Photos by Joan Marcus
Perhaps that’s just a logical extension of a current passionate love affair between Ballroom and Hollywood, as witnessed by ABC Television’s ratings juggernaut Dancing With The Stars.
But the true birthplace of BURN THE FLOOR took place nearly 15 years ago.
When Harley Medcalf attended Elton John’s 50th birthday party at London’s Hammersmith Palais Ballroom in 1997, the last thing he expected to find was an exhilarating new theatrical project. But when 16 young ballroom dancers hit the floor for a special performance, he found himself captivated. “Moses could have come into the room and he wouldn’t have been able to part the 600-plus crowd,” Medcalf says. “But these dancers had the audience transfixed. Their charisma was electrifying.”
That’s when Medcalf, producer of the direct-from-Broadway ballroom dance show BURN THE FLOOR, first got the idea for the project that would become the first touring theatrical ballroom dance show in history. BURN THE FLOOR labels itself as “ballroom reinvented.” As Medcalf puts it, “It’s like ballroom dancing super charged. It’s the incredible art form of ballroom dance combined with rock and roll.”
Medcalf’s first production of BURN THE FLOOR started rehearsals in 1999, and as the show changed and evolved, it went on to give performances in over 30 countries and 160 cities before coming to Broadway. The trip to Broadway was a long 11-year journey, but Medcalf attributes his unwavering commitment to the project to his dancers. “The real inspiration for me comes from the dancers themselves,” says Medcalf. “They possess these incredible qualities, qualities found in competition ballroom dance. It’s their passion, their commitment, work ethic and raw energy, and their total dedication to the art of dance. These performers are on stage 800 hours a year performing 400 shows in 50 weeks. And no matter how difficult the schedule, their intensity never diminishes.”
In July of 2009, BURN THE FLOOR’s Broadway dreams were realized. In thinking back to what that opening night on Broadway was like for him, Medcalf says, “The buzz and the energy from the audience was overpowering. I could not stop the tears all night, it was so emotionally overpowering. To actually get there and make it happen was extraordinary.” The Broadway run of BURN THE FLOOR was scheduled to be a 12-week limited engagement, but, due to demand, the show extended its run and eventually closed in January of 2010.
Of course, the show’s success and appeal on Broadway and on tour is reinforced by the recent surge in the popularity of ballroom dance generated in part by powerhouse reality television series like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.
Medcalf says, “When we started the show, ballroom was out of fashion. Everyone said I was insane for producing the show, and I probably was, probably still am. But in 2005, television discovered ballroom dance. The groundswell that television has created for us has created a bigger and bigger wave that we can ride. It’s interesting, if you’d asked someone in 2005, ‘What’s a Paso Doble?’ they’d say ‘I don’t eat Spanish pizza,’ and now everyone’s an expert on the Paso Doble because they watched it on Dancing With the Stars the night before.”
BURN THE FLOOR has also featured many of the professional dancers who have become household names from their appearances on Dancing With The Stars or So You Think You Can Dance. Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev, finalists on Season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance, have been the most recent dance stars to tour with BURN THE FLOOR, and they will be featured in the upcoming Pantages Theatre engagement.
With the company now touring the U.S., Medcalf says the dancers have “kicked the show up a gear” since Broadway. “The company is really committed to live the show every night and constantly work to make it better. They’ve grown up a lot and matured from the Broadway experience. They’ve gotten great confidence from that,” he says. But, Medcalf adds, the popularity of the show on Broadway and now on its national tour is really all about the massive energy boost the audience gets from the performance, “The energy is what draws you in and fulfills you from seeing the show. The performers give 120% every night. It’s inspiring. And they make the technical skill of dancing seem so easy and accessible. We have the energy of five Broadway shows.”
When Medcalf looks back on his 14-year-and-counting journey with BURN THE FLOOR, he attributes the joy of his experience and the ultimate success of the show to his dancers who possess the same verve and passion that he witnessed back at that birthday party in London. “It comes back to the commitment of the dancers every night on stage. They go out and have a great time and make sure the audience has a great time as well. And you can see the audience smiling away and taping their feet, and they’re taking something away in the heart. At the end of the day, if we didn’t deliver the highest quality show and take up the challenge to make it better every night, we simply would not have lasted 14 years.”
The electrifying Latin and ballroom dance spectacular BURN THE FLOOR will play the Pantages Theatre for a strictly-limited 2 week engagement, April 26 – May 8, 2011. This Los Angeles engagement will feature So You Think You Can Dance alumni Anya Garnis, Pasha Kovalev, Robbie Kmetoni, Janette Manrara, and Karen Hauer. Also featured is Vonzell Solomon, second runner-up in Season Four of American Idol, who is BURN THE FLOOR’s female vocalist. BURN THE FLOOR has thrilled audiences in more than 30 countries with the fire and passion of live ballroom – years before Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance turned the artform into “must-see TV.” Featuring 20 champion dancers in an energetic theatrical experience, BURN THE FLOOR has received raves from critics worldwide, including The New York Times which called the show “Dazzling!” and The Times (London), which called it “the summer’s hottest ticket!”
Tickets for BURN THE FLOOR are priced from $25 and are available at www.BroadwayLA.org, by phone at 800-982-2787, and at the Pantages Box Office (6233 Hollywood Blvd., open daily at 10am).