By Greg Archer
Originally published on Advocate.com January 14 2009 12:00 AM ET
Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can
Dance have a hot new reality TV sibling in
NBC’s choreo-spastic Superstars of Dance, and that makes Jason Gilkison very happy. The
out, world-renowned ballroom dancer and choreographer
(Burn the Floor) from Down Under is captain
of Dance’s Australian contingent in the
competition show that finds eight countries sweating
for the gold -- Think “Olympics of
Dance” with a mega-caffeine buzz.)
mate that he is, survives a good grilling from judges
about his stylistic choices in the festive soiree, the love
child of American Idol titans Nigel Lythgoe and Simon
Gilkison comes across as a real pro. But growing up around a
glut of frilly tulles back in Perth, Australia, where his
family ran a dance studio, must have prepped him well
for that. Perhaps it was his Scottish grandfather, who
established Australia’s first ballroom dance
studio in 1931?
Learning how to
dance at the age of 5 didn’t hurt. Nor did teaming up
-- at that same age -- with Peta Roby, who would
become his lifelong dance partner. The duo eventually
became the hottest competitive dance couple around --
undefeated dance champions for 16 years during the
’80s and ’90s.
Advocate.com exclusive, Gilkison, 42, chats about the new
reality show, his choreographer and judging duties in
the Australian and American versions of So You
Think You Can Dance, and why he’s (so
mad) so hot about ballroom dance.
Advocate.com:Superstars of Dance -- hardly dull and generating
tons of buzz.Jason Gilkison: There was a rumor in the
pipeline, for about 12 months, that there was this
“Olympics of Dance” that Nigel Lythgoe
had in the back of his mind, where he would bring all
these countries together. And all of a sudden, in November,
we got this phone call, and in December it was a go.
We had to scramble to get visas [for all the dancers].
I can’t believe he pulled it off really. You have
these dancers -- from Lord of the Dance, people from
Bollywood and Forever Tango -- and all
these different acts that we’re normally used
to Googling on You
Tube to watch. And to see it all in the same room
at the same time, competing against each other, was
You know the results? Yes, I do.
And you’re sworn to secrecy? Yes, I am ... and I will tell you, Australia had
Who in Superstars is your biggest competition? I think going in, everybody said, “How is
anybody going to beat America?” But
Ireland’s team was ridiculously strong, and in the
beginning we said, “Maybe we’re worried
about the wrong team.” Those were the two countries
where we went, “Wow, they are the ones to
Well, you must also have fun on So You Think You Can
Dance, both the American and Australian versions. Yes. I am not a big fan of Dancing With the
Stars. I mean, I have friends on it, but I like what
So You Think You Can Dance stands for, which is
taking young dancers and giving them an incredible
apprenticeship, and seeing what they can get out of it
in the end. I wanted to be part of the Australian show
in the beginning, and it was the first of its kind in
Australia and I was on the judging panel.
You’re forte is ballroom. What about men and men
doing ballroom dance? Ever thought of choreographing
something like that? Definitely. In [the stage show] Burn the
Floor we experiment with men and men, and women
and women. In the Gay Games they have ballroom dancing
sections, so I have worked with couples before. But in the
ballroom dance competition world, they do it very
cliché style -- somebody takes the male role, the
female role. When we choreograph two guys together in
something like Burn the Floor, we take on the
qualities of the guy actually doing it, how they would
actually react to another man if they were in the
scenario we are presenting -- a bar, etc. It’s
an interesting thing to explore.
Speaking of Burn the Floor, it’s this big
ballroom dance hit; a huge international stage sensation
that you helped launch. It’s been going
strong for nearly 10 years. What were your
thoughts when it really took off? Ballroom dancing didn’t have a lot of
street cred when this whole thing started, and we
wanted to pave the way and take it to a theatrical form.
And then, all of a sudden, the whole TV dancing thing
happened. Suddenly, people came pouring back into the
dance hall and knew what ballroom dancing was.
So what’s different about Burn the Floor
now, which you’ve said you’d love to be a
big Broadway production someday? Three years ago we started from scratch again.
We wanted to take ballroom dancing back to the organic
form so that people could see and understand the
essence of the dances that they are so used to seeing, done
in competition form, and how they were meant to be
performed. We recreated those old dance halls, but
with today’s energy and today’s technique. The
dancers were more comfortable. They’re
“reacting” off each other -- we have 20
performers onstage: two percussionists, two vocalists, and
How has dance transformed you? Dance has been everything for me. Everything in
my whole life can fall apart, but dance, it’s
the one thing that has never left me. It’s always
surrounded me my whole life. I see things all the time and
I'm influenced. I watch West Side Story at
least once a week.
Really? Do you find something new every time you
see it? I do. To me, that is groundbreaking the way I
want Burn the Floor to be groundbreaking. It
probably has a long way to go to hold a candle to
West Side Story, but that is what I aspire to. I
constantly find that I have to see stuff. I put myself
in the way of seeing as much live performance as I
can. That inspires me.
You’re an Aussie. What differences have you
noticed about the LGBT scene in Australia compared to
here in the States? It’s really interesting coming to San
Francisco. You know, we saw Milk and went to the
Castro for lunch the other day. There is such a
villagey feel about that area. And I wish we had that
scene back in Sydney. I mean, people say there is such a gay
scene in Sydney and there is, but it doesn’t
have that, well ... [Sydney] is far more sexually
oriented and has some areas that are sleazy. And it was
great to be in San Francisco and know that it wasn’t
based on that. It was kind of family-like. I wish we
had that back in Australia.
Best advice you’ve been given? Really good question. I was really lucky because
I was brought up by my mum, who said, “Nothing
is impossible!” And it really is. And I remember,
coming from Perth, I wanted to be a world champion. And back
then the thought of an Australian getting to the top
was so ridiculous. No one out of Europe had ever won.
And I found a dancing partner who shared the vision
with me and we never thought we wouldn’t get there.
So I always stuck to that advice. You know, I believe
if you want something enough, you can have it.
That’s my advice.
What’s your biggest quirk? Through being an only child, it’s that I
feel I am always missing something. I mean,
I’ll be in this nice hotel room and I can’t
settle, and I wonder where everybody is. That’s
one reason why I exhaust myself.
You dance around a lot, for lack of a better word. Exactly.
What are you most proud of? My mother, Kay.
Why? Because my mother is very innocent and she was a
single mom who put me through dancing school and told
me nothing was impossible. I had a bit of a Gilmore
Girls upbringing. But I was really lucky because I
had a wholesome environment and I always acted as if she
did know [that I was gay.] I knew when I was 16 or 17. And
in the ballroom dancing world, there are always a lot
of suspicious guys that had girlfriends and you
thought, Are they just going along with a story
line? And now it’s more normal to be gay [in
ballroom] but when I was growing up there
weren’t that many out gay men, just a lot of
And you’re just out of a relationship, is that right? Just came out of a long-term relationship that
went on for five years.
What are you looking for in mate? My idea of what I thought was ideal and what I
suddenly find myself lately to be attractive are two
different things. As a result, I am gravitating toward
a different type of person. It’s a very
low-maintenance, playful, witty, funny person. When I see
people treating others particularly well ... I find
that really attractive.
What’s the most interesting thing you have been
learning about yourself lately? I’ve always thought, as I mentioned, that
nothing is impossible. But over the last year
I’ve realized what I can accomplish if I really put
my mind to it. I think it’s further than I
thought. If I could create [Burn the Floor],
then why can’t I create a show that gets to Broadway?
I want to create the best ballroom dancing show now.
And, I’ve learned that I pushed myself a lot
further than I thought I ever could.