March Madness kicks off in less than a week, which means that everybody’s dusting off their cliches about the Big Dance. So I’ll shake the rust off a piece I published back in 2008 on Blogger where I lamented, to no avail, the use of imprecise bromides that have far more fizzle than sizzle. I think there’s a good argument that King Lear would also rage against such language. Alas, here goes my attempt to change your mind.

(March 19, 2008): I feel like putting on my dancing shoes, baby. It’s time for the Big Dance where a Cinderella always pops up. And it’s also that time when cliches run rampant. Writers and editors especially love using the Big Dance, but they also enjoy many other cliches. Many of these cliches are overused well before the NCAA Tournament begins. Games are frequently called tilts, teams fight back when their backs are against the wall, victories are hard-fought, and players assert their will.

Headline writers particularly love to use Big Dance. TV Guide plays off the Irish dance troupe, writing: “Lords of the Big Dance: NCAA March Madness Preview.” And Austin Peay’s editors are excited that the “Govs advance to the big dance,” although the reporter refrained from using that term. ESPN writes that “Cinderellas at Big Dance share common attributes.” Detroit Free-Press editors wrote that Michigan State’s women were “left off 64-team Big Dance card.”

The Sporting News breaks down the game between No. 6 USC and No. 11 Kansas State by stating: “The showdown of super freshmen Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo should be enough to keep everybody glued to the screen. This is probably



one-and-done for someone’s NCAA Tournament career and perhaps the only chance to see either Beasley or Mayo in the Big Dance.” You can also check out the NCAA bracket history for the Big Dance.


Many college newspapers refrained from using this cliche. The Independent Alligator did a fine job covering the Gators, explaining that the team would not defend its men’s basketball title. The GW Hatchet, meanwhile, writes that the George Washington women are preparing for the Big Dance. Who knows? Maybe they’ll also be a Cinderella team. The Arizona Daily Wildcat did not yield to cliches. College newspapers covering the No. 1-seeded teams in the two tournamenta did a fine job offering stories that included context but that were not riddled with dancing references. Check out particularly solid coverage in the Daily Tarheel and Daily Bruin.

But, alas, neither writers nor editors can stop using this slam-dunk reference, one that everybody understands. Even the Wall Street Journal argues that the field for the Big Dance is mediocre. Sigh. Please, work hard to at least keep such references out of the stories themselves. Your readers — and prose — will thank you for your efforts.