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America’s Best Dance Crew: “Rihanna Superstar Challenge”

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For many groups that have danced on its stage, America’s Best Dance Crew is not unlike an ornery comedy club or a mother; at a certain point one must accept that there is no pleasing them. Fanny Pak’s semi-inexplicable comeback didn’t seem to account for that possibility; for them to place anything less than second would be a pretty big embarrassment, and with the amount of time that has passed since their first run on the show, and the dubious long-term memory of most MTV viewers, its wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion that they would be successful. It’s weird to attach a word like “hubris” to a crew that trades in flamboyant theatricality more than toughness or swagger, but there’s really no other explanation for them to come crawling back to the only reality competition show that can accommodate them (other than, like, America’s Got Talent or something? Shudder) despite the decent, legitimate work they were booking post ABDC. With their inglorious second run coming to an end last night, they risked sullying the otherwise warm memories long-time followers of the show might have had of them.


At least Fanny Pak got to go out with one of their strongest routines of the season, but it didn’t mean much in a week when everyone came back firing on all cylinders. I was not a fan of last week’s Pitbull challenge; the international dance moves were taken far too literally by most of the crews, and most of the music wasn’t that inspiring either. (I know, this is coming from someone who was praising the merits of 2011 Britney Spears songs a few weeks ago.) So it was great to see all of them reinvigorated, having been recently reminded that when they want to, the judges know how to bring down the hammer. It also helped that it was Rihanna week, which proved to be a great match for the show last season. While the songs they had to choose from this year weren’t as good as last year’s (I kind of loathe “S&M” but damn, it makes for a good brain-banging,) Rihanna’s recent rave-kid phase has produced a lot of tracks that are strong on rhythm and light on melody, which I think tend to set the stage for better dance routines.

As the crews are whittled down there’s more time in the hour for all-crew numbers, and I really enjoyed the Warriors-themed group dance to “We Found Love” at the top of the show (I guess it probably would have been unfair if any one crew got the best track RiRi has put out in the last year.) Even though there were plenty of cool tricks and solos (the super-smooth backflip by Fanny Pak’s Glenda at the end of the number earned a rewind from me,) I kind of liked just seeing them all come together in unison during the chorus; it really put me in the mood to see ABDC back in form.

Rihanna, barely nudged out of a coma and propped up in front of a keyed-in battleship background, assigns the challenges, which all have something to do with using clothes or props. This wasn’t nearly as fun as the dancehall challenge last season but it would do. RNG, whose incredible “dance of a thousand hands” routine deservedly bumped them out of the bottom two this week, were assigned bowler hats for their “You Da One” routine. It’s a slower song but I would disagree with J.C.  and say they handled the tempo masterfully – I loved the unexpected pauses and the very I.aM.Me-esque hat tricks. This crew is almost unrecognizable from the group that first hit the stage in the premiere, and watching them grow has been one of the most fun parts of this season.

8 Flavahz, however, are starting to wear thin with me. Several of you commented that you couldn’t get over their pageant-girl creepiness at the beginning of the season, but I was willing to look past that based purely on how athletic and exciting many of their routines have been. But if the historical context of 10 year olds in corsets doing the can-can had me feeling a little squicky last week, then seeing them dance to the Chris Brown-assisted travesty “Birthday Cake” had me downright lightheaded from clutching my pearls so hard. Oh, come on, don’t try to play like this is about Angel’s birthday – the lyrics to the song are “It’s not even my birthday.” (Seriously, look at the lyrics to “Birthday Cake” and tell me I’m not being a prude here.) Anyway, I guess they did some trick with fire, and there was some fun tutting at one point, but I was cringing too hard to keep accurate notes.


Mos Wanted came back strong this week with “Cockiness,” which leads me to believe that they’re at their best when they’re not being asked to do anything rigorously athletic. Last week’s kozachok challenge was a physical challenge and showed the weak side of this seemingly invincible group, but now we know that they’re most comfortable doing subtle, smooth choreography punctuated by big tricks and wow moments. Their trenchcoat based routine was a lot of fun and could easily be turned into a 90’s-era gap ad. J.C. said it “woke him up,” which I don’t think is very fair RNG or 8 Flavahz’ much-hyped pyrotechnics, but it was still great to see the guys back in fighting form.

Elektrolytes break out the “playbook” for their “Where Have You Been” routine, which had me worried at first – if you’re gonna break out the big guns, don’t let the other crews know you’re breaking out the big guns! – but it paid off massively. And while I’m not exactly sure that “In Event of Mic Stand Based Challenge, Create Monkey Bars and Backflip Off Them” was already in their little black book, there was just so much inventiveness minute-to-minute in their routine, and so many great moments that had nothing to do with tricks (Marcus’ shirtless diva moment, the awesome left-right “collapse” around the mic stand.)  Lil Mama’s Salient Point Of The Night was about how they used contrasting styles at the same time to great effect, like the unison “housing” with the moonwalk down the middle near the top of the act – a super-fun stage picture.


Fanny Pak stepped back from the overt storytelling this week (well, there was still some kind of Easy Rider-flower-power-type narrative going on, but robot-to-rainbow this was not,) and bust out some impressive tricks with their prop guns, but at this point the judges have gotten the memo from America that it’s time for Fanny Pak to go. J.C. defends them as artists and innovators, a subtle “F-you” to the voters, before sending them off, but this is one of the rare cases where a crew can’t catch a break and it’s probably for a good reason.

We’re down to the top four, and what is almost definitely going to be a Mos Wanted/Elektrolytes finale – but I would be thrilled if RNG could squeak through as well. Luckily, everyone will be doused in the same dorky, bad wedding-reception flames next week with LMFAO. It’s still anyone’s game!


Stray observations:

  • D-Trix to 8 Flavahz: “I love that you had four candles, representing the average age of your crew.”
  • This will be my last ABDC recap – and my last piece for The A.V. Club as I move on to write about overblown reality competitions elsewhere. It’s been a ton of fun getting to share the love of this show with you guys, and you are obviously in great hands with Rowan for the remained of the season. Now as I leave, my banner must fall.
  • *walks it out*

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