Once upon a time, there were two dancing contests.
Both screening on Three, the first one went by the name of Dancing With The Stars. It gathered celebs from around the land and bedazzled them in sequins and skin-tight mesh, before throwing them at the mercy of the text-voting public.
All was going relatively well until the show's fairy godmother, Suzy Cato, was cut from the dancefloor while its court jester, David Seymour, twerked on. As the arguably more talented dancers still left in the competition bravely waltzed on, a distinct feeling of "what's the point?" hung in the air.
But just as a public swell of support for the jester's, er, unique performances threatened to make a complete mockery of the art of dancing, along came the plucky little dance show that could: The Great NZ Dance Masala.
Hosted by Colin Mathura-Jeffree, himself a survivor of the Dancing With The Stars blood sport, this second contest eschewed celebrities in favour of people who actually have rhythm, in an Indian-inspired competition that celebrates both the diversity of dance and the diversity of New Zealand.
In its double episode premiere over the weekend, auditioning contestants prepared routines that fused Bollywood, hip hop and classical styles. All of them were aiming to impress the three judges — Bollywood expert Shawn Thomas, classical dance guru Prabha Ravi and contemporary dancer James Luck — in the hopes of snapping up one of five solo dancer spots and five group dance places in the next round.
Aside from Mathura-Jeffree and his signature dapper suit, the scene for these initial auditions looked very much like that of a high school production. But some of the talent on display was anything but amateur.
The opening act, a troupe called 50/50, kicked things off with an infectious showdown between traditional Indian dance and hip hop. The idea of blending those styles got another spin when two young men calling themselves The Disciples demonstrated an amazing hip hop routine set to Bollywood music that they'd taught themselves via YouTube videos.
We also got to meet Latisha, a 25-year-old nurse who looked and moved like she was on a Bollywood film set, while a group of schoolkids from Whangarei Intermediate showed off their own love for the Bollywood scene.
But the true revelation of the audition process was a 14-year-old student by the name of Abhishek. Choosing to perform a traditional type of dance that dates back 2000 years, he confidently told Mathura-Jeffree and the judges that he wanted to inspire other boys to attempt the same.
The judges could barely contain their excitement watching him perform — and I don't blame them. I know nothing about traditional Indian dancing (or any dancing, for that matter), but I'm quite confident in saying that if Abhishek doesn't win The Great NZ Dance Masala, I will eat the keyboard I am typing this on.
And Abhishek is just one of the many likeable characters to grace the audition room. But considering this is a reality TV competition, everyone is almost gracious and genuine to a fault.
The only drama we've seen so far is a sprained ankle suffered by one of the dancers right before his group's audition. The decision by the show's producers to absurdly beat this incident up as much as possible was presumably to try and inject an edge into a contest that's just so… nice.
There are the three judges who have been nothing but earnest and kind (so far), even as they're telling a dancer they haven't made the grade. And as far as those dancing rejects go, viewers mostly get to see just a snippet of their routine, as this show clearly isn't in the business of humiliating anyone on national TV.
There's also no prize on offer for the winner(s) of The Great NZ Dance Masala — not even a glitterball trophy — so presumably the overriding motivation for these contestants is simply their love of dance. What a novel concept.
The Great NZ Dance Masala is a very different beast to that other dancing show on Three right now, but while it lacks the controversy and spectacle of Dancing With The Stars, its kinder, gentler narrative is almost refreshing. And, mercifully, at absolutely no point is anyone ever told to text DAVID to 3333.
The Great NZ Dance Masala airs 4pm Saturdays, on Three.