Dance shows have never been hotter in primetime, and this year’s choreography nominees are reaping the benefits.
Today they are no longer anonymous background faces neck-pumping in the shadows of a Michael Jackson video. Instead they are busy entrepreneurs — and celebrities in their own right.
“It’s very important for the choreographer-dancer-entertainer to get out there and show your talent any way you can,” says Shane Sparks, nominated for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Sparks is a judge on “America’s Next Dance Crew,” has a company called S Style clothing, plans on choreographing a stage revival of “Dreamgirls,” and more.
Multihyphenate Wade Robson, who won the choreography Emmy last year for “So You Think You Can Dance,” credits new technology for making it easier to be a choreographer-entrepreneur.
Robson uses his laptop to compose music, edit video and make films. He’s had his own TV show and goes so far as to say he uses choreography as a platform to make movies.
He has a three-picture deal with Disney and is co-choreographing a Cirque du Soleil show opening in Las Vegas in September.
He realized at 11 years old that he didn’t want to be a dancer only. “It can be tough financially. You work until you’re 25 or 30 if you’re lucky and your knees don’t blow out. Being a dancer is a wonderful thing, but I emphasize to students that they’re a creative being and they have to find the thing they can grow into. Maybe you’ll get a love for directing or producing, maybe it will be set design, art direction. Whatever it is, it’s necessary to have your mind open to that early on.”
In fact, says veteran choreographer Kenny Ortega, that kind of thinking is a must. “Media choreographers have to become entrepreneurs because they have no protection,” he says, noting they’re not unionized.
Ortega, who is nominated for “High School Musical 2,” says that just a decade ago, the networks were pushing dancers away.
“Now every network is begging for the next dance opportunity. Everywhere you look, it’s thriving and pulling in enormous numbers.” Still, he laments, “I wish someone out there would look at this incredible collection of artists and say, ‘Let us help take care of you with pensions, protections and security,'” he says.
So these choreographers are understandably grateful for the dance shows that made them household names.
“Doing a show like ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is pretty much the most famous you can get as a dancer unless you’re Baryshnikov or something,” says nominee Julianne Hough. “Even the people who don’t make it to the finals or win go on to have great careers — it’s just so much exposure.”
And Sparks adds: “Choreographers can be producers, they can be directors, they can start a clothing line, make videos, we can start our own company. At the end of the day, we all want to take care of ourselves and take care of our families and live a nice, happy, humble life. That’s all we want.”