Scroll To Top

Dance King Jason
Gilkison Makes His Move 

Dance King Jason
Gilkison Makes His Move 


Out Aussie ballroom champ Jason Gilkison looks to give Dancing With the Stars a run for its money on the new Superstars of Dance.

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.)

Gilkison, brave 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 Fuller.

Actually, 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.

In an 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. 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 really exciting.

You know the results? Yes, I do.

And you're sworn to secrecy? Yes, I am ... and I will tell you, Australia had a ball!

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 watch."

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 cliche 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 eight couples.

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 rumors.

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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Greg Archer