It's hard to believe that the Fox show So You Think You Can Dance is about to end its 15th season.
Travis Wall has been there almost from the beginning. Wallwho was born and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginiacompeted on the show's second season in 2006, finishing second. ( Wall's brother, Danny Tidwell, was runner-up the following season. ) Since then, Wall has returned to the series to dancebut is probably best known as an Emmy-winning choreographer for the show who also has a dance company he started with a few others called Shaping Sound.
Wall recently talked with Windy City Timesthe day after dancers Chelsea Hough and Evan DeBenedetto ( who, among other things, danced to a Wall piece that the judges praised ) were eliminated from So You Think You Can Dance.
Windy City Times: I was wondering about your thoughts after Evan and Chelsea were eliminated.
Travis Wall: Yeah … well, obviously, they did a really good job, but in the competition the judges take everything into consideration. I knew they were at the bottom, and I had a feeling they were going home.
WCT: The judges thought they did an outstanding job with your piece.
TW: Yeah. It was good to let them have a moment, and they connected. It was cool that the judges celebrated them.
WCT: By the way, how is Shaping Sound doing?
TW: It's great! We're on a bit of a hiatus right now. We toured so much last year that it took a toll on us, you know what I mean? We are going back on tour in the wintertime, and we're going to twist it up and make our own Nutcracker, so that's very excitingand we will be stopping by Chicago.
WCT: How does it feel to be an Emmy winner?
TW: It's pretty exciting. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in life and stress that I have to remind myself that I'm so fortunate to do what I'm able to do and have the voice that I have, so I have to use that platform as much as possible.
WCT: You've been on the show practically from the beginning. What do you think has been the biggest change on the seriesthe addition of dance genres, or something else?
TW: I think the biggest change is the expectation of the dancers. When we first came on the show, everybody had their respective styles. Now, everyone trains in all these styles. Sometimes you find people who are extraordinary in one thing, but now there are people who are great at everything. Expectations are extremely high.
WCT: Is there any sort of friendly competition between the show's choreographers?
TW: Oh, God, nowe're a family. The things we have to go through on that show literally have us pooping in our pants on the live show. We find out who we have at the last minute. Performances can be incredible during the dress rehearsal, and then crash and burn during the live show. We have no idea; it's literally out of our hands. [Judge Nigel Lythgoe] could say, "That's the worst choreography I've seen in my life," and I'll never work again.
It's just all of itif the costumes are going to fall off, if they're going to hit something. I'm always watching with an editing eye. I'm a perfectionist and that's my kryptonite sometimes. Last year, there was a piece I was nominated for an Emmy forand it was the first time I didn't have any notes. I sat back and I got to watch, and I got to feel what everyone else feels.
WCT: How do you feel the show has dealt with performers who are LGBT? I know that when you competed, you felt you couldn't be yourselfand I know that was true not only of So You Think You Can Dance, but of other reality-competition shows as well.
TW: This is a sensitive subject because I work for the show, but do I wish we would expose and talk about it way more? Absolutely! It's such a huge part of the dance community. This season was the first time we talked about someone coming out of the closet. [Former RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Laganja Estranja, also known as Jay Jackson, auditioned on So You Think You Dance and made it to the academy.] It's better late than never, but we have to keep coming. I want to do a piece about what's going on in my personal life right now; it's a [same-sex] duet about a couple breaking up.
I think we should touch on LGBTQ issues more. People should be allowed to be themselves. There's some growth for this show. When I competed on the show I was told, "Girls are voting for you," so I felt like I had to put on this persona for the show. But these days, the more you are yourself, the more people like you. [Editor's note: Wall did a piece on the Aug. 27 episode of the show with dancer Darius Hickman about gender expression, which the judges called "a masterpiece.']
WCT: My last question is a general one, but I've got a range of answers in response: What does dance mean to you?
TW: Oh, God. [Laughs] I was born into this; my mom was my dance teacher. I learned to dance before I learned how to walk. [Laughs] My mom danced with me in her stomach until five days before she gave birth.
Music and dance have always been a part of my life. Dance is everything I know; it's been there for my career, friendshipit's how I've met every important person in my life. It's my expression; when I didn't know how to come out of the closet and I felt inner turmoil, I started creating.
Nowadays, dance is therapeutic. It allows me to take something terrible that's happened in my life and create something beautiful out of it.
The finale for So You Think You Can Dance will air Monday, Sept. 10; visit www.fox.com/so-you-think-you-can-dance/.