He Knows He Can Dance

6 June 2012 | 1:22 pm | Danielle O'Donohue

"Ballroom dancing was a dirty word about 20 years ago, it didn’t have a lot of street cred," Jason Gilkison tells us how Burn The Floor is changing the game.

In 1981 Jason Gilkison and his dance partner Peta Robey began a dynasty as Australian Latin Ballroom Dancing champions that would last for 17 years. Now with the current renaissance in Ballroom Dancing on the small screen, Gilkison's dynasty is Burn The Floor, a Ballroom Dancing stage show that Gilkison has been touring since 2001.

Though the show has its origins in Australia, like choreographer Gilkison, it didn't take long before it was touring the world. “I think Australia's always been the home of Burn The Floor,” Gilkison says.

“It's something that we never dreamed would happen. Going to Broadway on 2009 opened so many avenues for us, then after the show's been pretty much non-stop the whole time. I'm looking forward to it being back in Australia I must admit.”

With the advent of So You Think You Can Dance (a show Gilkison has choreographed numbers for both here and in the US) the public's attitude to Ballroom Dancing has changed. It's a renaissance that Gilkison is quite proud of. “When we started we had a much older audience. We were trying to do ballroom dancing and reinvent it and give it a good kick lift and all that. What happened was we were getting traditionalists but we also wanted to tap into a younger market and since everything went to television our audiences have gotten younger and younger.

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“And now, it's a completely new generation of people coming to our show. It's people who go out and do salsa, go out and do swing dancing. We never had teenagers before. It's good because ballroom dancing was a dirty word about 20 years ago, it didn't have a lot of street cred. They're a young, very passionate group of dancers. It's nice to see them appreciated by audiences.”

Though dancing has taken on a whole new popularity since Gilkison and Robey were cha cha-ing their way around dancefloors, the former-champion wouldn't change his own career. “We were very lucky to have had the career we had. We loved roughing it through Europe, doing competitions on the weekend. We've bonded with people for life – other couples from other countries from the World Championships from that generation. We've all done it hard. It was kind of good to do it that way. I kind of wish the dancers still had to do it a bit like that. But now they all fly business class,” Gilkison says with a laugh.

And though he is happy to say that the kind of dancing in Burn The Floor is the kind of dancing anyone could be doing at the weekend with just a bit of practice, there's a reason the dancers onstage in this show are there and there's a reason that seeing dancing live onstage is so much more rewarding than watching dancing on television. “To hold an audience for two hours is very different than holding an audience for 90 seconds. You get to see the entire range of a dancer in two hours. You have to have ups and downs and ebbs and flows. I love taking time to be able to let a couple develop a relationship onstage. I love the energy that bounces off the dancers in Burn The Floor. I find that really difficult to film.”