This week's So You Think You Can Dance gave us a bumping hip hop routine in an otherwise average episode. Unfortunately, a little bit of cultural appropriation (which goes a long way) in the form of a witch doctor and a voodoo doll was the origin of said routine.
The routine itself is absolutely fantastic. So You Think You Can Dance can crank out the tears when it wants to (and did last night, for sure), but when it comes to downright fun hip hop, it can just as easily miss the mark. This routine hits the bullseye just right—watch that leg split from 1:06 to 1:13 and try not to be impressed—which almost makes the sounds of "Is this racist?" or "Is this cultural appropriation?" ring a little less loudly than usual.
Those are not new questions to ask during the show, especially when a Bollywood or African Jazz routine pops up and ends up being performed by two white dancers. But in a more inclusive genre, when the story of the dance is the questionable aspect—especially in the case of a very good number—how are we supposed to react? A witch doctor and a voodoo doll is fairly culturally specific, and the fact that it takes some liberties with the concept of a voodoo doll in general shows an inherent misunderstanding of the subject. BUT THE DANCING IS SO COOL.
In fact, if you don't have any context for the dance, you could easily assume it's merely a puppeteer/puppet or a Dr. Frankenstein/monster routine. And then you look at Ricky's make-up and that whole excuse is out of contention.
The chances of the choreographers meaning anything by it other than thinking it looks cool are slim to none, but as poet laureates Brad Paisley and LL Cool J taught us, being an "accidental racist" is a thing. So is defending questionably offensive material. Which trumps: art or cultural sensitivity?