Shane Sparks is an accomplished hip-hop dancer and choreographer who has become well-known for his work as a judge and choreographer on the hit summer series So You Think You Can Dance. Shane broke into the business at an early age teaching hip-hop dance and, within the industry, is probably best known as the choreographer for the film You Got Served. As the third season of So You Think You Can Dance hits their first performance episode tonight, we’ve got an exclusive interview with Shane, in which we discuss how he got his start, what it’s like to be a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, and what he’s got in store for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you just got into dance in general, growing up?
This is…it’s a weird, weird story, Oscar. I did dancing since I could walk. But it was a time…I probably—I think I was about eleven? When I went to the thing called the Easter Ball. We danced a lot, but we didn’t like take it that serious. And just that night at the Easter Ball, I started dancing and doing stuff that people were like, everyone was like, “Oh my God! I didn’t know Shane could dance like that!” And I didn’t know I could dance like that but it’s just something that kinda like took over and from that day on, I was in dance crews, I was in dance concerts, I was in dance shows. I danced at every talent show, it just took over my life. Even though it was something I only did on weekends, it still was the only thing that I looked forward to as a kid.
Cool. You know, how did that evolve into your career and when did you realize that you also were a choreographer?
I realized that I was a choreographer once I moved to L.A. Like in Cincinnati, we didn’t really have studios that taught hip-hop. Like if you learn hip-hop, you learn it just on the streets or through your friends rehearsing and stuff like that. So when I got to L.A., I got a story that I could tell you, it would take a little bit of time but I’ll just make it really, really short. When I got to L.A., I was in my studio. One of the teachers was late. I was standing outside the room with my baseball cap pulled down, my shirt all baggy, and one of the kids was like, “Would you come here and teach the class until the teacher gets here?” Didn’t know my name, didn’t know who I was, just asked me. And I was like, “Okay.” I didn’t know how to count, I didn’t know how to do like “Five, six, seven, eight, one.” I didn’t know that. I was just like (beat sounds) I just would do the beat. And the teacher showed up maybe fifteen minutes later and was just thanking me like “Oh my God, thank you man. I was having problems getting here.” And he was like, “Would you be my assistant?” And I was like “Yeah.” This would be my first time doing something like that. So he left maybe a week later to go to Japan and he never came back. So I took over his class. It was just so weird, like I didn’t go out to be a choreographer, I just dance and I’m really creative. It just developed from that. And after that it went from three kids to ten kids, to two classes a week, to four classes a week, to the biggest class in Los Angeles. Still to this day I hold the biggest class in America, in L.A., at the Millennium Dance Complex. It’s like that, it’s crazy.
One thing I’ve always wondered is…you know, for choreography, how much do you think it…is that kind of a learned skill or how much is that just kind of inherent within you that it’s something you’re born with?
It something—it’s a gift. I’m telling you because there’s a lot of people out here who teach class and I’ll get feedback from the students. They’re like “Oh my God, I don’t like his class. I don’t like how he talks. I don’t like his personality.” Know what I mean? It’s just something that you have, it’s a gift and my gift is creativity along with my personality and the fact that I know what it’s like to learn choreography and not get it right away. It helps kids because it takes me a minute to be honest when it comes to learning because I’m so used to teaching and creating. So about me knowing that, I take my time with my choreography and I make sure that the kids got enough time to learn before I move on. So at the end of the class, they’re looking at it like “Oh my God, I learned it, I loved it. It was the best class I ever had.” I’m not there to show off, show how good I am, I’m into teaching what I know and what I feel. And people pick up on that.
For you, what would you say the biggest thrill is, being a choreographer? The coming up with the moves or is it seeing it performed. What is it for you?
Yeah. It’s like the performance of it, Oscar. Like sometimes I’ll make something up and I won’t know how dope it is until I see it come alive in the class. I’ll be teaching and I was like “Oh my God, oh my God and they’re not feeling it they’re not feeling it!” And then at the end of the class, I’ll put that music on, they start doing it and now I have tears in my eyes because some kids make this stuff look so incredible that it just blows your mind. And that is my confirmation of like “Okay, that was sick.”
What led you to become a judge on So You Think You Can Dance? How’d that all happen?
I think Nigel just kinda liked my personality. You know what I mean? Like he liked my skills, he liked my talent, he see what I bring into the show and he…cause like at first, I was only supposed to be a choreographer. Being a judge was not in the picture. But I think just getting to know Nigel getting’ know me, he realized I was brining something special to the show. A lot of people liked the show because of my personality, because of my choreography, and the type of person that I am. I think he wanted to get more of that in the second and the third season. Know what I mean, just give it a little bit more of what they want because they have it there so why not use every piece of me, know what I mean?
What are your first thoughts when they approached you about actually being a judge? Was that a lot of pressure or how did you approach that?
No, everything that has been happening to me, it’s like a road. It’s like all just…Everything is just falling into place like a puzzle. When he asked me to do the show, it was almost like perfect, you know what I mean? It was like okay, I’ve done choreography for TV, I’ve done choreography for movies, I’ve done choreography for videos and now I’m doing choreography for dance TV shows that’s gonna be worldwide and probably the biggest show in the world. And I knew that as soon as they came to me with it. So just like a puzzle, just like the little pieces just getting put together, and becoming a judge, just was the icing on the cake. You know what I mean? And it’s just…there’s so much more that’s gonna happen based off of this show. I know that for a fact with Nigel and the whole FOX company. And I’m very excited to see what it’s gonna be.
What we see as an audience in the audition is obviously the really edited version but for you what are those days like? I mean I have to imagine they’re pretty long and arduous. Is it tough to stay on your game?
Oscar, it’s like this. When we were in Atlanta, we get up, we have to be there at nine in the morning. You know like five hundred to a thousand kids outside. You have to see…you don’t see them one time, you have to see them twice. The first time it’s just to see if they’re good enough to get on TV. So you see all those kids the first day, that’s from like nine in the morning to like eleven at night. The good, the bad, the ugly, okay? And then, the next day, you see all those—no actually maybe like 75% of the kids but not all of them get through but it’s still a lot. And this time they’re on TV so they get to speak to you. So you get kids to come on that are very talented, some of them are not that talented, and they, you know, if somebody’s dancing is struggling, they have so much to say so sometimes we give them a chance to speak their minds and that just draws out so long some of it is amazing, some of it make you cry because these kids go through so much and it’s like their dream to be on stage and to do what they do. So it’s good, you know what I mean? In a sense and it’s bad in a sense. But it’s still over all like a very, very great experience. You get to meet so many different people and see the struggle and hopefully make their dreams come true.
Were there any auditions this season that you really loved, that you really enjoyed that we really didn’t get to see on TV?
Actually, not really because most of the good stuff, we made sure we aired it. If I put out, if Nigel puts out or Mary, we aired it, you know what I mean? We all got to see just about everything that we got to see that was good. There was some funny characters that ya’ll didn’t get to see that I wish the world could have saw and would have been like “What? What’s he thinking?” So that I think was crazy.
Your background on hip hop but on So You Think You Can Dance, it seems like a lot of the hip hop dancers have been sort of one dimensional. Do you wish that more hip hop dancers would come on to the show kinda more well-rounded, I guess?
Yes, definitely. I think that’s what’s gonna be good about this year, a lot of the dancers that were hip-hop dancers, they came out, they practiced because they’ve been watching the show for two years. It was kinda bad for the dancers that came up the first year cause they didn’t know what to expect about the hip-hop dancers. We have some incredible breakers that came out the first year but couldn’t make it on the show. Incredible breakers that came out the second year, didn’t really take it that seriously. They came up, did the same thing, they didn’t make it on the show. This year they came out, they rehearsed, practiced, took other classes, and a lot of them that rehearsed, I mean they came on one audition, blew our minds. It was like “Oh my God, we can tell you’ve been watching the show and practicing and taking classes.” So this year I think we got more well-rounded street dancers and that’s what’s gonna make this show incredible this year.
In general, what do you think is a harder transition? You think it’s harder for hip hop dancers to go on to sort of more contemporary, classical or the other way around?
I think it’s hard both ways. I’ve been seeing it from both aspects, and I see hip hoppers having so much drama trying to do salsa or ballroom and I see ballroom going crazy just trying to do a simple pop or body wave or you know, something like that so I think it’s really hard both ways because they’re both born to you, you know what I mean?
How do you feel about this season’s top twenty and where do you think it ranks relative to the last two seasons?
I think this year’s top twenty is the best top twenty ever because last year we saw them grow as dancers and get better. And we realized, “Oh my gosh, he’s so much better now, I didn’t even see it. I don’t even remember her.” This year the top twenty are like incredible right now. So I can just imagine how they’re gonna be like four episodes, six episodes into the show.
Is there anything coming up for you outside the show? I know you mentioned earlier on the audition episode that you had a new film with the You Got Served team coming up?
Yes, sir. The movie’s called Back Down. I’m head choreographer, and Chris Stokes is the producer, we got Marques (Houston) and Omarion as the lead actors, and it’s gonna be You Got Served from a girl’s point of view. It’s gonna be female crews. It’s gonna be insane, you know what I mean? So I want everybody to get ready for that and look out for it and please come represent and show your love cause it’s gonna be incredible.
Has that filmed yet?
We actually start in production in July. We just had auditions which was crazy in Los Angeles and we had to hold everything back one month because Omarion got another movie, right when he stops doing that, we go right into Back Down.
Nice. You know one of the best moments of the season so far I think was little Brian Gaynor doing his robot. Did you…will you be able to find a place for him in the movie?
Oh my God. We already got him situated as soon as the movie—as soon as auditions were done, I called Chris. I was like “Chris, this guy on the show just blew my mind. He’s got scoliosis but he’s one of the best poppers you will ever seen.” And he was like, “It’s done.” He said, “Take this kid’s information and make it happen. I can feature him and see.” And bottom line that’s all I want to do is get people to see how incredible this boy is because he blew my mind and people around the world need to see him and he needs to be appreciated for how much he put his head to the love of dance.
Alright, Shane. I appreciate you stopping by.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
(Interview Conducted by Oscar Dahl)
(Image Courtesy of FOX.com)