The last person on earth I thought I’d ever defend is the former flame-throwing, feisty-and-fuming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, now a television celebrity bursting from his lycra costume on “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC.
However … we are compelled to respond to New York Times chief dance critic Gia Kourlas, in her “Critic’s Notebook” column on Monday. Ms. Kourlas, a friend of the blog, gave “Spicey” a public dance-spanking right on his Latin Hustle-gyrating tuchas. She asserts that his bad dancing (yes, he’s borderline terrible!) goes beyond being a mere klutz. It reveals, writes Kourlas (while roping in a quote from an innocent bystander, Martha Graham), his very “essence [as] a human being.” Kourlas finds it “outrageous” that despite bad dancing, Spicer seems to be an audience favorite and keeps getting voted in, to the exclusion of others more skilled and qualified.
I don’t watch “Dance With the Stars.” It is not my taste. So I need to rely on Ms. Kourlas who tracks it regularly and considers it as appropriate fodder for critical commentary. (Others find that premise specious.)
I watched video of Sean and his partner Lindsay Arnold dancing the Paso Doble to the Gipsy Kings’ “Bamboleo” — a turn Ms. Kourlas calls “militaristic” with a “cold brutality.” What I observe, instead, in this admittedly stiff and geeky spin would not put Marge and Gower Champion (or to be fair any great contemporary ballroom dancer) out of business. But it has qualities. First and foremost, it’s fun. It’s fun to see the nation’s angry, nearly foaming-at-the mouth press secretary galvanize all his brain power to remember his Latin-dance steps. It’s so unlikely, and it’s nice in a way.
The best I can offer as a dance critic may feel scant. First, I notice that he is not falling over. The guy is, as we say in the business, “on his legs.” Neither is he tripping through space; in fact he covers ground pretty adeptly. He doesn’t murder his partner; Lindsay looks pretty good. He’s certainly not distracted! I daresay he wears a facial expression akin to, um, rabid commitment??
Ms. Kourlas’ description of Spicer as “as stiff and two-dimensional as a sheet of cardboard, with feet that move as if stuck in slabs of cement,” first of all, made me jealous. Why didn’t I think of that? But seriously, I disagree. I find Sean rather pleasantly “erect” and “at attention.” Further, he is not two-dimensional! He has a nice slab of belly blubber protruding at the waistline!
I suspect what’s missing here is humor. The Times’s television writer James Poniewozik, also gave Sean Spicer’s reinvention as a teevee Rudolf Valentino a big thumbs down. He states that Spicer has no right to self-rectify through dance. If that were true, then we none of us has this right. I wish Donald Trump himself would go back to his reality television show where at least I could turn him off.
I called upon Betsy Baytos, the world’s leading expert in Eccentric Dance whose seminal event at the Motion Picture Academy I recently covered for DANCE Magazine). I asked Betsy whether, given the hilarity of watching Spicer perform, he qualifies as an eccentric dancer. That genre, which Ms. Baytos persuasively demonstrates has deeper historic roots than even classical ballet, fostered such greats as Jack Stanford.
Ms. Baytos nearly howled, “PLEASE do not categorize him as Eccentric!”
Okay, okay, we got it. Historically, dancers are purposefully eccentric, not unwittingly so. It’s all about intention. How then, I asked Ms. Baytos, should we take Seans’ dance style?
“The opposite,” she readily replied. “I think poor Sean may be in a category ALL by himself: Eclectic, Exotic — or maybe Neurotic.”
There we go. I’ll buy that. Sean Spicer, Neurotic Dancer. And to my dance critic’s eye, he’s a superlative one.
Sean Spicer | Dancing With The Stars on ABC