Kaitlynn Edgar's luscious layout (photo by Erin Baiano)
Everyone understands the appeal of the tilt: It’s flashy, it’s dramatic and it shows off the extension you’ve worked so hard for. But when it’s time to freestyle, many contemporary dancers start tilting all over the place. “To me, tilts have become less impressive over time, because now everyone does them,” says Mandy Moore, “So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer and JUMP Dance Convention contemporary teacher. “They’ve become a circus trick—the ‘wow’ factor is gone.”
Feeling the tilt guilt? DS to the rescue: Here are three other moves that are just as exciting, and just as flattering to your extension. You don’t have to erase tilts from your vocabulary, but try mixing these in once in a while!
1. The Layout
This is a jazz oldie that can translate into contemporary gold. “Nobody does them anymore, but as the climax of a phrase, they’re really effective,” Moore says. The slight bend in the bottom leg lets you crank your working leg impressively high, and the deep backbend adds extra drama.
Daniella La Rosa's spectacular side leap (photo by Erin Baiano)
2. The Side Leap
“When a side leap is done well, it looks like you’re just floating,” Moore says. She adds that side leaps are great for less-bendy dancers, since jumping requires the short, fast-twitch muscles that Gumbys tend to lack. And since it’s only viewed from the front, a side leap can create the illusion of a super-flat side-split—even if you don’t quite have one yet.
3. The Hands-on-Floor Penchée
When your hands are on the floor, you can push into them as you battement back. That gives you a lot of leverage—which means you’ll be able to get your leg higher than usual. (For that I’m-so-flexible-I’m-practically-a-contortionist look, try bending the working knee after your leg reaches the top of the battement.)
Hayden Hopkins' perfect penchée (photo by Nathan Sayers)
The Right Way to Tilt
Mandy Moore doesn’t object to tilts when they’re used in a way that makes sense musically and choreographically. “Rarely does a piece of music seem to be saying, ‘Stop here and tilt!’ ” she says. “But when a tilt is incorporated smoothly into a phrase, it can be beautiful. If you do a jump that lands in a coupé and progresses into a développé tilt, for example, that looks gorgeous, because the tilt follows logically from the preceding movements. And if the tilt hits a high point in the music, that’s even better. You don’t want a tilt to be a cheap thrill that takes you out of the world you’re creating onstage.”
Josie Moseley's "When I Close My Eyes" (by Blaine Covert)
As the curtain rises on Josie Moseley’s “When I Close My Eyes,” a dancer in black moves with desperation, her gestures and face conveying that she has just experienced horrible loss. Choreographed on students at The Portland Ballet, the contemporary piece depicts the stories of Holocaust survivors.
Teenagers dancing about genocide? It sounds like a stretch, but it’s become common to see contemporary dances that address social concerns like discrimination, abuse, disease or addiction. Frequently made for competitions, they offer dancers a chance to stretch artistically and stand out to judges. But mistakes like over-emoting can trivialize a serious issue and make a performance fall flat. Here’s how you can approach a “heavy” piece in a way that’s resonant, illuminating and gratifying.
PREPARATION: What Am I Dancing About?
Bree Hafen’s “Terminal Soul” (second runner-up at the 2012 Capezio A.C.E. Awards) tells the true story of a young girl suffering from a terminal illness and her family’s daily struggle with that reality. From the start, Hafen made sure her dancers understood the “why?” of the dance by having them meet the girl they would be dancing about. “It’s very important that they’re aware of how deep and sensitive the story is,” she says. “Although I’d told them why we were doing this piece, taking it a step further to let them meet her and hear from her mom about her struggles helped them understand that this isn’t ‘just a dance’—this is something that happens to people every day.”
Your teacher may not give you a back story, so try to create one for yourself—something you connect to personally. And if the piece is about a specific event, your dancing will be better if you know what you’re dancing about. Even a little online research can go a long way. “The more dancers explore and know about what they’re performing, the better,” says choreographer Stacey Tookey. “Some of my best work was taken to another level simply because dancers researched what the piece was about and felt more connected to it.”
REHEARSALS: Digging Deeper
To get comfortable with heavy subject matter during rehearsals, it helps to let go of your technique (it’s not going anywhere) and focus on the reason for the movement. “It’s important for dancers to take a healthy amount of time to explore, and find the layers, message or question within the piece,” says Moseley, who sometimes asks her dancers to contribute gestures or words so they feel empathy for the subject. Hafen helps dancers move beyond merely executing choreography by specifically explaining every gesture: “Make sure each movement is really defined in your mind, so you’re always thinking, ‘What am I trying to say right here? Why are we pulling her this way, or touching her this way?’ ” If you’re not sure about the intention behind a specific movement, ask. Chances are there’s a reason the choreographer chose it. Then, think of that description every time you dance it.
PERFORMANCE: True Emotion
When judging competitions, Hafen can sense when a piece is trying too hard to tug at her heartstrings to win points. “In my opinion, the most important thing is to depict a serious issue for the right reasons—to share a story to promote awareness or healing, not to win a trophy.” Onstage, the best dancers go from finding basic facial expressions, to feeling an emotion, to performing so sincerely that the audience feels that emotion themselves. If you’re having trouble feeling something authentic, Tookey advises surrendering to the moment: “Stop thinking about performing it. Forget there’s an audience at all. Simply be the character.” Nathan Makolandra, whose piece “It Gets Better” addresses discrimination, agrees: “Remain conscious of the message, but remember that the most important thing is the absolute presence of the artist.”
Bree Hafen's "Terminal Soul" (by Propix)
The opportunity to share an important message through dance is powerful, and valuable. Jillyn Bryant, who danced the role of the terminally ill child in “Terminal Soul,” says the experience gave her new appreciation for the beauty and fragility of life. Makolandra describes dancing a piece about death as therapeutic, since his own father passed away from cancer. “That’s what art does: It allows you to be changed by something because you feel it,” Moseley says. “It attaches to you in a physical way.”
AC Ciulla was 19 and had just moved to NYC when he scored his first commercial gig, a J.C. Penney spot, after back-flipping off the casting director’s table at the audition. “Doing the flip was a huge risk, but I knew I had their attention,” the gymnast-turned- dancer says. “I had been a competitive gymnast all my life, so I thought my acro skills would make me special—and they did!”
Today, many dancemakers are finding new ways to infuse acrobatics into their choreography. It’s popping up in almost every genre—even ballet! Rasta Thomas’ ROCK the Ballet, starring the Bad Boys of Dance, mixes classical ballet with jaw-dropping tumbling to create an unforgettable performance.
Acro know-how won’t make up for poor dance technique, but with the right training, it can make you stand out. “Not having a tumbling skill won’t necessarily hold you back, but when you’re at the final callback of an audition and you’re up against dancers who are equal to you, a little acro can be the wow factor that gets you the gig,” Ciulla says. Read on to discover how tumbling can improve your dancing and what steps you should take to learn these tricks safely.
Why Add Acro?
Now an Emmy Award–winning choreographer, teacher and judge for New York City Dance Alliance, Ciulla has a theory as to why tumbling is so popular today. He credits television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” with getting audiences accustomed to watching high-energy, athletic performances. “The dancers on these shows have incredible tumbling and acrobatic skills, so people expect it now,” he says. Ade Obayomi, Mollee Gray and Legacy Perez from Seasons 5 and 6 of “SYTYCD” set the standard for acro, using their tumbling skills to secure spots in the Top 10.
“Acro definitely gave me a leg up on ‘SYTYCD,’ because even though America may not always appreciate good technique, they love seeing twists, flips and spins,” says Neil Haskell, Season 3’s third-place winner. Yet acro served Neil well even before he auditioned for “SYTYCD”—it landed him a spot in Twyla Tharp’s musical The Times They Are A-Changin' in 2006. He says that without his acro skills, he never would have gotten the job. “My acro background was essential to picking up the style and choreography. I was constantly doing dive roles and back flips with full twists amidst all of the dancing.” Haskell says that he uses tumbling at about 50 percent of his auditions and feels that everyone could benefit from adding acro to their repertoire. “I’ve seen people win and lose jobs because of acro, so it’s a great tool to have. Use your acro skills to get their attention, and then use your technique to keep it.”
Speaking of technique, some say acro can actually improve your dancing. Fourteen-year-old Makenzie Mofford, a senior company member at The Dance Club in Orem, UT, says her leaps, jumps and other dance skills improved after she added acro to her schedule seven years ago. “I went to a local gymnastics facility because I had always wanted to take tumbling, and I found that I was really good at it,” says Makenzie, who has now been dancing for 11 years. “Acro helped me strengthen my legs and control my center, so my leaps and jumps are much better and higher than before.” Her work is paying off: Makenzie recently won first place overall for her contemporary solo at a NUVO Dance Competition in Dallas, TX. “My solo stands out because of the aerials and big acrobatic floor section that has moves most people haven’t seen before,” Makenzie says. “It requires a lot of flexibility and strength that I wouldn’t have without my acro background.”
Acro training forces you to use your body in a broader range of motion than your regular dance training does, so your flexibility will increase. Your balance and agility will also improve as you engage your core and strengthen your muscles through the acro exercises.
Amp Up Your Acro Know-How
If you’ve never even attempted a roundoff, becoming an acro expert may seem out of reach. But with the right training, you can add a few simple tricks to your repertoire while also improving your basic dance skills. Check with your studio to see if they plan to offer any acro classes. Amy Giordano, director of the Giordano Dance School in Evanston, IL, offers a dance tumbling class that helps students perfect gymnastics staples like cartwheels, roundoffs, somersaults and back bends. She says these classes are useful for dancers because they help “enhance flexibility, balance and agility.”
Not sure what to look for when searching for an acro class? Don’t be afraid to ask a potential instructor about her qualifications. (Where did she train? How long has she been teaching? Is the facility adequate?) Stacy Finnerty, vice president of gymnastics-equipment maker Tumbl Trak, suggests checking to see if the studio or gym has enough space to ensure that you will feel comfortable running before a trick (at least 30 feet). Finnerty says the mats should be at least two inches thick when placed over a wood floor, and at least 1 3/8 inches thick if placed over a carpet.
The Essential Trick
So what’s the move every dancer should know? All of our experts agree that if you’re going to learn just one trick, an aerial (a cartwheel with no hands) is the best because it’s so versatile. “Aerials can be flashy in a jazz routine, or beautiful in a lyrical number,” says Brenda Searle, head dance team coach at Hillcrest High School in Midvale, UT.
With the supervision and instruction of your coach, you can learn an aerial by first perfecting a basic standing cartwheel. Then move on to a running cartwheel (a cartwheel preceded by a running start), followed by a dive cartwheel where you push off your front foot, adding a little hang time before your hands come down. With each dive cartwheel you should focus on pushing harder off your back foot until you can stay airborne long enough that you don’t have to put your hands down at all—that’s an aerial!
Use, Don’t Abuse
Tumbling skills can be a great asset for certain dancers, but they should only be considered a complement to your dance training. Make safety your top priority: If you can’t do a trick on the hard floor in your studio every time and with perfect technique, you should not attempt it at an audition or at a competition. “If you are at an event with well-trained judges, they will not care about how many tricks you do, but rather how everything flows with the music and the theme of the piece,” Searle says. “Your routine should always make the audience feel something, and 10 back handsprings and six aerials are not going to make that happen.”
Think tumbling might be right for you? Enroll in a basic acro class. If you can master the moves with ease, you may have found what you’ll need to catapult you into the next stage of your career.
The 1970s disco craze happened at a time when men donned heeled shoes and printed polyester shirts with oversized collars, and women wore flashy spandex, lamé and glitter. Disco, mainly a social type of dance, was all about grooving, letting go and having a good time. Popular moves included the hustle and the finger point. Just watch old episodes of “Soul Train” to get a feel for the funky vibe.
Over the past 30 years, disco dancing has made its way from the clubs to the studio and stage, and we still can’t get enough! Everyone’s getting funky, from your favorite contestants on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With the Stars” to your peers at Nationals with their Dreamgirls disco numbers. It’s even rumored that heartthrob Zac Efron will revive John Travolta’s iconic role in the upcoming remake of Saturday Night Fever!
While disco started as a club dance, it has become a ballroom staple—and it’s more technical than ever. “Disco is a more difficult and showy style today,” says Doriana Sanchez, who has choreographed disco routines for five seasons of “SYTYCD” as well as “Cher at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace” in Las Vegas. “Today’s disco includes quick footwork, intricate hand work, complicated hand switches and difficult lifts.”
The Dawn of Disco
After the hippies and rockers did the counter-cultural thing in the ’60s (think Hair), glamour was trendy once again during the 1970s. Disco dancing emerged in NYC, L.A. and Paris clubs, which relied on their libraries of records rather than live bands, so it was easier and more affordable for clubs to open. As a result, a wide range of people were exposed to the dance style very quickly. Studio 54, with its lit-up dance floors, powerful sound system and lavish furniture, was a prime example of where the disco culture thrived.
Disco music also influenced the dance style. The upbeat songs took cues from many genres, including jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, gospel and Latino. Think about how oldies like the Village People’s “YMCA” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” make you want to get up and boogie. Disc jockeys mixed songs together so they flowed seamlessly, encouraging people to stay on the dance floor. “The music of that decade, from the Bee Gees to Donna Summer, helped people express themselves,” Sanchez says. “Disco encouraged people to feel free, and it gave them the freedom to move.” But when Studio 54 closed in 1986, disco began to fade as well.
Today, disco pushes dancers physically, taking moves from the ’70s and making them relevant again. Shows like “SYTYCD” and “DWTS” have become outlets for trained dancers, as opposed to club dancers, to perform disco. “We can do things with dancers today that they have never done before,” Sanchez says. Music has gotten faster and lifts have gotten more challenging (Ade Obayomi and Melissa Sandvig did a whopping four lifts during their “Move On Up” routine on “SYTYCD” Season 5). The lifts require a great deal of upper body strength, which is why it’s a fitting outlet for trained dancers who are more inclined to train intensely than the clubgoers of the ’70s.
Disco Does a Dancer Good
You don’t have to be a dance reality show contestant to learn and appreciate the moves from your parents’ generation. Joshua Estrin, who teaches dance at American Heritage School in Plantation, FL, likes to include the hustle and the disco fox, a partnered dance with a simple step-step-touch motion, in his classes. “It forces unity because you have to do it together or it won’t look right,” he says. “There may be strong individual dancers, but partnering forces them to work with another person. They have to learn to dance and turn at the same speed as one another.”
Rommel O’Choa, a dance instructor for Broadway Bodies in NYC, decided to teach “Disco Inferno” from the musical Saturday Night Fever during his musical theater class—and his students had a blast. “Disco is all about high-energy dancing, sweating, losing yourself to the beat and celebrating the rhythm of the music. It immediately adds a guaranteed fun element,” he says. So next time your parents bust out “the bump” or “the bus stop,” grab your spandex and jump in!
Music is one of the most important parts of disco dancing. Here are 10 songs to get your hips bumping and your finger pointing:
“Turn the Beat Around,” Vicki Sue Robinson
“You Should be Dancing,” Bee Gees
“I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor
“I Love the Nightlife,” Alicia Bridges
“I Feel Love,” Donna Summer
“Dancer,” Gino Soccio
“Disco Inferno,” Trammps
“Dance, Dance, Dance,” Chic
“More, More, More,” Andrea True Connection
“We Are Family,” Sister Sledge
As one of the Bad Boys of Dance, Albert Blaise Cattafi serves up an edgy but sleek style with razor-sharp technique. He loves dancing with this talented, motley crew because, “We get to change it up every time we perform and push ourselves,” he says. “ We’re always thinking, where can we throw in another turn, a higher jump?”
On top of this daredevil attitude, an affable personality and enthusiasm for all things dance help Albert stand out as a dynamic all-around performer. From competition to ballet to theater, Albert’s will-do attitude and can-do abilities help him nab impressive gigs. Now, the 24-year-old is performing in Jerry Mitchell’s long-awaited PEEPSHOW in Las Vegas—alongside DS April cover model Keltie Colleen!
Originally from Wayne, NJ, Albert trained at Joffrey Ballet School, competed all over the map and was Mr. Dance of America 2004. He also worked for choreographers like Ray Leeper and Mia Michaels (MOG!) and was featured in the tours of A Few Good Men…Dancin’. As if that weren’t enough, Albert also teaches and choreographs.
Now, you can try out his style for yourself. Below, Albert breaks down a DS-exclusive, contemporary 10-count! And for more of his great material, check out Bob Rizzo’s Contemporary Turns & Jumps on DVD.
COUNT 1: Begin in a parallel, small, first position plié, facing the left side of the room with right leg downstage. Fold your torso over your legs and grasp your left wrist with your right hand as if you are checking your watch. Glance over your right shoulder and keep your elbows out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Pop your right heel off the floor.
COUNT 2: Slide your right foot back in parallel. Then gently turn out into a full second position plié that faces front. Your right arm swoops down and up into half of a “V,” and your left arm moves into second position with palm down. Look up at your right hand.
COUNT 3: Slide your right leg and arms back into the same position from COUNT 1, but this time lift your right leg into a small knee-to-knee attitude. Look at the audience.
COUNT 4: Lunge out with your right foot in parallel and keep your right leg straight. Pop the heel of the left leg and bend the knee to exaggerate the slight lunge, with your weight on this leg. Push your right arm overhead with a broken wrist, and splay the left hand, with the left upper arm parallel to the floor. Continue looking at the audience.
COUNT 5: Shift your weight onto the right leg as you swoop your left leg around into a turned in, battement/sauté en dedans. You should now be facing the right downstage corner. Wrap your right arm around your neck and left arm around your torso. Don’t forget to point your bottom foot as you jump!
COUNT 6: Land in a lunge with the right leg front croisé and both feet slightly turned out. Look up at the right corner so that the audience sees your profile, twist your torso to the back wall and lift your left shoulder. Hands should be relaxed and your arms are at your sides.
COUNT 7: Swoop the right leg up into a high jump facing the audience, with the right knee tucked into your chest and the left knee just below it. The arms both fly first down and then up into a wide “V” to create a cannonball—or Batman!—effect.
COUNT 8: Land facing the left side in a medium-sized, parallel fourth position with the left leg front. Both legs are bent, with the back, right foot popped up. Bend your arms, palms up as if carrying a tray, and look down at your fingers.
COUNT 9: Pop into a small sauté, with straight legs and (very!) pointed feet. Your torso straightens, and your left hand touches your right wrist as if you are calling a time-out.
COUNT 10: Finish in a large lunge, with your left foot forward. Look front and slice your right hand back toward your left hip pocket. Your right hand meets the left.
Ever read those lists of things to do before you grow old? Well, Tony Testa seems to have done them all before age 21! Choreograph music videos and performances for Janet Jackson? Check. (Tony even locked lips with the sassy star in her “Rock With U” video.) Dance in a major movie musical like Dreamgirls? Check. Share the stage with a famous pop star like Britney Spears? Check. And Tony shows no signs of slowing down: He recently choreographed Danity Kane’s concert tour. Tony is also the host of Nickelodeon’s “Dance on Sunset,” where he teaches his hip-hop moves to kids on the small screen. Want to follow in Tony’s footsteps? Check out his advice and insights below.
DS: What’s the best way for dancers to book commercial work?
Tony Testa: One of the biggest steps is to get an agent, but training also plays a huge part. Once you get to L.A., skill is what separates you. You may never go to an audition where you’ll have to bust out a bunch of ballet, but it’s important to keep taking ballet classes. Ballet is one of the foundations of dance, and it’s good for getting in tune with your body. Also, dancers who can perform (rather than just show technique) are the ones who get nabbed for jobs.
DS: What about dancers who don’t have access to auditions or agents?
TT: If you don’t live in L.A. or NYC, conventions are the best way. Studying with influential choreographers coming to your hometown is a great way to be seen. That’s how I got my first job! You have to make things happen for yourself.
DS: Getting discovered at a convention—that’s pretty cool! Tell us more.
TT: I was a total convention kid, and one of the choreographers I looked up to was Brian Friedman. I took his class whenever he came through Denver, and that was how I landed a job dancing on the Aaron Carter tour. My friends Misha Gabriel [see DS May/June 2007] and Randi Kemper were chosen, too, so it was a lot of fun to tour together.
DS: Other than Brian, which choreographers have shaped your career?
TT: One of my main mentors is [Janet’s co-choreographer] Gil Duldulao; he has taught me so much. Mandy Moore has also been incredibly influential. Both inspired me to pursue choreography—I’m now exclusively in the choreography realm.
DS: What’s your advice on making the leap from dancer to choreographer?
TT: Take risks. So many choreographers play it safe and try to imitate what’s already out there or what’s proven to work. It’s all about pushing the envelope and not being afraid to try new things.
DS: How did you first get your work onto the choreography radar?
TT: When I was 16, I made a choreography reel and gave it to Misha, who got it into the hands of Gil Duldulao. I just got some of my friends together and filmed us dancing. We did jazz, tap and hip hop—I wanted to show my versatility. We used my mom’s video camera and propped it up on a chair to shoot. It was very makeshift, but that was what was special about it. Many reels use quick cuts. I just let the camera roll and showed them what they would get if they hired me. Gil showed the reel to Janet Jackson and I was hired! When making a reel, show your choreography for what it is; don’t pull the wool over someone’s eyes by editing in a bunch of cuts.
DS: Why do you think your reel caught Janet’s eye?
TT: She liked some of the clever nuances. After I was hired, each co-choreographer was given a different area of movement to focus on. My assignment was to hone in on hand gestures that Janet had seen and liked on the reel.
DS: You’ve worked with all the divas—from Beyoncé to Janet. How does your approach differ with each artist?
TT: As a choreographer, you have to be ready to adapt. I did a music video for Miranda Cosgrove, who didn’t have much dance experience. My job is to make sure the artist feels comfortable and confident, which allows her to go for it and do her best. Something I take with me to every job is the ability to be effective and simple, yet catchy. Choreography can get so hard and intricate that it can get lost. If you just do a ton of moves, it can look like mush and won’t be memorable. I want to work on the art of making memorable work.
DS: In your opinion, what defines memorable work?
TT: Think about “Thriller”—even people who don’t dance can do that dance. The moves are iconic and catchy, and that’s the type of choreographer I want to be.
Forty-eight dancers huddle in Crayola-colored clusters on an empty soundstage. They’ve performed their three-minute routine straight through nearly 25 times to get the perfect take, while the big star hogs the spotlight. Who are they dancing for? Beyoncé? Justin Timberlake? Rihanna?
If the name doesn’t immediately conjure up images of dance moves and big-budget videos, it’s understandable. Feist, a Canadian indie singer/songwriter, never got much screen time on mainstream MTV—until the release of her 2007 video for the song “1234,” which is filled with a crew of Technicolor-tinged back-up dancers.
But the indie-songbird isn’t the first artist who didn’t know a pirouette from a grand jeté before getting noticed with a dance video—just look at OK Go. Or go a little further back in time and see that non-dancing artists like Björk, Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk have been cutting a rug (or having others do it for them) in cutting-edge videos for years.
An Unusual Medium
For Noémie LaFrance, a modern choreographer known for site-specific works like Agora, which was set in an empty swimming pool in Brooklyn, the idea of working on two music videos for Feist was an interesting proposition. LaFrance appreciated the chance to tackle a dance music video in her own choreographic voice (which is distinctly different from what’s usually showcased on “TRL”). She was also attracted by Feist’s idea to have the performances seem spontaneous, and to complete both videos in one long take, with no editing.
The choreographer worked with Feist for 10 days, choreographing, setting and filming the videos. “1234” features bouncy, brightly-dressed dancers skipping, step-ball-changing and falling to the floor in an elaborate peel-off, while “My Moon, My Man” has Feist and a few dimly-lit dancers performing on moving sidewalks at the Toronto Pearson International Airport. The dancers for both videos were cast at an open audition in Toronto, and the shoot was a paid gig—and a chance for dancers who might never hit the music-video scene to make their mark on the genre.
When Trish Sie, a former competitive ballroom dancer and studio owner, was asked by her brother Damian Kulash to choreograph for his band, OK Go, the group never imagined they’d end up YouTube celebrities. Their first dance video, for the song “A Million Ways,” started with Sie filming the guys rehearsing in her backyard. That footage got uploaded to the web and eventually became the official video for the song. Countless downloads later, the band decided to see if lightning could strike twice, with a song called “Here It Goes Again” and some treadmills.
“‘A Million Ways’ was just a goofy dance that referenced pop culture and every silly dance show through the ages,” Sie says. “After it turned into this big viral success, we thought ‘Is it possible to do it again?’” Sie bought some treadmills on her credit card (and returned them when the shoot was finished) and the band took time off from a tour to film the video, which has OK Go’s members sliding backward, forward and through each other’s legs in an elaborate, carefully-timed treadmill ballet.
When “Here It Goes Again” was released, everything changed. “That was one of those moments where things kind of come together,” Sie says. The video’s insane popularity gave the band’s record an extra push in sales, and had them all over TV, including a live reenactment of the tricky dance at the 2006 Video Music Awards.
The Odd Couple
Sie says it’s the surprise of seeing people you don’t think can dance or expect to have back-up dancers that makes quirky videos like OK Go’s instantly loveable. “You take these four geeky guys who have never danced and then you add treadmills or a backyard or cowboy boots—something off,” she explains. It’s also about seeing certain things in a new light: “People who make videos—the ones that are good—take something everybody sees on an everyday basis and give it a new twist.”
LaFrance believes that out-of-the-box videos are the natural outgrowth of working with hyper-creative artists. “If you’re working with a singer who has a statement [to make] and has a soul,” she says, “then it’s a shared creative experience.”
And with the Internet and YouTube at artists’ disposal, being creative has never been easier. “With YouTube there seems to be a rebirth in creativity and music videos,” Sie says. “You don’t need to throw $3 million at a video.”
For LaFrance, music videos are a perfect way to expose the dance novices of the world to what’s out there. “Because people don’t necessarily seek it out, they don’t know dance unless they are put in a situation where they are in touch with it,” LaFrance says. “With a music video, dance travels to people that wouldn’t normally see it, which is good because it might interest them.”
Two years after landing in Hollywood, Bryan Tanaka is already on his third international tour with a major artist. After sharing the stage with Destiny’s Child at a Dallas Cowboys halftime show in 2004, Tanaka impressed DC’s choreographers enough to land a spot on the Destiny Fulfilled world tour. Just one year later, he headed back out on the road with Mariah Carey on her high-profile Emancipation of Mimi tour. These days, he’s off globe-trotting with hip-hop diva Rihanna. Driven and down-to-earth, Tanaka tells DS all about life in the touring lane.
DS: What are rehearsals for a world tour like?
BT: You start one to two months beforehand. On the Mariah tour, there were only four guy dancers and two girls, whereas Destiny’s Child had six guys and four girls. Having that many people for Destiny’s Child meant more work and more people to get on the same page. Choreographer Frank Gatson rehearsed us seven days a week—sometimes from 10 am to 11 pm. But he was very focused on the artists, so the dancers had to pull together as a team and work with the assistant choreographers.
DS: What changed for you from the Destiny’s Child tour to the Mariah tour?
BT: On the Destiny’s Child tour, I was the rookie, the new cat, the youngest. People were trying to look out for me. For the Mariah tour, I was with veterans—the “OG-est” of the “OGs” of the dance game. [OG means “original gangsta.”] The male dancers were true legends: Russell “Goofy” Wright, Earl “Punch” Wright and Eddie Morales, who could possibly be the best dancer in the world.
DS: How do you make inroads with established cliques of dancers on a tour?
BT: You’ve got to go in and do your job. You have to be focused, know everything you’re taught and work 110 percent. Work harder than they do and prove that you deserve to fit in with these people.
DS: What other types of people do you interact with behind the scenes?
BT: Touring with a major artist is like having an entourage of 70 or 80 people. In every country, every hotel you go into—you own the whole thing. You’re protected with security; you’ve got the stars and their assistants, the band and dancers, and the crew. They’re your family for that time.
DS: Do you have time to sightsee?
BT: It depends on how the tour is laid out. You might have to drive immediately after a show to the next location. Sometimes you don’t get time to chill and see the place. When I can, I make sure to take pictures and explore. The first time going around the world, you should take time to really see it, or you’re cheating yourself.
DS: What kinds of things do you do the day of a show?
BT: Sightsee, check out of the hotel around 2:30 pm, go to the venue, sit around on the bus and get massages, watch movies or eat dinner. I also like to watch the opening act. It’s a good way to get hyped up for the show.
DS: Is there a protocol for interacting with the artist?
BT: At first, you can’t think the artist is your best friend. It took three or four months before I got called by name by someone in Destiny’s Child. Artists deal with a lot of people. If they see you working hard every night, they might eventually reward you with recognition or invite you to dinner or an after-party, but that’s rare.
DS: What valuable lessons have you learned from past gigs that are helping you now with the Rihanna tour?
BT: The DC tour warmed me up for success. In that camp, things were chaotic; there were always changes being made. You had to be ready to learn new fixes, and we were rehearsing two or three months into the show. It was a work in progress. I now feel prepared for anything!
Check out a clip of Bryan Tanaka's choreography from his hip-hop class at Millennium Dance Complex in L.A. at dancespirit.com/.