Dance Your Ass Off Offers Plus-Sized Dignity

Last night was the season finale of Dance Your Ass Off on Oxygen, in which the incredibly svelte Ruben walked away with the $100,000 prize and a spot on the first Dance Your Ass Off workout video. Money in the bank, 60 pounds lighter, and the chance to wear a spangled bolero jacket on national television—happy times, indeed!

As the season wraps up, it's interesting to step back for a minute take a look at the cultural significance of the show as a whole. As has been commented upon everywhere from CNN to the Washington Post, this year has seen the explosion of "plus-sized" reality TV, which basically consists of existing reality TV concepts re-jiggered for big-boned contestants. (More to Love. Whew.) Is this trend the world's biggest fat joke, or a welcome acknowledgment that Americans come in all shapes and sizes?

In early episodes of Dance Your Ass Off, the verdict appeared murky. The show was like The Biggest Loser, but with the special indignities of wearing silly, revealing spandex costumes. Remember the embarrassing pole-dancing theme of episode 3? Eww, didn't need to see that. Dance Your Ass Off seemed to be goading viewers to laugh, "Look at those fools —they'll do anything to lose weight!" But then a surprising thing happened. The dancers were good. They showed genuine stage presence. They appeared to actually enjoy themselves out there. Watching Shayla grind to Flo Rida's "Low" in episode 5, while wearing tight jeans cutoffs, showed how sexy a full-figured woman could be. When the song trilled "give that big booty a smack," and Shayla's dance partner obliged accordingly, women all over America were envious. That big booty looked good.

Although Ruben's extreme weight loss contributed to his win last night, the enjoyable part of Dance Your Ass Off is only partially about watching contestants slim down. It's also about watching regular people, who run the spectrum from obese to pleasantly plump, assert themselves beyond the arena of weight. These guys had talent. They weren’t overweight people trying to dance, but dancers trying to lose weight. For once, they could be defined by their moves, not by a number on a scale. Getting in shape was the cherry on top! Ah, finally a reality show with some real priorities.

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