So You Think You Can Judge Dancing?

The Fox reality show So You Think You Can Dance has done so well in the ratings that the network has created a tour featuring the program's ten top finalists; the troupe performs in Denver on Tuesday, September 19, at the Colorado Convention Center's Lecture Hall. Brian Friedman, a choreographer-turned-TV judge, provided details of the production for Westword. (They can be found in this week's events section.) But he also talked about his path to the program, and how his life has been changed by the particularly 21st century brand of notoriety he's achieved. Here's some more of the conversation. -- Michael Roberts

Westword: Tell me about how you got involved with the show in the first place.

Brian Friedman: I was first sent to have a meeting with the producers of the show based on my choreography. They chose reels, which is how we all get our jobs as choreographers. It's all of our work compressed into two and a half minutes. And apparently they liked what they saw, so I went in and had my initial meeting with them. It wasn't necessarily to judge or to choreograph. It was just to meet with me and see how they liked my personality, and luckily, things clicked. They went through a little trial period of judging. It was stuff that was never used for the first season. It was the initial judging panel.

WW: Did they try you with folks who might not have made the show?

BF: No, it was funny. The initial group that auditioned ended up being the group that's still there today. It was myself, Mia [Michaels], Mary [Murphy], Dan [Karaty] and Alex [Da Silva]. And they loved us all, and we're all still around.

WW: Before your involvement in the show, did you consider yourself to be a reality-TV fan?

BF: Oh yeah. I'm a reality-TV junkie. I watch any and every reality show that there is. So I know all about the reality shows, and I'd done a reality show before for MTV [he served as a coach on a few episodes of Becoming], which was pretty much the only place dancers were allowed to be before Dancing With the Stars started. So luckily, dance took off and blew up.

WW: When you went up for this gig, given your credits, it doesn't seem like it was something you had to do out of desperation. It wasn't like a Paula Abdul situation. But it sounds as if you really wanted to do it.

BF: Yeah. Dancing is what I did first, it is what I will continue to do. And to put dance out there in the mainstream and to give kids an opportunity — or maybe just a goal. It gives them something to strive to win and compete for in the future. And just to give something like that to kids is something I wanted to be involved in.

WW: Earlier, you alluded to the fact that dancers, if they've been on TV, tend to be put in the background. Was that one of the appeals of this show — that the dancing would be center-stage?

BF: Oh yeah. Anytime where you are watching the dancers and there's no distractions. And to think of an artist singing as a distraction is a dancer's mentality. It's like, 'Move that artist over to the side and let me watch the dancers!' [Laughs.] So, of course, it's all about the dancers stepping to the forefront and getting the recognition that is well-deserved.

WW: Did knowing that you'd be in the spotlight give you pause, since, as a choreographer, you get to be in the background? Or was that an appeal for you?

BF: It's kind of a love-hate relationship. Definitely being a choreographer, you're in the background — and not the background on camera. You're behind the camera. So I love that aspect of my choreography career — I don't have to look amazing when I go to work. I don't have to sweat for hours on camera, and I can still have my anonymity. Well, at least I used to. Now, it's all different. That's the one downfall of being on TV: You get recognized everywhere you go. And you start to be self-conscious about leaving your house looking like a mess.

WW: What kind of people come up to you?

BF: Every walk of life, which is amazing and it makes me feel happy, because it means that everyone is watching the show. We're not just stuck in one demographic. I've got small children, children of all ages, adults, grandparents, senior citizens who come up to me, and every ethnicity. I travel the world and people come up to me in foreign countries now because the show is played in many places in the world. It just shows that dance is universal, and it has no color line.

WW: Do you think all of the finalists will have careers in dance?

BF: They'll all have careers, and they're all deserving of the title. Their careers can go in totally different directions. Not one person will go in the same direction as anyone else on that stage. They can all go in completely different directions and still be working.

WW: How would you describe the touring show?

BF: It's going to be very entertaining, and I can't say much more than that at this point. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of directions for it. But you're going to see a lot of things you've already seen — some of your favorite numbers will be onstage this year, reformatted for the theater, plus new numbers. And it's going to be the top ten contestants. So it'll be everything that people at home would want to see and more.

WW: Will you be touring on any of these stops?

BF: It depends on what the dates of the shows are. I haven't set anything up. But I do plan to go out and see the kids in some cities. But I won't be performing.

WW: Will you be choreographing any of the new numbers?

BF: The new numbers haven't been delegated yet, but I will be reviving some of my other numbers.

WW: Do you think your show is giving people a better idea about how hard it is to succeed in dance, and the discipline that's needed to excel?

BF: Definitely. That's the point of the show — to show America this is not an easy sport. And it is a sport; it's not just an art. Dancers brutalize their bodies just as much as football players and basketball players and gymnasts. And finally they're getting a little bit of recognition for that. You see sprained toes and twisted knees and hurt backs. Dancing is painful. When a dancer signs up for a dance class, they're signing up for injuries and arthritis for the rest of their life.

WW: You make it sound like such a positive experience.

BF: It's not very positive when you think about old age and how much you're going to creak and hurt. [Laughs.] But dancers love it. They love to dance, and they know it's something they have to deal with. Your body is your instrument, and if you take care of your instrument, you will be fine. You must wear your knee pads if you're going to jump on your knees. You must alternate hot and cold on your injuries. Taking hot baths, getting massages. If you take care of yourself, you're going to have a longer career without as much pain. But these poor kids? They're dancing every day. They don't have a lot of time to take care of their bodies. So proper diet is all I can say for them.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts