Fox's New Dating Show Flirty Dancing Gave Me Anxiety But I Couldn't Stop Watching

jenna dewan flirty dancing fox
(Image credit: fox press)

Fox is kicking off 2020 with the fancy-footed dating series Flirty Dancing, which actually debuted for viewers as a sneak peek on Sunday night following the network's NFL coverage. The concept is relatively new at a glance, though it actually feels more like the logical, deeply researched conclusion for the ideal reality show algorithm. For not only does Flirty Dancing have that je ne sais cringe that's packaged with other romance-focused reality shows, but it also factors in talent-based performances that are somehow the opposite of awkward.

To be clear, that isn't to say that the UK import Flirty Dancing is must-watch television that will be embraced by everyone equally, because it is definitely a certain kind of pleasure. (Akin to how only a certain kind of person appreciates a punny title like Flirty Dancing.) Below, we'll dive into why the new Fox series got my anxiety levels rising, and then how it was still able to keep my eyes locked in nonetheless.

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Why Flirty Dancing Gave Me Anxiety

I consider myself something of an extrovert, both in life and in romance, with only a mild sense of stage fright. However, Flirty Dancing's premise alone is enough to send me burrowing into a shame-retardant hideout. Complete strangers who are looking for love are taught choreographed dances in seclusion, so that the strangers can perform the dances together when they meet for the very first time in a picturesque location.

You know, the traditional way our grandparents and their parents met and fell in love: without any communication before or after a single dance.

Already, the idea of having my romantic future dictated by my dancing skills would make my face break out in hive-covered jazz hands, but then there's also the competitive angle involved. Each segment's main subject is being set up with two different contestants that are geared to different personality traits, and has to learn a different dance for each person. So it's double the expectations for the main Flirty Dancing hopeful, while each of the competitors deals with not only the fear of losing out, but also the overall worry that choosing the best dance partner does not necessarily equal picking the best romantic partner.

Working in its favor is Flirty Dancing's choice to allow everyone's nervousness and emotions to play out somewhat naturally, rather than having host Jenna Dewan and the choreographers hype everything up hyperbolically. They're not trying to cloak the inherent weirdness of the Flirty Dancing concept, nor the fact that blind dates are generally supposed to inspire apprehension. That genuineness only helped to exacerbate my own stomach-churning discomfort while watching.

Can I also just say that the limited two-person competitor pool just makes things all the more awkward, since losing out to a larger crowd would presumably be easier to deal with. Instead, the post-decision interview with the losing contestant makes it stand out all the more that they came in second out of two people. Things could be worse, certainly, such as if I there were a live firing squad involved, or if I was the person in any of these same positions.

One of my saving graces here, admittedly, is that I'm married and would never be in a place to take part in a show like this, which didn't curb as much of that anxiety as I'd have liked. And it definitely couldn't eliminate all the heebie-jeebies I felt each time the show transitioned to its dance moments, where the two contestants only had a few seconds to make a visual connection before the dances began in earnest. Just saying it makes me shake my head disapprovingly.

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Why I Couldn't Stop Watching Flirty Dancing Anyway

At its core, Flirty Dancing is like Love Connection mixed with Dancing with the Stars, but without any celebrities (beyond Jenna Dewan) or traditional forms of blind dating. So for someone like myself, who doesn't automatically fall into such shows' core demographics, Flirty Dancing isn't the best-case scenario as an attention-grabber.

Yet, despite all the anxiety I felt and regardless of all the reasons why I wouldn't jump to Flirty Dancing as go-to primetime programming, I found myself unable to look away whenever each dance routine was actually on display. Because against all odds, the premiere's performances were as impressive and as captivating as anything you'll see on Dancing with the Stars (though not necessarily other talent-based shows), with the contestants' lack of familiarity serving as a surprisingly strong foundation for why the dances work so well.

Watching professional dancers mixing it up with other entertainers with proven agility and dexterity can be fun, I suppose, but for me, it's a lot more interesting to watch amateurs step up and show off unpredictable skills. It's the same intrigue that kept me drawn to shows like Chopped and Face Off for so long.

Add to that the rather elaborate camerawork that the Flirty Dancing production crew brings to each performance, and you've got all the visual flair needed to hype up the dances themselves. From swooping crane shots to zooming close-ups, the production crew smartly brought film-worthy techniques that made those moments stand out even more from the set-up segments.

And while I don't have any personal stakes invested in who gets matched up and which contestants get ghosted, it's oddly fascinating to watch people making and justifying romantic decisions based entirely on two three-minute dance routines. Considering all the dating sites, apps and companies out there, this doesn't even qualify as one of the weirdest ways to find love these days.

In fact, in the case of one contestant in the premiere, the idea of meeting someone for the first time in a word-and-voice-free environment can be a huge boon. Said contestant has a voice that doesn't always win people over, so allowing her dance skills to supply that first impression helped her get past her vocal insecurities. It's not likely that every contestant will have similar backgrounds, but at least that one case further justified the concept's existence in the first place.

I hadn't had a chance to watch the original UK version of Flirty Dancing ahead of Fox's sneak preview of the U.S. adaptation, but I can't imagine my reaction would be all that different. I still find the original version of The Office worlds more uncomfortable than the more cartoonish (though still immensely hilarious) American take, so if anything, it might spike my anxiety even higher.

Flirty Dancing will make its proper debut on Fox on Wednesday, January 1, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.