Dance has become a huge part of popular culture. Between TV shows “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance”, more people are familiar with a wide variety of dance styles than ever before. Jason Gilkison, Director and Choreographer of Burn The Floor (as well as choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance), captures the excitement of dance into a show that’s fresh off a successful run on Broadway and London’s West End.
We spoke to Jason Gilkison about the impact of dance moving into the popular culture, the challenges of putting together a huge dance production, and his experience with Pasha and Anya from So You Think You Can Dance.
With shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with The Stars and America’s Got Talent, dancing has exploded into pop culture. Why do you think this has happened and what impact is this popularity having on dance?
In our case ballroom has always been a social history. So it’s not really surprising that it’s come back into pop culture. It’s also extremely accessible for the general public and you can really do ballroom dancing on any level. For example, you can just take a salsa or tango class, or if you’re feeling a little bit more dancing you can Burn the Floor like our cast.
How did the show Burn The Floor first get started? What were the challenges in putting together an ‘all dance’ show?
Burn The Floor came from an idea from Sir Elton John’s birthday party. A group of dancers performed a 20 min ballroom show, and our producer/creator Harley Medcalf was in the audience. When he saw the dancers, he had an epiphany. This was 13 years ago, long before the reality shows had kicked in. So Harley really had an amazing insight into how ballroom dance was going to become hugely popular.
With an audience more exposed to different styles of dance and dancing is there anything you have to do now to WOW them that you wouldn’t have had to do before this dancing craze began?
Generally in musical theatre dance is often used just to embellish a story line, but in our case we needed to sustain a 2hr show. Luckily in ballroom dancing we have a huge umbrella of dance styles we can visit. For example ballroom dancing is as varied as tango, paso doble, samba, cha cha, mambo – the difficulty in our job is really what to leave out.
It’s been interesting for Burn The Floor because when we began with the show, the ballroom dancing phenomenon had really just started so people really couldn’t tell the difference between a waltz and a foxtrot. Now our audiences have become a lot more educated through shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. So the exciting challenge for us is to always reinvent this interesting dance genre. Which luckily for us transforms itself very easily. I think people coming to the show still like to see us capture the original essence of the dance how it was intended.
Are there differences from the production on Broadway and in London and in the touring edition of Burn The Floor?
We’ve pretty much kept the show how it was on Broadway and the West End. In fact, all of the current members did either one or both productions. We like to think of this tour as our victory lap after being lucky enough to play both London and New York.
What’s the most challenging dance sequence from Burn The Floor to execute on stage and what makes it challenging?
Probably the most difficult and the most exciting section of the show is the swing section. Trying to choreograph 10 couples who are completely pumped up, flying around doing their own choreography creates an incredible amount of traffic – if someone is one or two inches out of line you could easily have a major accident. But as I said before, this is also one of the most exciting parts of the show.
Which dance sequence is your favorite and why?
I would have to say Pasha and Anya from So You Think You Can Dance dancing Burn for You in Act 2 is one of my favorite parts of the show. It’s really amazing to see ballroom dancing being stretched as far as it can go and they dance this piece so emotionally that it really represents where the Burn The Floor dance company are taking ballroom dancing.
You have Ashleigh Di Lello & Ryan Di Lello from ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ will be along for the Portland show. How did they integrate with the rest of the professional dance company? Why did you pick these two people from the show over others?
I was lucky enough to work with Ashley and Ryan on their first week of So You Think You Can Dance and instantly thought they would be a great addition to the company. What was very attractive to me was the amount of work they had put into dancing as they are a married couple. These two have a magic when they dance together that comes very naturally and is something that you can’t fake. I also knew they would get on with the rest of the company as they are such wonderful people and have a great work ethic.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you doing Burn The Floor?
If you had said 10 years ago that a ballroom dancing show would have been capable of playing Broadway and the West End and go on to a national tour of America I wouldn’t have believed it. But this sudden resurgence in ballroom has really enabled us to follow our dream and introduce ballroom dancing to a new generation of people.
How much has social media (Facebook, Youtube and Twitter) impacted the show?
Facebook, You Tube and Twitter have been terrific ways for BTF to reach fans where we haven’t been able to take the show yet. It’s amazing how many people have been following us on Twitter and Facebook as we travel the world.
Burn The Floor runs September 7 – 12, 2010 at the Keller Auditorium as part of the Fred Meyer Broadway Across America Portland. Tickets run $36.55-$79.95