Ethics Hero: “Dancing With The Stars” Judge Bruno Tonioli

Bruno Tonioli, one of the judges on “Dancing With The Stars,” gave celebrity dance contestant Michael Bolton a lousy score for his lousy quickstep to the tune of “Hound Dog”with partner Chelsie Hightower, and reportedly Bolton’s  fellow dancing celebrities were “enraged”—especially since Tonioli said the performance was the “worst” dance he’s seen in 11 seasons. That may have been a little harsh, but not by much. His dancing was arguably not worse than, say, Tucker Carlson of a few seasons back, who never got out of a chair. Still, among past dance-challenged contestants who actually got on their feet, Bolton was about as bad as it gets. He made Kate Gosselin look like Cyd Charisse by comparison.

Tonioli gave Bolton and Hightower a score of 3 out of 10, and good for him. He struck a blow for integrity and courage on the show’s judging panel, which habitually inflates scores because a contestant tried really hard or seems so sincere. The competition, however is about dancing ability and execution, not sincerity or effort. The American public school system and colleges are similarly filled with undeserving competitors who get grades they haven’t earned, because teachers and professors know that a fair grade would be regarded as “unfair” or “rude”—exactly the adjectives being applied to Tonioli for doing his job correctly.

If anything, he was too kind. “Dancing With The Stars” front-runner Jennifer Gray (of “Dirty Dancing” fame) is a graceful whiz on the floor, arguably the best celebrity dancer ever on the show. She got an 8 from each of the judges. Was she only slightly more than twice as good as the stiff and clumsy Bolton? She is at least ten times the better dancer. If she is an 8, Bolton is a .8 or worse.

When judges, teachers and professors put tact and kindness over frank evaluations of skill, they penalize the most talented and hardest working in favor of the least able. That’s unfair.  Tonioli shouldn’t be criticized for telling the truth, and choosing high standards and quality over sensitivity.  Tonioli’s critics are saying that judges should be encouraging.

No, they should be honest. Just like him.

2 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: “Dancing With The Stars” Judge Bruno Tonioli

  1. Chock it up to self-esteem vs. self-confidence and ability. In the rush to get everyone to feel good about themselves, we had to make it OK to feel good about being incompetent. Should the result be called the “Bart Simpson Effect”?

  2. I agree wuth you completely. Is this a dance contest or group therapy? Even if they judged the dancers on a “pass-fail” basis, wouldn’t some of the dancers have to fail? and wouldn’t Tonioli come under fire for failing some contestants? So he’s the Simon Cowell of “Dancing With the Stars,” and what would they do without him?

    I remember my Dad, the ultimate liberal, becoming exercised when Shenandoah County briefly considered moving to a pass-fail system for its public school system. “The real world doesn’t work on pass-fail,” he said. “It works on measurable achievement. It doesn’t care how hard to try, or if you can slip through. It cares if you can do something well.”

    One area in which old Dad would agree with you, I think…

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