BWW Interview: Adam Shankman's Ever Stepping Up His Dizzy Feet to Share His Love For Dance
Dizzy Feet Foundation (DFF) will again host their annual National Dance Day (NDD) at The Music Center in Los Angeles and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. this Saturday July 29, 2017. Co-founded in 2010 by Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman, DFF has been providing sponsorships, funding, and combined creative energies and expertise to introduce the body (and soul)-nourishing benefits of dance to communities not usually privy to the dancing arts. These free NDD events will feature local community and nationally-known dance artists, with dance classes, open to all levels of dance abilities.
BroadwayWorld and I had the chance to quiz Adam on the importance of dance for him, and for countless others.
Thank you for taking time out of your productive schedule for this interview, Adam.
You and Nigel Lythgoe began working together on So You Think You Can Dance in 2007. How did the two of you establishing The Dizzy Feet Foundation in 2010 come about?
We were traveling around the country seeing thousands of kids audition for the show and the number of people who came from difficult, or deeply disadvantaged circumstances and communities who said that, "Dancing saved their lives," or "If I didn't have dance, I don't know where I'd be now," or "Dancing saved me." Stories akin to that were astonishing. I just remember us saying to each other that we had a responsibility to do something. The Dizzy Feet Foundation started, funded almost entirely by the banks of Lythgoe and Shankman that year. These kids and their futures are likely the best investment I've ever made.
This year DFF has two cities hosting NDD - Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. This is the sixth year for the Los Angeles Music Center. How are cities chosen to host each year?
We now have long standing relationships with these cities, and the crowds are always phenomenal. The New York side has to get figured out, as our event there two years ago was spectacular, but the dates almost always conflict with Lincoln Center, where it was; so we are always looking into other host locations and partners.
You have been dancing since majoring in dance at Julliard. What is it about dance that you want to/need to share with so many people, of all ages? (the physical workout, the Zen, the smiles, the accomplishment).
That's a very interesting
question, since I truly started dancing because that was just what my body and heart and mind wanted to do. But it was never formalized until I was almost 19! I personally think that I express myself best through dance, and being physical always helps me get in touch with my deeper emotional self. It tends to be when I feel most fearless, and, corny as it sounds, most right about myself, and in my skin. As for what I'm sharing, I would just have to say, "I'm sharing the best of me." And when I see people absolutely committed to dancing, be it at a wedding, or at the ballet, or in rehearsal; I always feel like I am seeing a truthful and beautiful version of them.
Any specific goals you envision DFF achieving in the near future?
A school. I want us to build a school! At least one! I think big.
What of your innumerable accomplishments are you most proud of?
Hmm? Well, obviously the Foundation and my work with The Trevor Project are very high on the list, but being the best son, friend and life partner is always at the top of my mind; and I work very hard at those things.
If you're asking about work, I'm very proud of co-producing and choreographing the Oscars in 2010, which marked the 20th anniversary of me being a dancer on the show! That was a biggie. The movies I'm most proud of are probably Hairspray, A Walk To Remember and Bringing Down The House. And I directed and choreographed a crazy production of HAIR at the Hollywood Bowl that I quite liked. I'm also really proud of how many dancers I've employed through the years, and, for sure, the hundreds I've put on film in the Step Up movies, and now, the Step Up TV show.
What are the first piece of direction/instruction you give to a new group of dancers before you start working with them?
I tell them to relax and stop worrying about competing. Just dance. Feel the music, and show me what the music looks like inside the steps. I tell them to have fun, even when they are doing more emotional work. I also tell them if I can see them working, then they're doing too much. Dancing should literally look effortless, even when we are killing ourselves out there.
What advice would you give to someone who has never before auditioned for you? In their prep? In their actual audition? In their post-audition follow-up?
Auditioning for me? All of the above. Do relaxation exercises, stretch, deep breathe, whatever. I'm allergic to stressful, crazy, over-dancing. It's like over-acting. It's torture to me, and never addresses the music properly or shows me who you are. I don't care about your tricks and all of that, unless I'm asking specifically to see things. I just want to see you. Period.
What aside from dance technique, what particular elements of the auditionee do you focus on in auditions?
Listening. Both to the music, and paying attention to the style, which, for me, is always tied to the music. Also, don't talk and disrupt. And if I see your cell phone come out, you will likely soon follow.
You have been known to wear many hats in a production. Who usually wins in a disagreement - Adam Shankman the producer? Or Adam Shankman the choreographer? Or Adam Shankman the director?
Each of them
says, it's them, BUT I'd have to say that the lion's share of the time, Director Me is not a dude I'd want to argue with. The other two are a bit easier to manage. It's their job to facilitate the director's vision, so... now I feel like a psycho. What else is new?
Anyone that you've work with at the beginnings of your career that you're not at all surprised with their present day success?
As choreographer? Hmm... Robert Downey Jr.? Sarah Jessica Parker? But they already were successful. Just not quite the monolithic stars they are now. My first directing gig was with Jennifer Lopez in her first romantic comedy. Things seem to be working out for her, I'm told. As producer, I'd say the whole OG Step Up team: Channing and Jenna Tatum, and Anne Fletcher. We are all so bound by those movies and couldn't be more grateful for it.
Your book Murder Among the Stars (co-authored with Laura Lee Sullivan) was published just last month. What got/gets your writing urge going?
I got nudged and the bug bit. I loved mysteries when I was a kid and still do. Thought it might be fun writing mystery novels for this generation, but with a 1930s Hollywood setting, since that's an era I love.
Any specific project you would still like to tackle?
How much time do you have? My story hasn't even begun as far as I'm concerned. I'm still a freshman in my head.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I just had a ball working with Savion Glover on the Step Up TV series that is coming out this fall on YouTube Red... so him again, please. I'm already working on The Enchanted sequel for Disney, so that, collaborating with Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz... which is extraordinary. I love Pasek and Paul. They're my buddies. But those guys are booked until 2073, so... And, of course, I'd love to work again with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Our friendship and collaboration has been, likely, the most meaningful in my life.
So, what's up next for Adam Shankman the choreographer? Adam Shankman the director? Adam Shankman the producer?
Choreographer Shankman is technically available for hire! I'm hired to do the aforementioned Enchanted sequel, which will employ all the Adams above, as well as the Amy Adams! We are doing a musical of 17 AGAIN for theater, so all three of us will be working on that, and lots of TV stuff is in the works now, as well as some indie films, which I'm near desperate to make. I love making stuff. I love telling stories. Every one of my jobs is a privilege and not a right, so I intend to do everything in my power to stay worthy of that privilege until the BIG director in the sky calls,"CUT!" Likely I'll still want another take. I'm just kind of that guy.
Thank you again, Adam. I look forward to see the next projects of all the Adams!
For more information on the scheduled performers and videos of the dance routines you can learn beforehand to participate in the July 29th National Dance Day at The Music Center or The Kennedy Center, log onto to one or all of the following websites: