The second series of Skins – a cultish TV drama that’s been described as This Life for teenagers – starts tonight on E4 (It is repeated Thursday on Channel 4). Like This Life, it’s got friendship and family, sex and soul-searching. Plus, it’s got school. The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker was initially a sceptic, but is now a convert. What’s more, he singled out the opening contemporary dance sequence as a sign that the programme “oozes confidence”.
Contemporary dance as a reason why telly is good? I’m impressed. Dance on screen – especially contemporary dance – doesn’t exactly have a reputation for pulling in the viewers (the single exception being Strictly Come Dancing). And while I’m a contemporary dance lover, I seem to spend much more time than I’d like defending it. The back foot has become my default position. So Brooker’s words made me pretty happy. And he wasn’t the only one that the dance sequence impressed. Here are some comments from young viewers on the E4 website:
“That dance was badd!!” “totally awesome moves rocked” “dat is so deadly!!!” “saaaaaafe man.. dance was sikkkkkkkk”
That’s not hip-hop they’re talking about, it’s contemporary dance. In E4 web lingo: yay!
There are a few good reasons for this particular piece of dance on screen being a hit with viewers. First, there’s the choreographer, Israeli-born Hofesh Shechter, who’s currently on a bit of a roll. His choreography is raw and packs a terrific amount of energy. Second, the dance is not just decoration or filler; it actually does some work for the programme. In time-honoured backstage musical fashion (think Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street, Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, or Leroy in Fame), young Maxxie from Skins is dreaming of becoming a dancer, so has to put in the work and overcome the obstacles if he wants to make it. The choreography indicates his energy and motivation much more directly than any dialogue.
Finally there’s Maxxie himself, played by actor Mitch Hewer, who looks a pretty fine dancer himself, especially given that he’s not professionally trained. But can you tell the dancer from the dance? Oh yes – just look at the following comments from the website:
“maxxie is god damn sexy love him and wot a fit body ohhhhhhhhhhhh” “I M FALL IN LOVE IN MAXXIE!!!HE SO SWEETY!” “how class is he at dancing 😐 and his hair is awesome”
Yes, a great number of comments on the dance are variations on Maxxie is hot, or Maxxie is cool – which is presumably why Channel 4 have used a blond and shirtless Maxxie on their Skins poster. Still, look at the clip, I think it’s not just Maxxie but the dancing itself that’s hot and cool.
And what Brooker says of the drama also goes for the dance: it achieves this by oozing confidence, not by pandering to an imaginary youth audience. Or staying on the back foot. Or, worst of all, actually trying to be hot, or hip, or cool.