Our Chat With Out So You Think You Can Dance? and Dancing With The Stars Choreographer Travis Wall
When Travis Wall was five days old, his mother set up his crib in a dance studio that she owned. The rest, they say, is history.
The much-in-demand dancer and choreographer, who has been featured on ever-popular shows So You Think You Can Dance? and Dancing With The Stars, isn’t new to the business: He moved to New York when he was 12 to star in the Broadway revival of The Music Man. At 14, he had a devastating injury that caused him to move back home to Virginia. However, it was a blessing in disguise.
“During that injury, I realized how much I wanted to dance and do choreography,” he told me during our chat. “I had a reason and a voice to share. I realized this is what I wanted to do. I dropped out of high school and focused strictly on dance.”
Since then, he’s helped choreograph The 82nd Academy Awards and The 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, plus worked with the likes of Rihanna, Drake, and Eminem. He’s also been busy co-founding his own original dance theater company, Shaping Sound, which will be playing a one-night only engagement here in Philly. We talked about the show, the company, and what it’s like to work on all those wildly popular dance-based TV competitions.
The last few years have really taken off for you: Between So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars, and Shaping Sound, you’ve had a lot going on. What has that been like for you?
You know, I can’t complain. I love everything I do and I am happy that I still live a passionate life and I get to portray my life in my work. I get to be myself and share my soul in my work, and for that I’m very thankful.
You’ll be here in Philly with Shaping Sound. Tell me a little bit about the type of dance and performance that the audience will see.
It is a dance theater experience, almost like a Broadway show. It feels like a show because there’s a full story line. It’s about a girl who is in a terrible relationship and how she’s battered and a little abused and emotionally insecure. She falls asleep and learns about love in a dream. When she wakes up, she learns how to put it in her real life. She has to evolve and gain confidence. There’s lots of things that happen in the show: There’s musical theater, contemporary ballet, and rock. The music drives us to inspire the movement. People laugh and cry and cheer. We love when the audience gets loud and has energy, when they stand and clap and cheer. It’s a lot of fun.
So many people watch So You Think You Can Dance? and Dancing With The Stars. What’s it like behind the scenes?
You’re in a bubble and you forget that at the end of the bubble, so many people watch [these programs]. It is so fast: you have five hours in total to do a two-minute routine in a show. At the same time, the contestants are tired, they’re exhausted: They’re doing interviews and they’re trying to stay on their game. Sometimes you don’t get the best dancers and you have to shape a routine around them, and other times you get great dancers and everything falls into place. It’s so unpredictable.
Let’s talk about that choreography you did for So You Think You Can Dance that was clearly gay-themed. People loved it and it created such a buzz.
I was thankful that two guys could dance together. The first piece was based on a friendship that had gone wrong. I was at a certain time in my life that I just couldn’t express myself. I was angry, hurt, upset, and I just put it on the floor. I didn’t think anything of it at the moment, how someone else would feel, or what it would mean on TV. I needed expression. I had no idea what people would think or say. I didn’t care. I was 23 at the time and kind of immature, and I thought to myself, “I’m just gonna do it.” It opened an opportunity on that show, heading down the way of expressing same-sex relationships.
Later, I worked with the executive producer during the show’s last season and said let’s shine some light on members of the dance community who are gay and how much we wanted to be treated equally. I wanted to do it in the most tasteful way. I was so extremely happy with the result.
You’ve worked with so many well-known stars: Rihanna, Drake, Eminem. Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with that you’d love to?
Beyonce. That’s the one.