Cyreeta Sharp was done with the L.A. dating scene.
The 42-year-old single mom had grown weary trying to meet someone special online and decided to take a yearlong, self-imposed break from romance. “I’ll just be a cat lady,” she figured.
Then a friend told her about a new reality show, “Flirty Dancing,” which puts a Hollywood flourish on the traditional blind date: Strangers meet for the first time and wordlessly dance together in choreographed routines at scenic locations around Los Angeles.
She was skeptical. Then she pulled up a clip from the original British version of the series, featuring two men strutting joyfully up the stairs and through the galleries of the Tate Britain after dark.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” said Sharp, a fan of musicals, especially “La La Land.” “I said, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
Fox is hoping viewers will be just as excited to see singles attempt the ultimate meet-cute when “Flirty Dancing” premieres Sunday . It’s the latest in a long line of high-concept reality shows the network has imported from overseas, including, most recently, the trippy karaoke contest “The Masked Singer,” which became a surprise hit when it debuted early in 2019.
“Flirty Dancing’s” premise has already provoked an enthusiastic reaction online: Last month, another clip from the British version, showing two men dancing in a Victorian greenhouse, went viral on Twitter, racking up millions of views and prompting a torrent of heart-eye-emojis. “This is ridiculous — and I love it,” was the prevailing opinion. Amid a sea of tawdry dating shows like “Bachelor in Paradise” and “Temptation Island,” “Flirty Dancing” offers something refreshingly different: a bit of old-fashioned — corny, even — romance, with fancy footwork and eye contact replacing the tequila shots and hot tubs.
While it might seem like the title “Flirty Dancing,” with its irresistible pun, came before the concept, executive producer Jilly Pearce, who oversees the show’s production company, Objective Media Group, says the idea arose from internal conversations “about the fact that dating has gotten a little bit brutal and unromantic. How do we bring that romance back to it?” Discussion turned to how singles from previous generations often found love: on the dance floor, not an app.
“Dance was a tried and true way of finding out if there was any chemistry there,” said showrunner Mike Yurchuk.
At a time when people can scour a dating profile with dozens of pictures and do a social media deep dive before meeting someone in person, “Flirty Dancing” offers a truly blind date. Participants don’t even know each other’s names before they dance together, heightening the drama of their routines.
“The layers of vulnerability stack on top of each other and force people to open up in that moment. They’re dancing, and most people in this day and age, they’re a little uncomfortable doing it. So if you’re not a professional dancer, you’re already vulnerable. Then you’re doing it on camera. And you’re doing it with somebody you’ve never met before,” Yurchuk said.
The American version, hosted by dancer-actress Jenna Dewan, adds a competitive twist: One person dances a different routine with each of two potential matches, then decides which person will get a second date. Only then do they get to speak with their dance partner — or learn anything about them.
Efforts were made to cast a variety of regular people genuinely interested in overcoming personal obstacles and finding a fulfilling relationship rather than, as Yurchuk put it, “Instagram-fit models who were looking to be on television.” Contestants range in age, body type and backstory, including a 21-year-old hairstylist with a high-pitched voice some dates find off-putting and a 68-year-old widower trying to move on after losing his partner.
But unlike the British series — and the clip from it that went viral, showing two men dancing in a greenhouse — Fox’s version does not include any same-sex dates. (“If we have the opportunity to make more episodes, we absolutely plan to continue the diversity of our singles looking for love,” the network said when pressed for comment.)
The details of the routine are customized to the participants. “Everything about these dates is really bespoke to that person. One of the beautiful parts of the show, the locations they’re dancing in, the song they’re dancing to, the person they’re dancing with, has all been thought about to give them a unique, fairy-tale experience,” Yurchuk said.
The goal of the choreography was to take the contestants’ relationship history, interpret it through dance, and push them “out of their comfort zones” physically and emotionally, Pearce said. Someone with trust issues might have to fall into their partner’s arms, for instance; someone uncomfortable with intimacy might have to make sustained eye contact.
For Sharp, the process was about allowing herself to be vulnerable again after keeping love at arm’s length for a year. (In one routine, she is lifted into the air by her partner.) She took time off from her job with the Girl Scouts to train with Dewan and choreographer Travis Wall, waking early each morning to practice — an experience she likens to therapy. “I went through every range of emotions in those five days. Laughter, tears, all of it.”
Taking a page (or two) from the “La La Land” playbook, the show is filmed in memorable locations in and around Los Angeles, including Grand Park, the Hollywood Bowl, Santa Monica Pier and the Queen Mary. Each location had to accommodate two dances with distinct moods.
Sharp’s dates took place at LACMA — one beginning inside the museum, another at night in the “Urban Light” installation. She said her heart was “beating all the way out, like in a cartoon,” but “the moment that the music starts you don’t have time to think, you just have to go.”
Throughout the dances, she paid attention to how her dates were leading her. Ultimately, “I had to go with who had the strongest chemistry,” Sharp said.
As anyone who has seen “Dirty Dancing” can tell you, it’s hard to get a dance right on the first try. Savvy viewers may wonder how nonprofessional dancers are able to pull off these elaborate routines in what is made to seem like a single take.
“I can’t go into detail about that,” Sharp said regarding this aspect of the production. Fox also declined to say whether multiple takes were used for the performances.
Fans will have to draw their own conclusions about how much Hollywood magic was involved in crafting these swoon-worthy dance sequences. But the process itself was both scary and exhilarating, said Sharp.
“It’s like getting on that 50-loop roller coaster. Strap in and go for the ride.”