In my former lifetime, before I was a lawyer, I was a dancer (little-known fact — lawyers have hobbies and histories unrelated to the majesty of the law!). From my very first “bumble bee” recital routine to my internship with one of the premiere dance agents in Los Angeles, dance has consumed my life in every way imaginable. I shamelessly admit that, for me, even college drinking games often involved fouetté competitions with my dancer friends. But now that 4 a.m. rehearsals for Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade have been replaced with late night brief writing marathons, like many other former dancers turned dance moms, I am thrilled by the resurgence of dance in pop culture. From So You Think You Can Dance to America’s Best Dance Crew, dance is undeniably hot right now. (Hey, it wasn’t long ago that the best we could get were the Fly Girls on In Living Color.)
The popularity of primetime dance shows has given choreographers a much-needed platform to showcase their talents and share their works with the world. For those of you who tuned into Season 7 of SYTYCD, no one will ever forget ballet dancer Alex Wong smashing Tabitha & Napoleon’s hip hop routine Outta Your Mind with all-star tWitch, or Robert Roldan and Allison Holker’s stunning performance of Travis Wall’s contemporary number Fix You. But for every piece of brilliance we are given from the likes of Mia Michaels, Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio or Dave Scott, just to name a few, there will be hundreds of knock-offs that blur the line between inspiration and imitation. I can’t even count the numerous renditions of Bob Fosse’s Steam Heat I have seen since the mid-80s, some absolutely fabulous, and many others…well, not so much. (For those of you familiar with the dance world circa 1985, how many horrific lyrical numbers did we have to sit through to Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love) and I Sing the Body Electric? And for those of you who aren’t, I promise you that was an awesome and highly-recognizable reference.) While many choreographers frequently voice complaints that “they” copied “my” piece, there is very little discussion regarding the legal implications of “borrowing” someone else’s choreography. And, unfortunately, this may be for good reason.