So You Think You Can Dance: Nigel Lythgoe interview

by Lisa McGarry

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Nigel Lythgoe is returning to British shores to find the nation’s hottest dancing talent on BBC One with the award-winning So You Think You Can Dance.

Check out our interview with ‘Nasty Nigel’ below.

Your passion for dancing started at an early age, did you pursue other forms of dance beside the initial tap classes?
I trained in every other style that was physically possible. I did ballet, modern, jazz, ballroom – everything that was needed to become a professional dancer.

Is it a relief to find yourself back in the world that ignited your passion as a young boy?
Forty years ago, I thought, ‘That’s the end of my dancing, I’m moving to television production’. And yet I’ve managed to swing it around and find myself back in a world that started my entire career. I’m so passionate about the bloody thing. I just feel so lucky.

Do you think people underestimate how much training or hard work goes in to being a professional dancer?
Nowadays, so many people do one thing, like hip-hop, and say they’re a dancer. If you think you can dance, then you should also be able to do the cha cha cha or salsa.

Is that why the audition process seems to get tougher and tougher?
Each season that bar gets raised… People see that there are dancers that haven’t had the formal training, and everyone thinks ‘Oh, I can do that if they do it’. They can’t. They need a little more than just a passion to do it; they’ve got to have something called talent! You have to be really good, really talented, and we take it from a very professional audition attitude.

Is ‘contemporary dancer’ the easiest label to adopt nowadays?
So many people report to be contemporary dancers, and they’re not. They are sort of jazz dancers that feel like they’re throwing a bit of classical in there. I mean, a true contemporary dancer has got ballet as their base and classical ballet, and that is their base. And then they choose to extemporise on that and go into a contemporary world. However, when people walk in here and say they are contemporary, a lot of them just go running around the stage like Isadora Duncan, and half of them deserve to be strangled by their scarf.

What is your favourite form of dance?
I think ballroom. I love when bodies come together and they work as one. At the same time, I have watched a group of 12 hip-hoppers and they were brilliant.

Do you think dance is better understood now with the various dance programmes being made?
I think people forgot what the word meant and it does mean a variety of things. You don’t have to enjoy everything. It brings families together and it allows families to sit there together and argue because you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to have different opinions.

In the US the show has definitely helped silence old prejudices against male dancers by showing that dance requires an impressive level of muscle-power and leadership.
[Dancers] need to be very strong. Dancing is role-playing most of the time. And you need to be strong and lift girls. You need to look stronger than the girl you’re dancing with. You control the dance, especially in ballroom.

In the past dancing was at the forefront of society, and even Hollywood – Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Moira Shearer… everybody knew their names! Do you think that the show has helped to regain that public interest in dance that has been lost in recent years?

When you turn around to kids and say ‘do you remember Shirley MacLaine… no? Liza Minnelli…who?’ It seems crazy to me! So to be instrumental in trying to bring that back is absolutely fantastic. All sorts of different kinds of dance are coming through around the world. It had just been out of the spotlight for so long, to be a part of that movement and instrumental in it, to be frank, is absolutely wonderful. I’m so passionate about it.

The dancers obviously have to deal with nerves every show, are you lucky enough to have waved your nerves goodbye now that SYTYCD has become so successful?
I never cease being nervous. In the end, you just do the best show that you can. If the public wants to watch, they’re going to watch. If they don’t, they won’t. But, we’re always going to come out swinging.

Lisa McGarry

Lisa has been watching reality TV for too long now. She won't do any housework unless 'Big Brother' announces it over the tannoy and everything she does has to be put to a public vote!