randy_jackson_presents_americas_best_dance_crew-showA line of people snakes down Elston Avenue on the edge of Bucktown.

One group wears orange jumpsuits. Darkened sunglasses and black baseball caps hide their eyes. White gloves conceal their hands. White tennis shoes cover their feet. Beneath their jumpsuits are white turtlenecks, and the necks of their shirts are rolled up over their faces. It’s impossible to tell what anyone looks like.

Others wear baggy jeans, loose-fitting tops and zip-up hoodies. Sweat pants and bandanas are common.

There’s a parked car nearby, its windows rolled down, doors opened allowing the rap music from the car stereo to pulse through the morning air.

Some of the people gyrate to the music’s beat, improvising their moves.

From the looks of things, a street battle, a dance off, could be getting underway.

But really it’s the Midwest auditions for the hip-hop dance reality TV show, “Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew,” which will open its second season June 19 on MTV.

The show’s first-season finale drew 7.9 million viewers, cementing it as one of six reality shows that have brought dancing into homes across the country in recent years.

Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” kicked off its fourth season in mid-May, filling a void in reality TV dance shows left by ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”—the ballroom dance show’s May 20 season finale drew close to 17 million viewers.

The crowd of aspiring reality TV dance stars gathered along Elston Avenue is just one example of how these shows have rekindled people’s love of dance. And that rekindling by reality TV dance shows may have an indirect effect on the growing popularity of dance in Chicago.

At the front of the line, Kelly Callese, 27, of Chicago waited patiently with the rest of her dance crew.

Asked why she wanted to be a part of the reality show Callese said: “Dance has always been part of our lives, and we just watched the first season and we were just excited.”

Chicagoland Arthur Murray Studios

“I think [reality dance TV] is great,” said Jill DeMarlo, owner of the Chicagoland Arthur Murray Studios. “In terms of impacting the business it does a lot.”

The Arthur Murray Studio brand has been around since 1925. According to DeMarlo, instructors at her three Chicago-area studios have taught more than 10,000 students how to cha-cha and tango, fox trot and waltz across the floor since the group’s first studio opened in Chicago seven years ago.

Although attendance at the three studios has grown steadily, approximately 15 percent a year, DeMarlo said dance shows on reality TV have benefited business.

Since the second season of “Dancing with the Stars” began in January 2006, the Chicago studio has seen a jump of more than 35 percent in attendance, she said.

Maybe the popularity of reality dance shows didn’t cause the jump, but she says these shows have had an effect on how people view ballroom dance. Before the shows, one of DeMarlo’s biggest challenges was getting men to dance, let alone want to dance.

“What I love the most,” she said, “is men are thinking [dance] is cool.”

Although men came to Arthur Murray, DeMarlo said, it was usually because their wives pushed them into it. Now thanks to reality TV shows, she said, more men are seeking out and wholeheartedly participating in classes.

Since some alumni of “Dancing with the Stars” such as Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith are “great guy’s guys,” said DeMarlo, they have made dance much cooler.

Lou Conte Dance Studio

Along with the growing local ballroom dance scene, interest in other kinds of dance studios has also developed.

When Lou Conte, founder of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, opened the Lou Conte Dance Studio 34 years ago in the Loop, the studio offered classes in ballet, jazz and tap to non-professionals. Today the studio, now located at the Hubbard Street Dance Center in the West Loop, has expanded its repertoire, which  includes modern, hip-hop and African.

“We have roughly 30,000 to 35,000 visits per year,” said Claire Bataille, associate director of Lou Conte Dance Studio, “taking into consideration we don’t have a registration process.”

Since students pay as they go, the direct impact of reality TV dance shows on the Lou Conte Dance Studio is unclear. Many students are taking modern or ballet classes with the intention of becoming professional dancers, Bataille said, so reality TV shows don’t have as big an effect on their interest in dance.

Some classes, however, are more popular than others, she said, which may be due to the growth of dance on reality TV.

Lou Conte Dance Studio has offered hip-hop classes for the past decade, and the classes have always been popular. But with 55 to 60 people already enrolled in a beginning hip-hop class and the addition of a basic hip-hop class to the summer schedule, hip-hop at the studio has become an even greater attraction.

The popular “America’s Best Dance Crew,” for example, highlights such major street-dance styles as breaking, popping, locking and general hip-hop. Enjoying the head-bopping music and the physicality of the moves they see on TV, viewers may be motivated to dance like their favorite dance crews.

“There are more people drawn to the hip-hop classes,” Bataille said, “because of what they see on those shows.”

The popularity of dance reality TV

Asked why reality TV dance shows are so popular, DeMarlo said it had to do with watching the evolution of a dancer. “I think people love the energy,” she said, “watching people do something and learn a skill.”

Bataille however hesitates to say whether the growth of dance on reality TV is good for the dance world.

“I think it’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “It’s done a good thing in kind of bringing dance into the mainstream. People who might not be aware [of] or appreciate it as an art form are probably getting more exposure. But I don’t think that reality TV can really address a professional dancer’s life and the kind of training they have to do.”

Aspiring dancers

While interest surges in reality TV dance shows and class attendance at local studios continues to rise, local dancers appear to enjoy the arts’ moment in the spotlight.

“Ballet is the second hardest sport in the world compared to American football,” said Brandon Northrup, 25, of Detroit, Mich., as he waited with his dance crew, D*Fusion, to audition for MTV’s dance series.  “It’s nice that TV shows are actually showing the work that goes into dance.”

These televised dance competitions by showcase a variety of styles. “America’s Best Dance Crew” emphasizes hip-hop. “So You Think You Can Dance” focuses on jazz, lyrical, ballroom and hip-hop. “Dancing with the Stars” is strictly ballroom.

But whether it’s popping and locking or waltzing, dance means something more to dancers and their audiences than complex footwork.

At the front of the line, Kelly Callese, 27, of Chicago waited patiently with the rest of her dance crew.

Asked why she wanted to be a part of the reality show Callese said: “Dance has always been part of our lives, and we just watched the first season and we were just excited.”

“Pretty much dancing heals our worries, our cries,” said William “Romeo” Gaines, 26, of Englewood. Gaines waited with his dance crew, Diverse Individuals of Rhythm (D.I.O.R.), for the MTV auditions to begin. “It takes a lot of stress off us and it also helps you express your feelings in so many ways.”

D*Fusion dancer, Starkesha Brown, 23, of Detroit, Mich. agrees: “Dance is our way out. We can’t breathe without it. It’s like our air. We love it.”

Dancers from across the Midwest expressed their love for dance and reality TV dance shows at the “America’s Best Dance Crew” auditions in Chicago.

At the front of the line, Kelly Callese, 27, of Chicago waited patiently with the rest of her dance crew.

Asked why she wanted to be a part of the reality show Callese said: “Dance has always been part of our lives, and we just watched the first season and we were just excited.”

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