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Dance competitions face off in live venues

'Dancing With the Stars' and 'So You Think You Can Dance' have led to Battle of the Dance in Anaheim and more.

March 09, 2011|By Susan Josephs, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • 'Dancing With the Stars' and 'So You Think You Can Dance' have inspired 'Battle of the Dance' dinner theater in Anaheim and more.
'Dancing With the Stars' and 'So You Think You Can Dance'… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

After the opening night show of Battle of the Dance, Andres Gelabert sat in the lobby of his new 40,000-square-foot venue, sipped a glass of Champagne and professed a lifelong love of dance that predates the current craze for all things terpsichorean fueled by certain television shows. "I'm not here for the money. I'm here to show people first-class dancing and Southern California is one of the best places to do this," he said.

While that may be true, Gelabert, an entertainment magnate and founder of the Medieval Times dinner theaters, has seized upon an auspicious pop-cultural moment to launch his latest venture. The month-old Anaheim dinner theater, within walking distance of Disneyland, showcases international styles of dance in a family-friendly show replete with jugglers, acrobats, ventriloquists and a multi-course dinner.

Modeled after Gelabert's "Son Amar" dinner-theater show in Majorca, Spain, and housed in a former Toys R Us building that cost $20 million to buy and renovate, Battle of the Dance represents the latest in an increasing number of live dance events, tours and competitions that have sought to capitalize on the art form's arrival into the zeitgeist. The Battle of the Dance website, in fact, openly states that it "was developed for the U.S. in response to the rising popularity of dance and dance competitions."

Since ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" premiered on television in 2005, ballroom dance shows have toured the globe, hundreds of dance competitions have attracted thousands of spectators in multiple cities and now, in Anaheim, it's possible to watch flamenco dancers square off on a nightly basis against an Irish step-dancing troupe while dining on smoked salmon salad and filet mignon.

"TV has made people believe that something big can happen with dance, that people can make full careers out of it," says David Gonzalez, a lifestyle events specialist who founded the World of Dance Tour in 2008.

The 2011 World of Dance Tour will travel to 14 cities this year in North America and the UK, stopping at the Los Angeles Convention Center in April. Targeting the 15- to 24-year-old demographic, it's a daylong event featuring multiple and often simultaneous competitions of live break dancing, krumping and other forms of urban street dance. Similar in structure to fairs and conventions, the event allows spectators to watch numerous dance-offs between individual performers, dance crews and companies, and also visit booths where corporate sponsors of the event hawk their shoes, clothing, energy drinks and other merchandise loosely tied to the urban/street-dance theme. When it toured the L.A. area last year at the Pomona Fairplex, more than 10,000 people turned out to watch some 3,500 dancers compete.

Gonzalez, whose résumé includes producing live automotive events, had tracked the proliferation of dance shows on television and realized no one "was looking at it from a lifestyle standpoint. I saw dance as a way to build an entire lifestyle scene, where energy drink brands and shoe companies would see that dance has come into the forefront and that it's a great trend to get involved with," he says.

Harley Medcalf, producer of the hit live ballroom dance show "Burn the Floor," also credits television for creating a "wonderful groundswell for all things dance." For obvious reasons, he has particular gratitude for "Dancing With the Stars," which proved that ballroom dance could attract a "wide demographic and a young demographic. Plus, audiences are now educated about dance. Five years ago, no one knew what a paso doble is. Now, everyone does," he says of the Latin dance based on the Spanish bullfight.

Now in its 11th year and coming to L.A. and Orange County this spring, "Burn the Floor" has toured more than 175 cities in 30 countries and appeared on Broadway in 2009. And though it has always featured nonstop high-octane ballroom dancing with the emphasis on virtuosity and youthful sexiness, the show during the pre-"Dancing With the Stars" era didn't always receive a glowing reception. "People thought I was completely insane. 'Ballroom? You're kidding,' they'd say," recalls Medcalf of the show's early days.

The public's perception of ballroom and dance in general has definitely undergone "a huge change," says Louis Van Amstel, a professional ballroom dancer and "Dancing With the Stars" veteran whose celebrity partners on the show have included Kelly Osbourne and Priscilla Presley. "Before, ballroom was either unknown or thought of as boring or old-fashioned, something only for people in senior citizen homes."

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