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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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So You Think You Can Dance: Nigel Lythgoe

Nigel Lythgoe

Nigel Lythgoe is the co-founder and president of Big Red 2 Entertainment, a newly formed company with CEO of 19 Entertainment, Simon Fuller. Lythgoe most recently served as president of 19 Television, and prior to his tenure there, worked at London Weekend Television, where he was Controller of Entertainment and Comedy.

Born in 1949, Nigel developed an interest in dance at an early age. His first professional job was with the Corps de Ballet, before later going on to choreograph the BBC's Young Generation dance troupe for more than 500 shows. He became the only person to dance in, choreograph, direct, and produce the Royal Variety Performance for Her Majesty The Queen.

He has worked with stars such as Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Shirley Bassey and, most prestigiously, the Muppets. As Head of Entertainment and Comedy for the UK's London Weekend Television, he commissioned and produced hit shows such as Gladiators and Blind Date.

In 2000 Nigel earned himself the nickname "Nasty Nigel" as a judge on hit show Popstars before leaving for Bob Geldof's television company Planet 24, where he was executive producer and director of the UK version of Survivor. Additionally, he developed and produced the TV phenomenon Pop Idol.

He has been a driving force in the world of performing arts as co-creator and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning series So You Think You Can Dance – which has won numerous Emmy Awards, including two this year, for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Costumes for a Variety/Music Programme or a Special – as well as NBC's Superstars Of Dance and Fox's Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special.

He also executive produced seven seasons of the TV juggernaut American Idol, which has been nominated for more than 40 Emmy Awards, and Idol Gives Back, which raised more than $140 million for charity.

In 2007 he received the prestigious Governors Award, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' highest honour. Additionally, Lythgoe served as producer and director of the acclaimed Celine Dion/Elvis Presley duet featured in the special.

In the summer of 2009, the University of Bedfordshire awarded Nigel with an honorary Doctor of Arts for his outstanding contribution to the performing arts in television.

Nigel, along with director Adam Shankman, Dancing With The Stars judge, Carrie Ann Inaba and actress, Katie Holmes, recently founded the Dizzy Feet Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides scholarships and assistance to talented, underserved youth to help them realise their dreams of becoming professional dancers, and that is working to elevate and standardise dance instruction.

Nigel lives in Los Angeles.

Your passion for dancing started at an early age, did you pursue other forms of dance beside the initial tap classes?
I trained in every other style that was physically possible. I did ballet, modern, jazz, ballroom – everything that was needed to become a professional dancer.

Is it a relief to find yourself back in the world that ignited your passion as a young boy?
Forty years ago, I thought, 'That's the end of my dancing, I'm moving to television production'. And yet I've managed to swing it around and find myself back in a world that started my entire career. I'm so passionate about the bloody thing. I just feel so lucky.

Do you think people underestimate how much training or hard work goes in to being a professional dancer?
Nowadays, so many people do one thing, like hip-hop, and say they're a dancer. If you think you can dance, then you should also be able to do the cha cha cha or salsa.

Is that why the audition process seems to get tougher and tougher?
Each season that bar gets raised... People see that there are dancers that haven't had the formal training, and everyone thinks 'Oh, I can do that if they do it'. They can't. They need a little more than just a passion to do it; they've got to have something called talent! You have to be really good, really talented, and we take it from a very professional audition attitude.

Is 'contemporary dancer' the easiest label to adopt nowadays?
So many people report to be contemporary dancers, and they're not. They are sort of jazz dancers that feel like they're throwing a bit of classical in there. I mean, a true contemporary dancer has got ballet as their base and classical ballet, and that is their base. And then they choose to extemporise on that and go into a contemporary world. However, when people walk in here and say they are contemporary, a lot of them just go running around the stage like Isadora Duncan, and half of them deserve to be strangled by their scarf.

What is your favourite form of dance?
I think ballroom. I love when bodies come together and they work as one. At the same time, I have watched a group of 12 hip-hoppers and they were brilliant.

Do you think dance is better understood now with the various dance programmes being made?
I think people forgot what the word meant and it does mean a variety of things. You don't have to enjoy everything. It brings families together and it allows families to sit there together and argue because you're allowed to do that. You're allowed to have different opinions.

In the US the show has definitely helped silence old prejudices against male dancers by showing that dance requires an impressive level of muscle-power and leadership.
[Dancers] need to be very strong. Dancing is role-playing most of the time. And you need to be strong and lift girls. You need to look stronger than the girl you're dancing with. You control the dance, especially in ballroom.

In the past dancing was at the forefront of society, and even Hollywood – Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Moira Shearer… everybody knew their names! Do you think that the show has helped to regain that public interest in dance that has been lost in recent years?
When you turn around to kids and say 'do you remember Shirley MacLaine... no? Liza Minnelli…who?' It seems crazy to me! So to be instrumental in trying to bring that back is absolutely fantastic. All sorts of different kinds of dance are coming through around the world. It had just been out of the spotlight for so long, to be a part of that movement and instrumental in it, to be frank, is absolutely wonderful. I'm so passionate about it.

The dancers obviously have to deal with nerves every show, are you lucky enough to have waved your nerves goodbye now that SYTYCD has become so successful?
I never cease being nervous. In the end, you just do the best show that you can. If the public wants to watch, they're going to watch. If they don't, they won't. But, we're always going to come out swinging.

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