“What am I even doing, I don’t know?” is both something a contestant wonders aloud and something I asked myself while watching the premiere of Flirty Dancing. Perhaps it’s just the haze of a week spent eating copious amounts of dessert and tossing back glasses of wine in the name of the holidays, but I think I just watched a show in which people go on blind dates set up by Jenna Dewan that consist only of performing a choreographed dance. That’s it. There is no talking, no idea of what the person looks like ahead of time — there is only dancing. What a final, glorious, fever dream of a gift 2019 has bestowed on us.
Flirty Dancing will not be for everyone. It is exceptionally earnest in a way that most reality TV dating shows are not. To borrow a phrase from that other famous series full of people “looking for love,” the six singletons on the Flirty Dancing premiere legitimately seem to be “here for the right reasons.” I mean, sure, “here” is “on a FOX reality dating show” and “the right reasons” are “to see if dancing with someone before actually meeting them might be the secret way to finding love,” but love is weird guys, and online dating is the Actual Worst, so maybe Jenna Dewan is on to something.
Here’s how this thing works: One romantic hopeful will be matched with two possible partners, and will learn a different dance to perform with each of them. The first time they see each other will be the moment they start dancing. After both dances are performed, the person chooses whom he or she would like to go out on a second date with. In the original U.K. version, it is simply two people dancing and then going on a date afterward, but this is America AND WE MUST HAVE OUR LOSERS. So, yes, one person will spend a week learning a dance, perform it on national TV, and then get ghosted. Love is hard, we know this.
Jenna Dewan tells me that you “can’t just dance this” but rather, you “have to feel this” for it to work, and she is very wise. So, let’s virtually hold hands and go on this journey of feelings that include romance and fun and nervousness and, of course, a healthy amount of second-hand embarrassment. But that’s true for any first date, right?
First up is performing arts teacher Octavius, who is a delight and actually seems to have some dance skills. This is promising! He tells Jenna that because he’s such a big guy, women can be intimidated by him and he wants to use this opportunity to show off both the joyful, fun side of his personality and the sweet, romantic side. And so, he’s matched with two women: Megan, a barber-in-training who will be perfect for his playful side, and Marymarie, a fashion stylist who will appeal to the romantic. Now, all they have to do is dance. I am equally excited and scared!
Octavius & Megan, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
Both of our singles have four days of rehearsal with Emmy award-winning choreographer Tyce Diorio to separately learn their jaunty little number and think about how they can share their true soul with one another through eye contact while shimmying in a park, which Jenna tells us is extremely important.
On Dance Day, now a real thing, both Octavius and Megan arrive full of jitters and get into their places. Jenna and Tyce watch from a monitor, like proud parents who forced their kids into a class they definitely did not want to take because “it would be good for them and I said so.” Octavius and Megan find each other in Grand Park in Los Angeles and do that dang routine. Here’s the thing: It’s not the train wreck you assume might take place when two randos meet in a park and end up dancing in sync in a giant fountain. There’s still awkwardness radiating out of my body while I watch it, but Octavius and Megan look like they’re having a great time. Then the song ends and, I don’t know how to tell you this but, they just walk out of that fountain in opposite directions without saying a word. That’s the date!
Octavius & Marymarie, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”
Oh guys, I really feel for Marymarie here, who looks like she might legit barf on the rehearsal studio floor when Jenna tells her she’ll be dancing to an acoustic, sensual version of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Tyler Ward. “I did not sign up for this s—” her eyes seem to be saying to the camera. Only, she did sign up for this s—. She signed up for it so hard. This routine is much more romantic than the previous one. There’s lots of intimate contact — call it the Dirty Dancing Body Outline Move, if you will — lots of eye contact (VERY IMPORTANT!!), and there! are! lifts! Who among us wants to be lifted up and stared at while in the air on a first date? Who?!
For as nervous as both Octavius and Marymarie seem before this nighttime meetup, both are extremely confident once the dance starts. Jenna said these people were not professionals, but, like how is everyone so comfortable with this? No one even awkward giggles! Anyway, there’s a lot of chemistry between these two and in the end, Octavius gives Marymarie his jacket before they walk away from each other. Is that a sign?
The Second Date: Wow wow wow. Who would’ve guessed that the awkward part of this show is not the dancing blind date but the fact that both women vying for a second date with Octavius have to go to a restaurant to see if he shows up. There’s a 50 percent chance you’re going to get stood up by the guy you danced with in a park just three days before! The dating scene is rough.
In the end, Jenna’s talk about looking into each other’s eyes had some real truth to it, because for his second date, Octavius chooses the woman whose eyes gave him “a sense of comfort.” Octavius goes on a second date with Megan! They proceed to have a very normal date in which they ask probing questions like “what is your name?” and “what is your job?” They seem like…two people who just did something very weird and are now getting to know one another. When we check in with them again at the end of the show, they’ve been on “five or six dates” — so that’s nice! Maybe we’ve all been doing this dating thing wrong. Oh, and don’t worry about ol’ Marymarie who, yes, does have to leave the restaurant alone, but she does so knowing that she’s “the prize” and she will find love. Maybe just not while dancing in a park.
Our second Flirty Dancing contestant is 21-year-old hairstylist Erin, who has arrived on this show looking for a sort of reverse The Voice situation. She’s very insecure about her voice, which she describes as “like a 12-year-old” and a “squeaky toy” and honestly don’t women have enough to worry about, now we have to be self-conscious about our voices? What the hell, society? Anyway, Erin’s excited that she’ll get to see if she has chemistry with a guy before he ever hears her voice. This is very depressing.
Erin & Brandon, “If I Can’t Have You”
For Erin’s fun and flirty routine, she’s been paired up with a “strong and stable” real estate developer, who knows he isn’t the greatest dancer but isn’t afraid to be silly. That’s the best outlook to have when coming on this show, so Brandon’s already a winner. Erin’s routines are choreographed by the creative genius that is Travis Wall. What makes Travis more of an angel? The fact that he takes Erin by the arms and tells her that she is incredible and has so much to offer and needs to stop being her own worst enemy? Or that he spends approximately 82 percent of rehearsal time trying to teach Brandon how to do body rolls? Get Travis Wall his own show, is what I’m saying.
Erin and Brandon perform a playful routine amongst the bleachers at The Hollywood Bowl. Brandon still cannot do a body roll, but these two seem immediately into each other. “Were they about to kiss?” Jenna excitedly asks as she and Travis watch from the monitors. I mean, probably not since they have to basically run away from each other once the routine is over, but maybe, Jenna. Maybe.
Erin & Alec, “Perfect”
Erin said she’s looking for a creative, confident guy, which leads us to 25-year-old music composer Alec. Jenna asks him to compose a musical intro to the routine and conduct an orchestra on stage before starting the dance. As if this dude doesn’t have enough pressure on him. Still, he’s into it and honestly, if you’re composing some music for a woman on your first date, you know you have this in the bag.
The dancing in this romantic routine is questionable — what is that balancing move in the middle?! — but out of all four routines, this one has the most passion and both Alec and Erin seem deeply into it and each other. Erin walks off the Hollywood Bowl stage and confesses that she could tell her date was there for her, that she could count on him. Ah, so that’s why Travis Wall put in that sneaky little trust fall move. I see what’s going on here.
The Second Date: I mean, what do you think? Erin describes her first guy as “tall” and “handsome” and she describes her second guy as someone who she had an instant connection with, as if they already knew each other. Yeah, she’s meeting Alec. Unlike Marymarie, they do not make Brandon sit at a restaurant alone, but rather have him walk the streets of Los Angeles like he’s in a video for an ’80s rock ballad. He seems fine with Erin’s decision because wow this show really found people who know their worth and I am here for that. What a treat! Speaking of, when we check in with Erin and Alec, it’s a few weeks post-dance and they are still dating. So, I guess the moral of this whole story is dance your little hearts out, guys.