'Hot tamale train' delivers again

It's flashy, sensual … and fabulous.

For fans of reality shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing with the Stars," "Burn the Floor" is a perfect real-life night out.

A record-breaking Broadway hit — and the first ballroom dance musical ever to make it to the Great White Way — "Burn the Floor" showcases the world's top ballroom dancers in a highly athletic, frenetic spectacle.

Think mirror balls, strobe lights, smoke clouds and plenty of sultry expressions.

Top "Burn the Floor" star and original Broadway cast member Anya Garnis said the experience of watching live ballroom dance is "100 times better than watching TV shows, because the director of the show knows how to showcase dancers as well as get his choreography across. It's a beautiful, two-hour, nonstop dance show. It has really opened up our minds to what we can do, and how we can push ourselves," she said.

Garnis said the show, which features live singers and musicians, also has inspired people to learn to dance — or perhaps to turn from hip-hop to ballroom.

"I think being in 'Burn the Floor' was the best decision that I've ever made, because I think there's nothing else like it out there," she said.

Garnis and her partner Pasha Kovalev first became household names on "So You Think You Can Dance." Latvian-born and Russian-trained, Garnis inspired the now familiar competitive dance term "hot tamale train," when her jive performance inspired dance veteran and show judge Mary Murphy to scream and say the hot tamale train had "just pulled up and let Anya off … — special delivery!"

Along with appearing on Broadway, Garnis also has taken "Burn the Floor" to the West End. But now she spends her days touring the country on the show's official national tour.

"The tour life is very different," Garnis said. "I know how, when people watch 'So You Think You Can Dance,' they say we can eat anything. But honestly, I do have to watch what I eat, and it does take a certain stamina [from] you. I drink lots of water, eat well and do all the necessary things. I can't give up coffee or chocolate, though. We do support ourselves with protein shakes."

Garnis said on a "good performance day" the cast won't be called in until 5 or 6 p.m., so she will "sleep in and find a really nice coffee shop or lunch place to go with some of the girls. To get some sun would be perfect before the show, and watch a couple movies before doing the show at night."

Garnis added that she enjoys touring the country more than she enjoyed performing on Broadway.

"It's less stressful," she said. "To be in New York, in that district, surrounded by so many Broadway shows — I never felt that kind of intensity before. At the end of the day, it was just as stressful as it was exciting. Every day for six months, someone [important] was in the audience; there was no room for any mistakes, or to be tired. It was stressful, but it was an unforgettable experience. Now, on the road, people are more relaxed and the audience has a bit more trust, because it's a Broadway show, so people know it's going to be good."

Garnis said she was most struck by how each city's audience has its own palpable energy that doesn't change from night to night during the show's run there.

"It's funny how they react to different things differently, even though it's different people there every night; the atmosphere stays the same. After opening night, we know how the city is going to respond. Luckily, we always get a standing ovation. We get spoiled and ask, 'How many curtain calls are we going to get this night? Three or just two?'"

Garnis said she first fell in love with dance when she was 9 — and burned out and bored by gymnastics.

"I saw beautiful, sparkly dresses, and I was sold," she laughed.

Garnis' talent soon showed itself, and she began a very rigorous, "very strict" training program in Russia. She first met Kovalev, her longtime dance partner, about 12 years ago when they were first partnered together by their school.

"It was not by choice at first," Garnis emphasized, but the pair soon became inseparable. They moved to the United States 10 years ago, when they heard of an opportunity to get competition work together.

"It seems like yesterday that I moved here," she said.

Once "Burn the Floor" finishes its run in Costa Mesa, Garnis will disembark from that particular hot tamale train; she said she doesn't have plans to continue with the production to its run in Europe, but may consider joining it again when it returns to the United States.

In the meantime, she said, she hopes to foxtrot into the film industry.

If You Go

What: "Burn the Floor"

When: May 31 to June 12

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

Cost: $20 and up

Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org

Dance styles featured in the "Burn the Floor" include:



•Viennese Waltz



•Cha Cha


•Paso Doble



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