Reality TV Secrets Revealed
Jamie Goodwin and Teddy Forance have a not-so-private conversation on the set of "All the Right Moves." (photo by Joe Toreno)
If you’re anything like us, you’re probably glued to the screen anytime a reality dance show is on. Then you might watch it over and over on your DVR, obsessing over your favorite parts. (No? Maybe that’s just us, then.) And, like any dance reality junkie, you’re probably dying to know the juicy secrets about how things really work behind the scenes. Wonder no more: We’re flipping the script and unveiling the top five reality show secrets. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)
Reality Secret #1: Unscripted doesn’t always mean unscripted.
So how real are reality shows? It depends on the show, but in many cases, the stars might follow a loose script or even be fed certain lines by producers. Not everyone is always in on the storyline, either. For example, on “Dance Moms,” some moms know the plan and others don’t (making those “surprises” extra juicy). Time constraints play into it, too: When our DS insiders were on the “Dance Moms” set, they heard that dancers sometimes changed outfits several times a day to make studio scenes seem more spaced out, when really they’re all filmed within a 24-hour period. And “Dance Moms” isn’t the only show that enhances reality just a tad: on “So You Think You Can Dance,” sometimes the contestants are asked to reshoot their “I’m going to Vegas!” reactions to make them more over the top.
"Usually when someone's filming a rehearsal in one room, the rest of the kids will be in the other room having dance offs," says Maddie Ziegler, above, of "Dance Moms." "We listen to music and jam out." (photo by Nate Powers)
Other dance reality shows, like “Breaking Pointe,” are a bit more true to life. “Breaking Pointe” executive producer Izzie Pick Ashcroft says the cameras at Ballet West rehearsals are purely observational, as that’s one of the conditions of being allowed to film there. “We can film class, but we can’t produce it or ask people to do anything over again,” she shares. “We just have to hope and pray there’s a story in there.” (And there almost always is!)
Reality Secret #2: On dance competition shows, things move at lightning speed behind the scenes.
Since shows like “SYTYCD” and “Dancing with the Stars” debut new routines every week, a new show is set in motion as soon as the cameras stop rolling on the last one. To succeed, contestants must thrive amid the fast-paced flurry of activity. (By finale week on “SYTYCD” Season 10, the remaining contestants were put on IV fluids to keep their energy up.) “The question is: Can you work under that pressure and still deliver a quality performance?” says choreographer Tyce Diorio.
Vegas Week on "So You Think You Can Dance" is just as grueling as it seems on TV. (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
A typical week on “SYTYCD” goes like this: After Tuesday’s taping/live show, the process starts all over again. On Wednesday, the choreographers figure out their concepts, lighting, costumes and music for the next week’s routine, and the contestants learn the choreography on Thursday and Friday. “They only get seven hours with us to perfect the routine,” Diorio says. Contestants spend weekends working on the group routines and practicing on their own, and on Monday, they rehearse onstage for the producers. Come Tuesday, it’s dress rehearsal and show time!
“DWTS” couples have a bit more time to practice, with unlimited studio time from Wednesday to Sunday. “Certain celebrities want to be in the studio nine hours a day, while others are OK with three or four,” says Chelsie Hightower, who mentions Helio Castroneves and Ty Murray as her hardest-working partners.
Reality Secret #3: Everyone involved must always be ready for changes.
Even the best-laid plans sometimes hit snags. Just ask Diorio, who found out at the last minute that the song he’d chosen for Will Wingfield and Jessica King’s contemporary routine in Season 4 wasn’t cleared to air. But his second choice turned out to be a lucky charm. “My backup song, ‘Silence,’ ended up being part of my Emmy-winning routine,” he says.
Real-life problems can also throw filming for a loop. For instance, when Ronnie Underwood from “Breaking Pointe” suffered a nasty foot injury, the producers had to scramble to follow the storyline. “Ronnie had his accident around Christmas, and suddenly we were all on the phone between Christmas and New Year’s trying to work things out,” says Pick Ashcroft. “Here’s one of the senior male dancers, who would have had a big role in Cinderella, suddenly out of the picture. We just had to follow that.” In the end, the show’s producers got even better drama for the show than they may have hoped for.
Reality Secret #4: You’re not necessarily guaranteed your spot from season to season.
Just because you’re in the cast one season doesn’t mean you have it made in the shade forever. For instance, the whole cast of “Breaking Pointe” had to show up for an audition interview to be considered for the second season. On recent seasons of “DWTS,” the producers have switched up the pros in the mix for every new go-round (giving fresh “SYTYCD” alums like Lindsay Arnold a chance to break in!). “It’s all about the celebrities and who [the producers] think will match up with them best,” Hightower says. “Things like age, personality and height all factor in—it’s very much a casting process.”
As for the “SYTYCD” All-Stars, many return season after season, but the producers choose who will be taking the stage based on availability, ability and rapport with the choreographers. “Some choreographers request people for certain pieces,” Hightower says. Diorio requested Kathryn for a Holocaust-inspired “Eli, Eli” piece with Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, and also for Season 10’s jazz piece with Paul Karmiryan. In the past, he’s also asked to work with Kent Boyd and Neil Haskell. “Those were three All-Stars I felt very connected to,” Diorio says.
During "SYTYCD" auditions, the days are long, there's plenty of drama and yes, the injuries are real. (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
Reality Secret #5: Once the ink is dry, reality stars don’t really get any say in what’s shown on TV.
Out of all the hours of footage shot for shows like “Breaking Pointe,” there are probably some moments the stars wish they could erase—but they don’t get to decide what ends up on the cutting room floor. “As a human, you don’t want those things shown to the world, but as a participant in the show, it’s understood that once you sign the contract, nothing is off-limits,” explains cast member Allison DeBona. “In those moments, you have to remember that you signed up for this.” She adds that the stars also don’t get to watch the episodes before they air, so they see them for the first time along with the rest of the world.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
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