Feminism / TV

The Warrior Princess and the Beast: A Look at Two Strong Female Dancers & Their Feminist Repertoire on SYTYCD

Last night, I watched the Season 8 finale of So You Think You Can Dance. After weeks of battling it out onstage, it all came down to the two best dancers of the season, Sasha and Melanie. As I previously wrote, dance can evoke feminism and female empowerment.  While the season featured many talented dancers, for me, it has been about these two phenomenal performers all season long.

The dynamically soulful Sasha Mallory, called the “Warrior Princess” for her fierce performances, channels all of her power, pain and longing into every routine.  Wringing every drop of emotion out of herself, she leaves it all on the floor.  Winner Melanie Moore, nicknamed the “Beast” by choreographer Debbie Allen because she “killed everything they threw at her,” fuses her athleticism with storytelling, bringing the audience with her on an emotional journey each time she steps on stage.

Too often, society expects women to be pretty, docile and meek; objectified and merely a consort for men. But these two exquisite dancers, while exhibiting grace and beauty have equally conveyed strength and power. Breaking stereotypical gender boundaries, they show that women are confident, assertive and bold.

I’ve loved many of this season’s pieces: Sasha and Twitch’s sexy “Misty Blue” breakfast, Melanie’s “leap of faith” performance, Melanie and Marko’s beautifully statuesque “Turn to Stone.” But my favorite routines are the feminist ones (no surprise) that speak to the fluidity of gender and the strength of women:

Fave Feminist Routines

1. Sasha and Melanie dance Stacey Tookey’s Mad Men-esque routine “Heart Asks Pleasure First” about “two suppressed housewives in the 1950s.” Isolated by sexist expectations of domesticity and perfectionism, they yearn to break the shackles of their white picket prison and explore the world.  In the media, we often see women catty and backbiting, competing for men’s attention and praise. In this dance, the two women cooperatively unite to find the courage “to be free.”

2. In Tyce Diorio’s routine “Fool of Me,” Sasha and all-star Kent dance as “two people who’ve hit a wall in their relationship.” A devastatingly beautiful performance that makes me weep each and every time I see it. While this piece was intended to be about the emotions swirling around a crumbling relationship, to me it truly exists as a metaphor for any struggle you face. Life tries to beat you down; you just gotta keep getting back up…

3. …and get up Sasha does.

In her “ode to Sasha,” Sonya Tayeh choreographs a piece in which Sasha battles against the struggles in life that attempt to overpower her and knock her down, symbolized by all-star Mark (a guy with the most intense stare ever!). But Sasha fights for supremacy…and wins.

4. And of course I’ve saved the best for last. My absolute favorite dance routine ever. Period. A fierce and fearless performance choreographed by goddess Sonya Tayeh, showcasing Sasha‘s artistic style and Melanie‘s technique. Bringing out the best of both dancers “in one beastly creation;” the ultimate feminist Warrior Princess Queen routine.

4 thoughts on “The Warrior Princess and the Beast: A Look at Two Strong Female Dancers & Their Feminist Repertoire on SYTYCD

  1. Sasha and Melanie managed to make me cry throughout this season. They were both monsters and there was no question early in the season that it was going to boil down to them.
    Sonya is my favourite choreographer for sure. Although, I was sad to find out Tadd had such a tiny percentage of the final vote. I thought he carried himself extremely well, especially considering he had no formal training and soaked up all those different styles like a sponge.

  2. Sasha has made me cry so often this season. Add the fact that she is an out lesbian, and everything just felt so much more real to me.

  3. I really enjoyed watching both of these performers dance, it was always so emotional and breathtaking, this is a lovely summary of that. What I found incredibly disturbing was the meme that began early on in reference to Sasha, repeatedly calling her the “Warrior Princess”. While I’m a big fan of the show it is rife with heteronormitivity (the vast majority of the dances are about heterosexual relationships), sexism (thanks Nigel), and then in this case the compliments that are paid to the dancers are often phrased based on their race and gender, the women were always beautiful and lovely and gorgeous while the men were rarely complimented on their appearances. Referring to Sasha (and *only* Sasha) as a Warrior Princess is so heavily coded racial language and it made me cringe each and every time.

    • Well now, that’s interesting. One might argue that the “Warrior Princess” moniker was bestowed on Sasha due to her ferociousness. There is little that is delicate about Sasha. Exquisite, graceful, precise and feminine, maybe, but I’d hardly say her style is deserving of any other title than “fierce.” I was routing for her to win precisely because she was such a warrior.

      The racial language you’re talking about is something I’m unaware of, so maybe I’m speaking out of term. If that’s the case I apologize, but it seemed to me that she was given the title out of respect and awe.

      However, I definitely agree that the show is heteronormative and that it would be nice to see a choreographer break that form at some point. By the same token, I don’t take it as obtrusive or deliberate. Nor do I think Nigel is sexist. I’ve never seen another reality show so full of love. All the judges, choreographers, contestants and viewers absolutely adore each other no matter who/what they are. I find it quite refreshing.

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