Lifetime Premieres New Dance Show Meant To Bring Families Together, But Could It's Good Intentions Backfire?

Last Friday night Lifetime Cable television network joined the current
dance on TV craze by premiering its own show called, Your Mama Don't
. Hosted by former Dancing With the Stars contestant Ian
Ziering, it differs from the other shows by pairing young professional
dancers, just beginning their careers, with their parents, in
competition with other parent / child teams for a grand prize of
$100,000 and a week-long stay for the whole family in Aruba. With five
father / daughter and five mother / son teams, the show aims to "bring
families together." Producer Bob Bain says it will "be a testament to
how far parents will go for their children."

Bringing families together through dance is a sweet idea, and one that
is foreign mainly only to Americans. But the show may end up having
the opposite effect. Contestants are young -- most of them in their
early twenties-- and very eager to get dance careers underway. Their
parents, it seems so far, have little to no dance training.

As anyone
who's tried it knows, partner dancing is incredibly difficult; your
partner either frames and supports you (if you're the woman) or
is the picture in your frame (if you're the man). You're only as good
as your partner. As it looks, the show may end up being more about just how much your
parent can hold you back and what effect that may have on the family.

The first week featured only the five female contestants dancing with
their fathers. Next week audiences will meet the five male competitors
and their mothers. Each week the couples are given a particular dance
style. The first week was "contemporary," which was kind of a
hodge-podge of modern, lyrical, jazzy ballet without pointe shoes, and
jazzy ballroom. The judges are: amazingly, the legendary dancer Ben
Vereen; singer, dancer, and actress Vitamin C, best known for her part
in the movie Hairspray; and Cris Judd, a dancer who choreographs for
musical artists.

Couples, Ziering announced, are to be judged in four
categories: technique, artistry, showmanship, and improvement, the
latter of which is based on comparing tapes of the pair rehearsing to
their final, live performance. The two couples with the lowest judges'
scores will be subject to public vote and that with the least votes
will leave the following week.

So, the first week's dancers: first on were Noelle Croner, 19, and her
father Doug, a teacher. As with all reality competition shows, the
background information about the participants provides the human
interest story, and is often just as interesting as the dancing, or,
at the very least, informs it. As a child, Noelle remembers her father
working long hours in order to support the family, leaving her very
little time with him. She cried telling the audience the past few
weeks together has enabled them to make up for lost time and he grew a
bit teary-eyed too.

Given Britney Spears's "Toxic," they danced a kind
of slow, jazzy jive. Background footage of Doug trying to learn had
him exclaiming, "I love the choreography, but 10 fewer years and 10
fewer pounds and it'd be a lot easier." "He was sweating like a pig,"
Noelle laughed. They were cute together, though the number, as with
all the routines, seemed a slight bit risqué for a father /daughter
team. Vereen told them they'd "already won," just by being here and
Vitamin C, who is called simply "C," remarked, "what a dad!" Judd and
"C" criticized Doug for lacking technique, but for anyone who began
learning dance in their fifties, that's going to be a given. As for
Noelle, she's a very fun dancer, but I felt like many of her steps
were too big, making the dance look a bit awkward. Jive steps are
meant to be small - no wider than the space between one's shoulders -
and, though this was Latin combined with jazz, and the beat was slow
for jive, I still would have preferred her to concentrate more on
developing her styling rather than making oversized steps. But the
judges don't seem too intent on critiquing the pro dancers; they're
focusing on the pair and how well the parent lived up to the
challenge. Noelle and Doug hugged at the end and she patted his back
saying she was proud.

Next was 19-year-old Brooke Shepherd and her stepfather, Eric. Brooke
is currently struggling to make a career for herself in New York,
undergoing grueling auditions and Eric is a computer engineer. Like
Noelle and Doug, Brooke and Eric were distant growing up, particularly
during Brooke's high school years when she embarked on a search for
her biological father, later realizing by concentrating so hard on
finding him, she'd been "missing out on the person who's been there
the whole time." Though she was initially shocked when told Eric would
be her partner, she calmed down, saying she knew he'd give 100

They danced to a slow song from the 70s, "Sarah Smile," which
opened with Eric doing very good, sharp, isolated movements in
character, as he portrayed an angsty businessman trying to let loose
and find his inner romantic. After he threw down his briefcase and ran
to Brooke, the two performed a beautiful, and difficult, routine.
Brooke is a lovely dancer with nice lines, which she aptly
demonstrated in battement kicks, excellent supported jumps in splits
and attitude position (where the back leg is bent), as well as a few
hard lifts where Eric gave her good height and she supported much of
her own body weight. The routine ended with a passionate dip, Brooke
in a semi-split. I was surprised that the judges were harsh on Eric,
telling him his smile got a bit stiff. But they had a hard routine and
he acted it well and had good rhythm. He did well for a non-dancer.
They were my personal favorites.

Following them were Heather Phillips, 22, who's danced in Cats and
High School Musical, and her father Stephen, a car salesman in
Philadelphia. Because Heather's mother owned a dance studio, she was a
"mama's girl" growing up but became a good support for her father when
he fell into a deep depression. Stephen said he wouldn't be here
without Heather. Practice tapes showed Stephen getting frustrated
easily, but Heather said she knew he was "giving it his all" and
struggled to get him to relax and just have fun. They danced to 80s
hit "Tainted Love."

Heather's a cute dancer with good jazzy moves and
great contractions. But the choreographer, who noted she was worried
about Stephen dancing in front of an audience, gave him very little
movement - apart from one fun air-guitar-playing moment, his "dancing"
consisted mostly of finger snapping, which I think worked against him,
being too easy. He looked very uncomfortable, very self-conscious, but
he also looked like he was trying very hard both to do the footwork
properly and to shake off his nerves for his daughter's sake. They
received the lowest score: 73 out of 100.

The next couple was Celia Merendi, 23, probably the dancer with the
most prestigious training - The Royal Ballet School in London, the
Joffrey in Chicago, and the American Ballet School -- and her father
Silvano, who works for a telephone company in Miami. Theirs is an
interesting story. Celia's mother was diagnosed a manic-depressive
when Celia was very young, forcing her parents to split. Her father
took over, becoming both parents to her, encouraging her love of
dance. He "gave me my dance life," she said. Silvano later realized he
was gay. At first Celia couldn't talk openly about it, but by the end
of high school, had grown to accept him fully. He'd been diagnosed
with cancer not long ago, but has been in remission for two years.

Background clips of her dancing ballet on pointe were breathtaking. I
only wish we could have seen that onstage. Their routine, to "No One,"
was a rather odd combination of funk and lyrical that didn't make a
lot of sense and came nowhere near showcasing Celia's seemingly
enormous talent. The choreography was bogged down by bouncing, almost
hip-hop-like motions, which were awkward when combined with the more
balletic lyrical movement, decreasing the latter's beautiful effect.
She ended in a lovely, lyrical supported arabesque though. Silvano
seemed very nervous, which I hadn't expected watching the way they
interacted with each other in the background clips. It goes to show
what being before an audience and performing under such high stakes
can do for nerves. They received the second lowest score.

The final couple to dance was very high-spirited Nicole Niestemski and
her father, Michael, an IBM project manager. Nicole, 24, is a former
L.A. Clippers "Spirit Girl" and was in the movie Bring It On. Close
throughout Nicole's life, they really enjoy each other's company and
it shows. Nicole called herself "daddy's little girl." One short-lived
problem in their relationship was when Michael, very athletic, had
wanted Nicole to pursue a softball career, and was disappointed when
she chose dance instead. But he eventually accepted her choice, even
making her costumes and taking her to rehearsals, becoming a "dance

They did a jazzy, swing-y routine to "Right Now," complete with
a flashy, assisted back somersault in the air and a couple of cute rag
doll dips. She was flirty and adorable and he hilarious. They had
great fun dancing together, and Michael, though obviously not a
skilled dancer, did a lot of hip shaking and booty wiggling, and just
really let it all hang out. Only drawback to the choreography was that
some of the tricks - like the lifts where she jumped into his arms and
he held her in a seated position, and those ragdolls - repeated; the
routine could have had a bit more variety. But as far as the basic
dancing, couples like this are the most fun to watch at professional/
amateur competitions -- where the amateur far overcomes whatever he
may be lacking in technique with boundless enthusiasm, energy and just
plain spirit. Judges called this their favorite of the night, and they
received the highest score, a 90.7.

At the end, scores were "revealed," which I place in quotes because we
had been given the scores after each performance and already knew who
had the lowest average. So, the drum roll theatrics at the end were a
bit silly.

Though the female dancers in this round were obviously better than
their male partners, leading your eye to the lady, it's not hard to
focus your attention on the woman anyway. She's the "picture" after
all. Next week's competition with the guys and their non-pro mothers
will be very interesting.

One other small gripe: according to the show's producers, the dancers
didn't know that they'd be dancing with their parents until they'd
already been selected to compete. This seemed disingenuous. Tapes were
shown of each dancer being told at auditions by Mr. Ziering that
they'd made the cut, then being asked to turn around to see the dancer
who'd been selected as their partner. Only Brooke seemed genuinely
shocked; the others seemed to feign surprise. Nicole even flashed a
playful grin before turning around to see her dad. All of them almost
immediately ran toward their fathers, embracing and kissing excitedly.
Is this the way you'd react if you'd just been told you'd be showcased
on an eight-week-long TV show, dancing before millions, competing for
money and, more importantly, fame, only to turn around and see your
non-dancing parent has been selected as your partner?