Like many queers of a certain age, JoJo Siwa first blipped on my radar earlier this year when she came out. Thanks to Riese’s invaluable Jojo primer, my knowledge of her has now crystallised as “YouTube something…dance something…giant bow something…gay.”
Some months later, it became apparent that JoJo was slated to appear on season 5382 of Dancing With the Stars. I am very familiar with the format thanks to my own mother’s long-running addiction to the UK progenitor, Strictly Come Dancing, and know all too well its ability to captivate an audience into a glitter-dazzled trance for exponentially increasing hours.
Because this website is an enabler of both the best and worst in me, I took a look at her first dance. I initially got a bit of that late-night internet stalking feeling, where I wasn’t too sure this content was something I should be taking an interest in. Of course, the problem is that these days the internet is the one stalking us, so that one click was all it took for the algorithms to start serving me JoJo’s dances on a weekly basis. I am at peace with this situation, but could probably do with some JoJo dance processing, so here we are now!
Latest Update: 11/23/2021
Well, we’re finally here. It’s been a long 10 weeks for a combined 20 minutes and 46 seconds of JoJo actually dancing (yes, I counted). Has it led to JoJo and Jenna’s ultimate triumph or was it just an extended sequin-clad learning experience for us all? Let’s find out!
Before we get onto the dances, it may be useful to get the low-down on JoJo’s competition for the coveted Mirror Ball. For the first time, I’m breaking my rule of not watching the non-JoJo dances so I can provide a thorough commentary, a decision I am only marginally regretting now!
The rival competitors are: Amanda Kloots, a former dancer and TV presenter I’ve never heard of; Cody Rigsby, a former dancer and Peloton instructor (?!) I’ve never heard of; and Iman Shumpert, a basketball player I’ve never heard of who has shockingly never been a dancer. Immediately I clock Iman as the danger: he ticks all the boxes for viewers who love to see “the journey” of non-dancers from awkward lumpy dancing to slightly less awkward lumpy dancing.
Of course, JoJo has been a journey of her own, as we see in her VT before the first dance, where she persuades us that she was actually not that confident when this whole thing started, but has surely blossomed now!
JoJo’s first dance is a tango/cha-cha fusion. I believe “fusion” means we have even less chance than usual of seeing a dance in a recognisable style with sympathetic music. Sure enough, to the resounding beat of Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care” JoJo and Jenna deliver the kind of high-energy performance we come to expect, kicking things up a notch compared to their first go-around of these dances. I think the tango portion is the strongest, mostly because JoJo’s hips always look a bit on the leaden side to me in the cha-cha. Undoubtedly the highlight of the dance is when JoJo and Jenna whip their skirts off as they transition between styles, giving me serious Eurovision vibes. The judges are in the party mood and declare yet another perfect score for the pair!
Now it’s time for JoJo’s final reflections on the season. After appropriate gushing about her own personal transformation under Jenna’s guidance, JoJo expresses her excitement at freestyling to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Yes, JoJo is not going to be holding back with the gay! She is adamant that everyone should dance with the girls they want to dance with!
For the freestyle, JoJo and Jenna have been generously furnished with backing dancers and are portentously dressed as deconstructed mirror balls. JoJo looks like she’s having the time of her life, and the pair reprise various moves from their time on the show. Dance-wise, I’m not sure we see anything massively new from them but they’re certainly giving it their all, and the pièce de resistance comes at the end when all the backing dancers reconfigure themselves in same-sex pairings to drive this whole shebang home.
The judges are effusive once again with their praise and remind us that we have been watching two women dance this whole time, isn’t that crazy? There is a delightfully bizarre comparison of Jenna to Joan of Arc and Bruno says he wishes he’d had someone like JoJo to look up to when he was a kid. Everyone is very emotional and they get a full house of 10s again!
But will it be enough! Surveying the rival freestyle dances, it’s pretty much anyone’s game. Cody’s camp number I think actually out-gays JoJo, and Amanda’s starts strongly with some aerial dancing before I totally lose her in a sea of identikit backing dancers. I feel like Iman is struggling with the male dancer equivalent of the sexy lamp test, as he’s essentially just existing while his pro partner burns up the stage around him.
The elimination swiftly sees off Amanda and Cody, leading to the match-up I’d been dreading: it’s JoJo versus Iman. Has JoJo managed to recruit enough A-list celesbian vote getters this week to grab the top spot? Unfortunately, she has not! Iman takes the win, much to my dismay, if not to my complete surprise. I explained to my wife about the British concept of a “housewive’s favourite” – aka an affable man on TV that will appeal to the stereotypical middle-aged woman that’s the key demo for shows such as this. She countered that surely the housedyke’s favourite has to count for something?
I do wonder if it was all a bit too gay too soon for JoJo to win. It’s pretty incredible that despite knowing how many people would be up in arms about a same-sex pairing, no-one on the show ever shied away from foregrounding it at every given opportunity, which is a win in itself. Although this wraps up our communal experience living through JoJo’s dance quest, I think she’s firmly established herself as a young queer star who’s here to stay.
SEMI FINAL: ARGENTING TANGO & CONTEMPORARY
It’s the semi-final and we have two full dances in store! First up is something they are calling a redemption dance. It is unclear at first what this means, but I am confident JoJo will do very well because queers on TV are great at redemption arcs. It turns out this just involves judge Len Goodman telling them to have another go at the Argentine tango, and this time dance it like they’re girlfriends rather than a married couple. Also he wants them to ooze? This is something I’ll have to unpack later, but I’m agreeing strongly with Len right now.
The dance itself is a big improvement on their Britney Argentine tango. Firstly, it is to real tango music! Yes, we have the theme I’ve been waiting for all season: Just Some People Dancing Week. Liberated from the tyranny of trying to make dance styles fit wildly unsuitable music, JoJo and Jenna deliver a standout performance. There are leg flicks! Close-body holds! Plus: slinky outfits! There’s something for everyone here, including all the judges, who duly award a round of perfect scores. Hurrah!
No sooner can you say “skip to the next YouTube video” than we are on to their second dance. This is the nebulous contemporary dance. While I’m ever hopeful that one day someone will try emulating Julia Stiles’s Juilliard audition from Save the Last Dance, my expectation is for everyone to look very pained while pretending to dust, artfully.
I think we’re onto a winner here though. The aesthetics are 100% the morning after the 90s lesbian sex rumba the night before. JoJo seems to have found her groove in a run of dances where she can lean into her physicality, and she’s obviously working her leg-warmers off to pick up the next level choreo. I am genuinely floored by the slow motion cartwheel JoJo pulls Jenna into. I am equally floored that I casually used “choreo” like I’m not gleaning all my dance knowledge from YouTube comments.
To me, it feels like a foregone conclusion they’ll get another perfect 40, but JoJo is taking no chances and deploys her crying grandma to defeat the judges. That makes a blemish-free 80 in total, so they must be going through to the final, right?? Fortunately for our frail queer hearts, JoJo again has our backs and has tapped up some A-listers on Instagram to get out the vote, including queer faves Demi Lovato and Cara Delavagina. They are the first couple safely through, although I’m not sure that counts for anything because Tyra Banks has been gaslighting me about the meaning of “in no particular order” for almost two months now.
So, what do we think will happen in the final? I’m confident that JoJo and Jenna are the strongest pairing technically, but I’m not sure that guarantees the win. When I explained to my wife that less talented men do disproportionately well she immediately replied “are we just talking about the show?” Definitely on the UK version the lower scoring guys have a decent shot at success if they capture that elusive mantle of housewives’ favourite. Could the final come down to a battle of the celesbian machine vs middle-aged housewives of America?! Let’s reconvene next week and find out!
SALSA & RUMBA
After last week’s dip into the bottom two, JoJo and Jenna are not messing around with their salsa. From the get-go, JoJo is lifting Jenna with the core strength of someone who would definitely make it past day 8 of 30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne.
I have to admit that when I saw this week’s theme was Janet Jackson, I was not sure how her music would translate to whatever spray of dance styles would be on offer. But this salsa is working for me! There are all sorts of head loops and dips and shimmies that read recognisably as salsa, so I feel like we’re getting a substantial dance meal to offset the flashier parts.
I quickly twig that this week’s approach to hoodwinking the primetime audience about the fact they’re watching two women grind up on each other is to simply cram in more shit than they can process. If you’re still wondering how JoJo flipped Jenna over her head, you’re not going to clock how Jenna somehow cartwheeled onto JoJo in an upside-down split for a very crotch-centric spin, right? The judges are equally steam-rollered and award a well-deserved 39.
But that’s not it! With the contestants having been whittled down over the past 9 weeks, there’s time to ram another routine in. What’s more it’s a dance-off! This format is more sedate than the combative dance warfare I envisaged, with JoJo and Jenna merely dancing alongside rival couple Olivia Jade and Val, who is Jenna’s husband! I feel like Val’s presence is mostly to assert Jenna’s heterosexuality, kind of like the show is doing a big “no homo.”
Why is this necessary? Because the couples are dancing a rumba, a dance I previously compared to a sex scene in a terrible 90s lesbian movie. The evidence at hand:
- Everybody’s dressed for bed, and definitely at the sexier end of the cozy-sexy spectrum
- JoJo and Jenna’s routine ends with a forehead press
- Someone cries (me, 100% lesbian aunt tears of pride)
Also like many lesbian terrible films, there’s a guy getting in the way a lot. I really wish we’d got a dedicated full-screen rumba for JoJo and Jenna because I feel like we’re finally getting to see the kind of grown-up JoJo we’ve had emergent glimpses of throughout the course of the competition. Also, the rumba is super hard! While in many dances JoJo has blasted through with speedy athleticism, the slower rumba really exposes the dancers’ connection and technique.
Anyway, despite being very busy learning two complex dances that she knocked out the park, somehow JoJo also found time this week to educate her youthful fanbase about the existence of live TV, meaning she’s safely voted through to the semi-finals!
It’s another week and another theme: Queen. JoJo and Jenna stride out onto the stage dressed as matching Barbarellas, all figure-hugging spandex, to dance the tango to Body Language, a song where 50% of the lyrics are “give me your body.” My fears resurface that we may be about to witness a sexy dangerous dance that both middle America and I will not be able to cope with, for wildly different reasons.
Honestly, despite JoJo and Jenna’s obvious dancing prowess, I am not blown away by this dance. More than ever it feels like we’re watching two girls at the club, and I am really not sure about that synchronised hair pull. This does not feel like a performance aimed at a crotchety lesbian whose interest would be more piqued watching a synchronised IKEA bed frame assembly.
I am swiftly shaken from my indifference when JoJo and Jenna end up in the bottom two. I curse everyone that’s ever slighted JoJo including the entire US, the UK education system, and myself a few sentences ago. I’ve not been watching anyone else’s dances because I don’t want to sully my fantasy of an all-queer dance utopia, however it seems impossible that the straight contestants could be better in any way. Fortunately, the cosmic blip that led to this situation is halted by the judges, who unanimously vote to save our unbowed heroine.
There are two shows left before the final and it’s the first time we’ve seen any fallibility of the JoJo and Jenna juggernaut. I am confident that we’ll see a swell in support off the back of this, but in this day and age who really has confidence in any voting system?
It’s horror week and JoJo is embodying my joint-greatest fear — Pennywise from It. This forces me to spend the whole 90 second routine watching from between my fingers, giving the overall effect of a zoetrope of dance terror.
Apparently JoJo and Jenna are dancing in the style of jazz which, as far as I can tell from any other show like this, just means pretending you are in Chicago. What went wrong here! Who took the canes and bowler hats and replaced them with nightmare tutus! What’s worse is that JoJo looks like she’s having tremendous fun doing this. I am momentarily pulled out of my stunned repulsion to admire the no-hands flip and a disarmingly graceful pirouette.
For the finale, JoJo tears Jenna’s hand off and starts monstrously devouring it. I was never a musical theatre kid, but I’m fairly certain this is not what “jazz hands” are meant to be. I’m too scared to even make a fisting joke!
Needless to say, JoJo is awarded another perfect score and Google will ensure clips of this dance will haunt me forever.
We are straying into Gal Pal territory with this Grease-themed foxtrot. Ostensibly, JoJo and Jenna are dressed up as Sandy and Frenchie, where Sandy-JoJo kind of dance-emancipates herself with encouragement from Frenchie-Jenna. They are clearly pushing the friendship angle, and I am clearly wondering why I never considered Pink Lady on Pink Lady action before. Did you know that there is only one Sandy/Frenchie fanfic on AO3? I feel there’s a collective cultural failing here.
Anyway, the dancing is very good! I think JoJo’s getting to the stage now where things are looking a lot less effort, and I have fewer worries about her exuberance taking someone’s eye out.
JoJo and Jenna get a perfect score! Everyone is happy for them! Are they sisters?
Now we are approximately halfway through the competition, it’s time to take stock of the situation and what may lie ahead for JoJo.
With the paso and Argentine tango done, I do wonder if the producers were trying to get the sexiest dances out of the way early. The remaining concern is probably the rumba. The rumba is essentially a 90s lesbian movie sex scene in dance form. Considering there’s already been two Disney-themed dances and a Grease night, it seems only fair that we have a “Terrible Lesbian Film Week” where JoJo and Jenna dance the rumba in stylised high-waisted jeans, in a routine fraught with forehead presses and toe curls and then they cry at the end.
The paso doble is a dance that typically comprises one minute of faffing around with a cape and one minute of moody stomping. Traditionally, this is all supposed to be some kind of allegory for a bullfight, with the woman as the bull and the guy as the matador. This is definitely a more vegan-friendly take, with JoJo and Jenna giving me strong messy exes vibes. We must all hope this is not a play-by-play of a potential puppy custody battle between JoJo and Kylie.
It’s the first of two Disney-themed dances and JoJo is a prince! I wonder if there were many behind-the-scenes debates about which side of the Disney princess/prince divide they’d come down on. While JoJo’s getup is about as masculine as the average boyband member, I am pleased with this outcome. My wife says this is all very heteronormative, but after three weeks of high-femme action, I am confident that Prince JoJo is going to be causing several million pre-teens to have a little think about things.
As for the actual dance, they spin around a lot and I am only moderately dizzy by the end of it. Success!
It’s the third week and we’re already onto Argentine tango, which gives me pause. This is a dangerous sexy dance! The sexy comes from the fact the dance is essentially a close-body seduction to music, and the danger is because the seduction could be killed at any point if you accidentally leg-flick your pointy dance heel into your partner’s groin.
The potential frisson is dissipated somewhat by the fact they’re dancing to “Baby One More Time,” and middle America breathes a sigh of relief that Swedish-produced pop is guaranteed to erase the words “sultry” and “seductive” from their vocabulary before they have to think too hard about these women pressing their bodies against each other.
JoJo is very clearly dancing the lead! Plus, she’s wearing a pink plaid dress with only 50% sparkles, which I imagine is the closest this show gets to butch lesbianism. JoJo has no problems swinging Jenna through their various lifts and twirls with the kind of competence that deserves a lanyard.
CHA CHA CHA
Without any bow weighing her down on head or costume, possibly for the first time in her life, the world is astonished see that JoJo is 7ft tall. Will she be auditioning for the live-action reboot of She-Ra? I hope so.
Like most of the Latin dances, the cha cha is heavy on hip action, to which JoJo applies herself with a vigour that could sideswipe a lorry. Once again, I am unsure about who is leading, because both Jenna and JoJo seem to be doing the spinny bits and splits that I always thought the follower did. Things are clarified right at the end when they kind of dip each other simultaneously, which is both physically alarming and a clear statement that both these women are in charge! I hope this dance move is federally protected.
Immediately I’m relieved to identify JoJo courtesy of the giant bow stuck to her top. The aesthetic for her and partner Jenna’s outfits appears to be harem-casual, the music is Australian alt-rock, and the dance is a ballroom classic dating back 100 years. Struggling to work out what is really going on here, I tap into my deep dance knowledge to remember that the quickstep is thus named because you have to do steps, very quickly. This is definitely happening!
Unfortunately the quickness and culturally-dubious leg-wear is making it hard to tell who is leading and who is following. I feel thwarted in attempts to reflect on how gender roles are at play, because the only gender on display appears to be “chaos.” My overriding thoughts are: “It’s two girls dancing!” Then I worry that “girls” is a little diminishing, so I correct to: “two women dancing, one of whom was not yet alive when I was sitting my finals at uni.”