Vulture totally called it when they wrote that Flesh and Bone, the new series from the Starz network, “is filled with clichés, but they’re melodrama clichés, specifically ballet melodrama clichés, and that automatically makes them feel less wearisome than cop or gangster clichés.” Exactly. Dance drama has its own brand of tropes, and it is the best, most stylish brand, like Lululemon or Nancy Rose Performance. And what’s fun about Flesh and Bone is that we get to see all of these clichés live and breathe in a decidedly edgy (and maybe a teensy gratuitous) cable TV world that’s so different than the filtered PG-13ness of most dance-focused flicks.
That’s why I was a little bummed when the article just sort of moved past this point, and then past Flesh and Bone all together. I suppose there are other new shows and movies that deserve to be reviewed, but as someone who owns the DVD of Center Stage and makes So You Think You Can Dance appointment TV every summer, I yearned for a deeper exploration. Hence this (not exhaustive) list of all the on-screen dance tropes that Flesh and Bone totally nails in its series pilot.
If, like me, you have a weakness for rehearsal montages and a good, old-fashioned final performance scene, wrap yourself in a pink cashmere shrug, grab half a grapefruit and read on.
Trope #1: The wide-eyed rookie that has to prove herself.
This trope is our nucleus, and I’m not sure a ballet melodrama would work without it. Claire Robbins is Flesh and Bone’s ingénue. She’s beautiful, skittish and tragic, which infuses her dancing and makes everyone lose their minds. The super jaded ballet fascists that run her dance company are convinced she’s a star, but not before they’re convinced she’s a waste of time. They make her prove herself on the spot, which she does with aplomb and then almost gets to the studio door with her legwarmers and enormous duffle bag before they’re like, “Wait. Okay, fine. I guess you can stay.” Like everything she encounters, this totally surprises her. I guess it makes sense that ballerinas, because they spend their formative years chained to the barre, grow up as sheltered adults. But, then there’s…
Trope #2: The sassy, foul-mouthed dancer who shows her the ropes.
Baby had Penny in Dirty Dancing. Nina had Lily in Black Swan. And Claire has Daphne. Daphne offers Claire plenty of real talk as well as carte blanche of her closet, a curated collection of racy cocktail dresses and designer stilettos. Then she takes her to the strip club where she, of course, is gainfully employed. Predictably, Claire responds with an adorable combo of shock and intrigue. But what’s that glimmer in her eye? What’s that about? We’re pretty sure it won’t be Claire’s last trip to that fine establishment.
Trope #3: The entitled OG dancer.
Kiira, complete with a frosty eastern European accent and a cocaine habit, doesn’t waste any time letting Claire know what’s up. Don’t take Kiira’s spot at the barre, and definitely don’t take one of her solos. Seriously, Claire…You’re not gonna listen, are you, Claire?
Trope #4: The crazy/brilliant/abusive artistic director.
“I WANT CHAMPAGNE!” Paul Grayson screams this at his humiliated staff within the first 20 or so minutes of the show. This is after dismissing an audition finalist for her too-wide hips, but before using Claire to manipulate one of the company’s most moneyed patrons. Like Smash’s Derek, this guy’s a tool. But a tool with a vision and a British accent, which means we’ll indulge his bullshit.
Trope #5: A burning desire to push the envelope.
“But every year we do the same, tired dance. Why not do something different?”
“Something different? Who do you think you are?! You can’t just go changing what we do every year!”
“But I have ideas!”
“Ideas? Are you crazy?”
You get the idea.
Trope #6: Busted feet.
If you know one thing from dance movie tropes it’s that, for all their swan-like elegance and 1% body fat, ballerinas have gnarly feet. While most movies like to remind you of this with maybe a two-second shot of some poor dancer carefully sliding her bloody foot from a tattered toe shoe, Claire takes things up a notch with a dead toe nail and unhealthy amount of self-flagellation (even for a ballerina).
Trope #7: This guy.
Once Center Stage‘s Jody got bad boy Cooper and his headbands out of her system, she settled down with Sascha Radetsky’s reliable, if slightly dopey, Charlie. And I’m pretty he’ll be there for Claire (this time as Ross) when she eventually crumbles under
Derek’s Thomas’ Jonathan’s Paul’s impossible demands.
Flesh and Bone is on Sunday nights on the Starz network. If you don’t have Starz, you can still get a healthy serving of delicious dance tropes at Starz.com where the pilot episode is available for free.