For someone who enjoys working into a conversation that he once dated Raquel Welch and Priscilla Presley, Nigel Lythgoe leaves little doubt that he is a straight man. He is, though, that rarest of straight men: a dancer and a true ally of the LGBTQIA-plus community.
As a boy who started taking dance class in 1959, he came of age when people openly mocked male dancers. As he listened to those auditioning for Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” Lythgoe was troubled by the homophobia so many hopefuls had endured.
“It is a very sad thing that it has got that stigma that it obviously doesn’t have in Europe or Asia and Russia,” Lythgoe says, referring to the Alexandrov Ensemble, the singers and dancers from the Red Army Choir. “It is sad if you are gay to be picked on and sad if you are not gay to be picked on. It shows you how strong they are to put up with that. When we were going around with ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ I met kids who were thrown out of their homes.”
Yet, he says, “no one picked on Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire” back in their day. Thus, the goal of “So You Think You Can Dance” was to accept everyone, but to still deliver harsh truths to the clumsy. After all, these were real people sharing their backstories.
“I think we have given a look at real-life through reality television programs of what people go through and suffer and how they can overcome their problems,” Lythgoe says.
“We show an incredible amount of talent that may have gone unnoticed. At the same time, it opened it up to a lot of rude, nasty areas of our society that I am sorry we are actually putting out there on television.”
While Lythgoe is loath to namedrop those specific programs, he notes that it is “uncomfortable, on occasion, to see the pettiness, the anger, then jealousy that goes on that we classify as entertainment. And I don’t like that, and that has come out of reality television. In truth, I would call it unscripted because the moment you turn a camera on, reality flies out of the window, and a lot of these shows are semi-scripted and rehearsed. There are areas I really dislike on reality TV.”
When pushed, though, Lythgoe will admit to just one type of dance he dislikes: contortionism, when double-jointed people twist their bodies into shapes not usually associated with healthy bodies.
“To put that to music and to say you are dancing, ‘no, no, no!’” Lythgoe says.
Other than those bone-defying stunts, Lythgoe loves it all, from tap to ballet. He’s especially proud that the hundreds of dances that played out on the “So You Think You Can Dance” stage include “routines on addiction, breast cancer and homophobia. Sometimes it is better to do it through dance than to try and explain your point. That is the dancing I like, whether fun or serious, rather than just dancing to a piece of music.” A
nd as he’s encouraged all to tell their stories, Lythgoe says, “We celebrate life.”