Judge. He’s the one who every competitive reality show thinks it needs to have. He often has actual smart criticism to give, which means the audience boos him. Or at least he started out that way last season. Once the deeply imbalanced judges on either side of him decided they were under attack, though, Len threw in with his colleagues and let his emotions and sense of being victimized get the best of him. Plus whatever the hell was happening with Rob of the Family Who Must Not Be Named. 

Look, I’m sure underneath it all and in private the judges are all worthwhile human beings who love things and do the occasional good deed and have long dark nights of the soul just like everyone else. 

But all we see is what they are on the show. And on the show they let the monsters take over. And, hey, speaking of those monsters… 

Dancing with the Stars is incredibly sexist and gender-normative. 

I was honestly astonished by this aspect of the show when I started watching it. I kept calling friends to make sure I hadn’t fallen into some sort of time warp. 

I get the fact that competitive ballroom dancing usually (though not exclusively anymore) happens in heterosexual pairs in which the man leads and lifts and the woman follows and is lifted and bent around. I understand that. But the show and its producers and judges insist that all women have to be a very specific kind of feminine. Even though a moment’s glance at the professional dancers makes it clear that they are in essence trained athletes, the show insists that a properly feminine woman cannot be athletic. 

A woman doesn’t just have to put on the right kind of slinky dress and makeup; to avoid being insulted and harangued every week, she has to be willing to appear weak

There’s also this bizarre ongoing pretense – even an insistence – that all professional dancers are straight LA LA LA THE SHOW CAN’T HEEEEEEAR YOU, THEY’RE ALL STRAIGHT! Which is weird, ridiculous, and regressive. I happen to know a lot of professional dancers, and a good number of them are straight, yes. And then a lot of them are not. Like really, really not. It’s almost as though dancers are a normal human population, with a range of sexual orientations. And I think even Middle America can deal with the fact that that particular range might skew a little bit toward The Gay. 

The judges say they have to slam every man who isn’t caveman masculine and every woman who isn’t Barbie doll feminine because they are just being good judges and adhering to ballroom tradition. 

But by that logic, no contestant should ever try incorporating a new step or putting in a fun spin or doing anything outside of a basic foot diagram on the floor. The judges don’t necessarily dock for that kind of innovation, and sometimes they reward it. The don’t-do-anything-different policy only applies to hypertraditional gender roles. The judges aren’t being Guardians of the Dance, they’re being narrow-minded cowards. 

Note: A side effect of the show’s sexism is that the men spend most of their time in full suits, but there is a lot of female flesh on display. It will offend your sensibilities on principle, but somehow you may be able to pull through. 

So, wait. Why are we doing this? 

Because Martina Navratilova is out and awesome, and she deserves our support. And seeing her athletic, nontraditional presence on television will make the path that much easier for some of the nontraditional young people who watch the show. They deserve our support too. 

Oh, and one more reason: 

Voting for members of the LGBT community is hilarious. 

In order to fulfill my recapping duty and keep abreast of Dancing with the Stars updates, I went to the show’s official site and Facebook page regularly. And every week that Chaz Bono, Carson Kressly, or even threateningly athletic straight woman Hope Solo stayed on the air drove our nation’s bigots straight up the walls. They howled and gibbered and complained that those kind of people shouldn’t even be allowed on television in the first place, because what is this world coming to? Also: Eeek! And why? Why should someone be forced to see other human beings who are different just because they exist? 

The sentiments are awful, yes, but the wounded flailing behind them will do your heart good for the rest of the day. It’s sort of like knowing that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Only in this case every time you vote for Martina Navratilova, an angel gets more fabulous. And a bigot gets indigestion. 

And that makes it all worthwhile. 

The new season of Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday, March 19. I’ll meet you here on Tuesday morning for the recap and support group. 

Together we can make it through this.

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