Nigel Lythgoe, along with the DanceOn network on YouTube, plans to launch two new online shows later this year: "Dance School Diaries" and "Every Single Step."
DanceOn, which recently spotlighted dance-centric campaigns spotlighting Michael Jackson's newest album and Jamba Juice, has sponsored or created more than 400 channels that boast 9.5 million subscribers and 1.8 billion page views. The company places a huge emphasis on creating an online dance community, with YouTube as its catalyst.
"It's not the same with other artists, like comedians, who might really engage better on Twitter because it's all about the written word. With dancers, it's all about the moving and the visuals, so there's no better way to communicate with your audience than through video," says DanceOn CEO Amanda Taylor.
"Technology has changed dance and art, and technology has changed the way we evolve as artists."
We caught up with the "So You Think You Can Dance" producer/judge/creator Lythgoe and DanceOn's Taylor to ask about the shows and technology's impact on the dance community.
Show Tracker: Two new shows will be launching online. Can you tell a little about them?
Nigel Lythgoe: In "Dance School Diaries," we're following four to five kids as they prepare to enter the biggest ballet competition in the world, which is the Youth America Grand Prix at the Lincoln Center in New York. It's a little bit like the [NFL] football draft. These kids come from all over the world to New York where they are seem by representatives from ballet companies from all over the world. The Dresden Ballet, The Royal Ballet in England and all of the major ballet companies here take a look at them. It's a bit like the football draft but they're in a bit of a competition cause all of these representatives are seeing them and making them offers -- 'Would you like to come? We'll give you a scholarship' to the Dresden Ballet, or the Royal Ballet -- and it's such a small world that it can really come together at this Youth America Grand Prix. So what we're really doing is following these kids from their hometowns and their homes, talking to them, talking to the teachers, and watching as they're preparing. They're so passionate, and they've put their whole lives on the line to go through this competition. That's what you have to do in truth as a dancer, particularly in ballet where you have to dedicate your life in a very monastic point of view. It's tough and we'll see the outcome of the competition and we'll see how they get on.
Amanda Taylor: The stakes are really incredibly high for them in terms of launching their professional careers. Some of these kids, it's their last year to be able to participate -- it's sort of this and a professional dance career or finding another track in some cases. We asked the kids, "Did you apply to college as a backup plan?," but a lot of them had to stay so focused in their careers as dancers that they don't have a Plan B, so it's just incredibly high stakes.
Nigel Lythgoe: It's a really short career as well. The ballet companies are now transitioning them out of the companies earlier, so they've got to find other work.
Amanda Taylor: And all the kids that we follow are actually from the L.A. and Orange County areas. We identified the top schools and kids and followed students from those studios.
Show Tracker: And "Every Single Step?"
Nigel Lythgoe: "Every Single Step" is a choreography competition where we'll take up-and-coming choreographers, even dancers that want to become choreographers, and they'll be selected by us and a panel of choreographers to enter into a competition that revolves around being given challenges. They can be asked to choreograph a product for a commercial. They could be asked to work with a group, or they might even be asked to go to an old-folks home and stage that. It really does happen like this. As a choreographer, I was asked to choreograph a wheelchair dance with a formation dance routine. I'd never done that in my life. So you may be asked to choreograph things that you least expect, especially if you are a commercial choreographer. You never know what you'll be asked because you don't just work in one genre. I used to choreograph the Muppets, and that's an interesting thing -- choreographing something that hasn't got any legs. So, we're actually challenging these young choreographers to do this in a competition, and at the end of it, we hope to have choreographers that can do it on "So You Think You Can Dance." I wanted to put it to good use.
Amanda Taylor: You have to be incredibly versatile to be able to catch on to any kind of project and be able to do any kind of dance. There are so many skill sets to being a professional choreographer, and this is the first time that there'll be a platform -- ongoing -- for aspiring choreographers.
Show Tracker: You've had a pretty good track record with television. Why go into the online world to create these programs?
Nigel Lythgoe: It's no different than anything else I do. I'm a creator. I try to create programs that are entertaining, that people want to watch, that are generally family-oriented. I believe trying to bring families together to watch this type of entertaining program is really important. It's the one area where families can come together and all enjoy the same show, which obviously I did with "Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance." For me, it's just another platform.
Amanda Taylor: And we're reaching a global audience instantly. When you think of how widespread "So You Think You Can Dance" is -- it's in so many territories now, over 35 I think -- we'll be able to reach those countries instantly online.
Show Tracker: And speaking of worldwide, DanceOn has entrenched itself online and in the dance world. What are the company's goals?
Amanda Taylor: There's two parts to DanceOn. One is that we're a brand that's fostering a community online for people that are passionate about dance. That could mean that you are a choreographer or you are a dancer, and you're making content and you want to find that audience and build your own personal brand, your own personal business online. So we're fostering that community. The other side of that is bringing great content to the masses, to a global audience. Be it licensed content from other studios or other companies to originals that we develop in partnership with Nigel or in-house.
Nigel Lythgoe: Our job, especially in the digital world, is not just to entertain but to inform. I'd like to see dancers being more informed even in the dance medicine area, and even in terms of lessons where you can go online and learn how to dance as well as being entertained by dance. You may realize that you shouldn't be doing something because it could injure you later on in life.
Show Tracker: With the expansion of dance online in an organized way, what does it mean/do to the industry?
Nigel Lythgoe: What it does is include everybody. We can all participate. There's immediate feedback. That's really exciting to the viewers. We can get bloggers all over the world showing us their latest dances. You can upload and download now to the point that we can be a major global community and have everyone feel a part of it. I think that's where it can be most exciting. We're literally educating in dance styles and showing each other the cultures of each country in dance terms. These kids now ... When I was formally trained, there was the ballet bar and the mirror. These kids now are in their bedrooms looking at YouTube and everything else. Michael Jackson is the biggest inspiration in the world for dance because of that medium. Because he literally was on video and people copied him all over the world and were inspired to dance. That's what I would like to see DanceOn live up to.
Amanda Taylor: It's funny that you mention Michael ... We're actually doing a dance video campaign for his new album. And inspiring dancers around to participate in his new music. In terms of programming, one of the things that we can do that is unique as an online company is identify formats and short formats that really work in the dance genre. I think dance formats are really compelling and may be the most successful and most viral kind of content that's online. When you think about the most successful videos and the most successful trends on YouTube -- you've got the Evolution of Dance, which was the most popular video on YouTube for the first four years of its existence, and you've got trends like the "Single Ladies" flash mob and the Willow Smith "Whip My Hair Back and Forth" videos.
Nigel Lythgoe: Gangnam style!
Amanda Taylor: Yes! Gangnam style and the Harlem Shake video craze. In some cases there's an official music video, and in some case there aren't. The list goes on and on.
Show Tracker: With so many dancers, even undiscovered ones online, how are you going to pick and get submissions?
Nigel Lythgoe: We're going to be looking for and asking for material. Show us what you can do, Show us your choreography. There'll also be a lot of word of mouth through the choreographers who know dancers. We'll put together a panel of judges who know choreographers, and do it that way. We don't need that many, actually.