Dancers cut loose in 'Burn the Floor'

Ballroom dance is hot, and nowhere is that more apparent than in "Burn the Floor," a new dance sensation that's touring the United States after electrifying audiences in Europe and Australia.

Featuring 44 world champion dancers from 15 countries, the show combines the standard and Latin dance styles of ballroom dance with street and industrial dance. It's all wrapped up in Busby Berkeley extravagance and Las Vegas glitz, with opulent costumes by Bonita Bryg, arena rock lighting by Patrick Woodroffe (whose clients have included the Rolling Stones and David Bowie), and sets by Mark Fisher (of Pink Floyd fame).

The $10 million show is the inspiration of promoter-producer Harley Medcalf, who was dazzled by a presentation of ballroom dance at a birthday bash for one of his clients, Elton John.

"The way I see it, ballroom has existed in this sort of cocoon, in the studios and competitions," Mr. Medcalf says. "It was almost its own unique little world, like a step back in time. When you think of ballroom, you think of the slicked-back hair and the fake tans and the sequins.... We want to sort of deconstruct that myth. I think people will find the show to be quite a revelation."

As choreographed and directed by Anthony Van Laast, in conjunction with individual dance teams, "Burn the Floor" is a visual extravaganza, a loosely structured collage incorporating ballroom dance and other styles from flamenco and hip-hop.

Unlike competitive ballroom dance, with its strictly predicated routines and endless repetition, "Burn the Floor" is a whirlwind, each segment jampacked with eye-catching moves that take the standard forms one step further.

For example, "Urban Heat" takes the cha-cha-cha into the realm of techno-funk; and "Hip, Hot, Hotter!" puts a Latin-salsa explosion into the middle of a street party. Dancers throw themselves into every move; it's sweaty, lusty, and raw.

The trick with "Burn the Floor" has been to keep the integrity of what makes ballroom dance so special to begin with - the romance, precision, and intimacy - amidst the smoke and mirrors, capes and feathers, and a dizzying pace that can leave an audience gasping for breath.

"The show has huge integrity in the sense that we go through all the styles of ballroom and Latin dancing, all the social pairs dancing, and we've maintained the integrity totally," Medcalf says. "It's a celebration of a lot of dance styles, the full range of dance and the human emotion expressed through dance."

The show features a young cast, most of whom have devoted their lives to dancing. Long driven by the competition circuit's emphasis on marks and placement, the dancers find "Burn the Floor" to be a chance to cut loose.

Says Adam Reeve, who began dancing at the age of 7, "Competition can be very destructive artistically. You practice years and years to do one movement exactly the same way each time. But this is liberating and so much fun.... I've learned to really enjoy what made us start doing this in the first place - listening to music and really dancing."

Participants and fans say the show is having an impact on ballroom dance itself, not only by drawing younger audiences to the art form but by infusing it with a new aesthetic - looser, more imaginative, sexier.

Some of the dancers say that attitude is slowly filtering back into competitive routines, where they are starting to note more originality and personality.

They are also seeing an influence in costuming and presentation - many of the show's dancers even sport tattoos and body piercings.

PBS' "Great Performances" began airing a video of the show in December, and it is due to be released on home video in April. This month, music from "Burn the Floor" was released on CD (Universal Records).

As couples filter in and out of the production (six replacements since the premire last June), the show is reinvigorated by an infusion of new personalities and choreographic sensibilities.

"If the show continues to evolve," Medcalf says, "it keeps the freshness for the company.... [Audiences] are coming back for their second and third times. It's very encouraging."

* 'Burn the Floor' can be seen in New York, April 5-6; Atlantic City, N.J., April 7-9; Boston, April 13-16; Pittsburgh, April 18-19; and Cleveland, April 21-22. For more tour dates and information, log on to:

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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