By Sahil Patel
Last week was a big one for DanceOn, the dance entertainment channel and network founded by Amanda Taylor. The company announced two new original series, “Dance School Diaries” and “Every Single Step,” and was featured as part of YouTube’s Brandcast event for advertisers at the MSG Theatre. Prior to Brandcast, VideoInk sat down with Taylor and Nigel Lythgoe, who’s executive producing the aforementioned shows, on the programming, the popularity of dance on the web, and if DanceOn would ever expand to other formats.
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us a little bit more about the two shows DanceOn is rolling out in the coming year.
Amanda Taylor: Nigel, take it away.
Nigel Lythgoe: One is called “Dance School Diaries,” where we follow six, but really five, kids who are involved in the Youth America Grand Prix. The Youth America Grand Prix is the biggest ballet competition in the States, if not the world, where kids from all over the country come to compete, but also to be seen by representatives from all of the world’s greatest ballet companies. [The companies] come from Holland, from Denmark, from LA, and it’s a bit like a football draft where these representatives see [the kids] and literally say to them, “We’d love to give you a scholarship to come for three years to the Netherlands Ballet or the Dresden Ballet or the Royal Ballet.”
We followed five of [these kids] in their preparation to go into the competition. We also tried to get involved in their lives because although dance is appealing to a small group of people, whenever there’s a challenge laid out to the human spirit — and with ballet you know you’ve got to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly — I think it opens itself up to wider of an audience.
I’m assuming not all of them will get on.
Nigel Lythgoe: I’m not saying anything.
It’s already been shot?
Nigel Lythgoe: The actual competition happened three weeks ago.
And when is it coming out?
Amanda Taylor: The summer.
Nigel Lythgoe: So that’s one, and the other one is called, “Every Single Step.” It’s a choreographers competition. We never really anticipated, when we came up with “So You Think You Can Dance,” that choreographers would also be a major attraction within the program. Of course, as soon as we did realize, we used it to our advantage. It’s about the kids that came on like Travis Wall, who came into the competition as a dancer and transitioned to choreography. People like Mia Michaels who nobody had heard the name of before or seen the face of and suddenly you realize that there’s a brilliant person behind this name and behind the word choreographer and what they actually do. So here we’re going to see young up-and-coming kids who have not really choreographed anything before and want to make that transition from dancer to choreographer.
We’re posing really difficult things for them to do, like Take this iPhone and make a commercial with it using choreography, or, Here’s a group of five people, choreograph them, or There’s an old folks home that wants to do a musical, go and stage them in that. Whatever challenges we can come up with, we’re going to take two choreographers and pit one against the other. We’ve got other choreographers judging them. We thought that was better because then we have people who know what they’re doing.
Why make these two shows for the web, particularly for a platform like YouTube, compared to anywhere else that can offer such programming?
Nigel Lythgoe: One of the interesting things to think about in the case of the choreographer competition show is that people on YouTube are becoming famous for kind of unusual things. Beauty gurus weren’t really a thing before YouTube, and neither was being a gamer. You weren’t selling out Staple Center as a gamer pre-YouTube, so what’s happening in dance is that dancers and choreographers are making a brand for themselves and having a consistent way for them to communicate with audiences through their channels. I think that we can really leverage that and amplify it even more through a premium showcase of what they’re already doing. [Then we can] leverage those audiences that have been built through [their work] already.
So when it comes to a show such as “Every Single Step” and niche categories like dance and choreography, there’s already an audience there wanting that kind of content.
Nigel Lythgoe: I’m also looking to that area to cast. I want to see the choreographers that have done stuff online that aren’t really known… We’re probably going to be doing some interactive contests to be able to lull in that talent. Also, DanceOn has a large community of dancers and choreographers already, so we’ll definitely be looking at that talent.
Both of these shows, as well as others produced for DanceOn, have one commonality outside of dance, which is reality. Could you guy speak a little bit on doing that type of programming for a platform like DanceOn and YouTube?
Amanda Taylor: I actually think that it’s great because we can move so fast on it, specially for “The Edge.” It’s all about a new tour or a new album release, and we partner with the music artists themselves. I think it’s a great way for the music artists to give back to the creatives behind the scenes, like the dancers, the choreographer, and the director. We’re really showcasing that and the creative process. It’s fun to launch it on YouTube because it’s instantly more social, and the artsists can be social with it so it creates a dialoge that TV just wouldn’t allow.
Ever any interest in doing a little bit more scripted stuff for DanceOn?
Amanda Taylor: For sure. AMC’s on our board and a big investor for the company. There’s so much to aspire to with what they’ve done with scripted programming, and Nigel is in the scripted world as well, so…
Nigel Lythgoe: I’m not saying anything. [Laughs]
Nigel Lythgoe: Actually, I think it was already reported. I’m trying to remake “Fame” … a much darker “Fame” rather than the sort of happy, light, sweet kids from “Glee” that I think took a look at important subjects but has dealt with everything very lightly. The kids I meet auditioning for me have got real problems and real issues that I think we need to deal with seriously.
Header image: Mathieu Young