By Ross von Metzke
Originally published on Advocate.com September 17 2009 5:00 PM ET
Willem de Vries’s biography proclaims that he started to dance “before he was born, causing his mother endless discomfort anytime a band would begin to play music.” So it shouldn’t really come as a shock that he and his dance partner Jacob Jason would break down the barrier that has thus far prevented a same-sex dance couple from advancing on the Fox reality show So You Think You Can Dance.
On last night’s show, De Vries and Jason wowed the judges and advanced to Las Vegas (the show's equivalent of all those Idol hopefuls “going to Hollywood") -- Nigel Lythgoe even thanked the pair for “showing me that same-sex ballroom dancing can be very strong, and very good."
That’s an about-face from what he said the last time a same-sex pair auditioned for the show. Last season, Lythgoe told partners Mitchel Kibel and Misha Belfer he was afraid the two might “alienate a lot of our audience.” Later, he tweeted that he wasn’t a fan of “Brokeback ballroom.” The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got on his case and Lythgoe apologized, but this is the first time the Dance judge/producer has been given the opportunity to judge same-sex ballroom with a fresh set of eyes.
De Vries -- who with his partner Jason runs the West Hollywood–based same-sex couples' dance studio Baliamos-- sat down with Advocate.com to talk about his reaction to the judges’ overwhelming praise, what’s in store for viewers once he and Jason hit Vegas, and how GLAAD played a role in Lythgoe’s change of heart.
Advocate.com: Fans of the show saw what happened last time a same-sex couple went in to audition. What made you want to go ahead and go in there anyway?
Willem de Vries: We’re friends with Mitchel and Misha, and so we believe in the style of dance, obviously… we’ve been forerunners in terms of same-sex dancing -- we have a studio which is based around the concept of versatile dancing and the art of leading and following. So we felt it was really up to us to go out there and take a stand and say, “Give same-sex dancing another shot. Give us a chance -- this is what it’s really meant to look like at its best.” There were a lot of people in the community who were disheartened by the way the auditions had gone for season 5. We just wanted people to know there was a place for same-sex dancing on national shows like So You Think You Can Dance.
Were you at all prepared for a potential negative backlash? Did you
go in there fully expecting that the judges might not get it again?
we were definitely prepared for it. Really it was just about saying,
“Hey, you know, we’re going to go out there and do our best. They may
not take to it -- who knows what will happen.” But it was worth a shot.
It was worth something for the community. We’ve obviously been fans of
the show for a long time, and we thought, Let’s give them a chance to
critique a couple that really has been working at it and disciplining
themselves in the style and working at dance for a long time.
do you think was different this time? The response couldn’t have been
more night-and-day. They not only got you -- they loved you.
was definitely an amazing response… especially with Nigel, for him to
take the actual technical aspects and talk about the lines. We really
went into it, talking about the technique. I think they really looked
at the dancing itself.
Do you think GLAAD’s involvement the
last time around had much to do with the about-face? Do you think the
judges realized perhaps they were being a bit narrow-minded?
definitely think GLAAD brought the issues to their attention. I had
followed that very closely back when it was going on, and I obviously
felt very passionately about it. I think GLAAD opened their eyes to see
that maybe they had misspoken and things may have come across the wrong
way. I definitely think they had GLAAD in mind.
When the first
same-sex couple auditioned and Nigel made his comments, he was branded
a homophobe. His response to you last night couldn’t have been any more
supportive. What is your take? Do you think he was being a homophobe
then or do you think he had a set opinion on what dance should look
like and that fell outside his comfort zone?
I don’t think he
was necessarily being homophobic, but I understand how it came across
that way. I think that he was giving his opinions -- putting them out
there in terms of how the dance was being portrayed. Having been in the
dance world as long as he has, I think he probably just felt safe to be
able to express himself in an out-there fashion similar to the way
Simon Cowell reacts to a lot of the contestants on American Idol.
Having been in the dance community, a lot of times you can make
comments or make jokes that wouldn’t be accepted when you’re actually
sitting on a national TV show. But I don’t think that he himself is
actually a homophobe.
So, you’re through to Vegas and we’ll find out next Wednesday how you did there. What can we expect to see in Vegas?
going through the process as everyone else in the show is meant to do.
I can’t really say too much more than that. Like all of the dancers who
go to Vegas, everyone will work their rears off and dance their best…
stay tuned and find out what happens.
Of all the types of dance you might be exposed to on this show, what are you least comfortable with?
will be interesting to see how things play out because I actually had
a car accident back in December of 2004. I had two operations on my
shoulder to basically rebuild it after the car accident. The left arm
is -- it’s a new arm, so, a lot of the muscle memory is not quite where
it used to be, so it takes a lot of work to do pretty much any style. I
had done them all since I was a kid growing up… every single style with
the new arm is going to be pretty new to it. Any one of them could
throw me off.