This Choreographer's Work Got An Emmy Nod—But a Flight Attendant Made His Steps Go Viral
"So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Christopher Scott woke up one morning last month, rolled over like he usually does to check his iPhone—and found a barrage of text messages and notifications. The very first text he read was from fellow "SYTYCD" choreographer Mandy Moore: "Congratulations!"
It turned out that he'd just gotten his third Emmy nomination for choreography. (Moore had received one, too.) "We find out at the same time as everyone else," says Scott. "Everything official from the television academy comes through the mail weeks later."
Scott recently spoke to Dance Magazine about the two pieces he was nominated for this year—and how he feels about a surprise viral video that features his choreography for Virgin America from five years ago.
About Those Two Dances He Was Nominated For
"Say You Won't Let Go was something I'd been working on for awhile. I'm always trying to find routines that show what romance and chivalry mean to me. I was raised by my mom and sister, so I was always taught to be romantic. I listened to the song hundreds of times, and let the music drive it. Then we used Logan's b-boy background to find tricks that matched the music, and Allison was totally gung-ho about jumping in and trying stuff, too."
"Prism started because a friend of mine was training his dog, and he was so proud that he got his dog to sit. And it got me thinking about how trained human beings are—we stop at red lights, we wait in line. I went with that concept, and the blocks gave the dancers a task, something to manipulate."
Why It's Important that Dance Gets an Emmy
"In film and TV, we're always fighting for better rates and working conditions, more respect. I've learned that if I go on set with people who haven't worked with a choreographer, there's always this awkward moment where I'm talking to the wardrobe department, the art department, the stunt coordinator and people look at me like, Why are you telling me what to do? Then they see rehearsals and the level of responsibility we have, and that starts to change. Emmy nominations help them understand that what we're doing is real, it pushes the story forward, it has a place in the industry."
The Effect Of SYTYCD After 15 Seasons
"Nowadays, every time I have an audition, I get more guys than girls. That was never the case before. These young boys have been just completely liberated to dance. It went from getting bullied in school to being the coolest kid at the lunch table. What a big deal that is. So many kids I meet now tell me they started dancing because they saw 'So You Think You Can Dance.' "
How He Feels About That Viral Video of the Flight Attendant Performing His Steps From the Virgin America Safety Film
"I love it. I believe everybody in the world should dance as much as they can. When we get to create something that inspires people to actually listen to a safety instruction video and enjoy it enough to want to imitate it, that's a beautiful thing."
His Advice for Others Who Hope to One Day Get an Emmy Nod
"The best thing I got out of 'So You Think You Can Dance' was failing on that show. When I failed that first time, it devastated me. You get judged and go home and think, This sucks. But what I learned from that, now I get to put in into another routine. That's our goal—to experiment and keep pushing forward, because there really are no limits to what we can create in dance."
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.