How ‘Burn the Floor’ brought ballroom dancing to the world

The company will perform at Dubai’s Global Village throughout March

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In making its first Middle East appearance at Dubai’s Global Village, Burn the Floor found a venue that complements its scope and ambition.

Since its first UK performance in 1997, the ballroom dance show has built a steady and international buzz, selling out tours in Europe, the US and Japan.

That success also translated on screen, with more than 70 of its alumni appearing in and, in some instances, winning various international versions of television shows Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars.

'Burn the Floor' at Global Village Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

But it is on the main stage of Global Village where the kinetic energy of Burn the Floor is best appreciated.

“The venue is absolutely perfect for what we do,” says creator and producer Harley Medcalf.

“Many times, we play in smaller theatres where we don’t have as much room. But the Global Village stage, which is about 30 metres, is ideal because there is enough space for the full cast to really shine.”

A slick show

For those attending the month-long season, there is a lot to see and hear.

Eleven pairs of dancers twirl, dart and maraud across the stage, moving to a blaring and eclectic soundtrack that includes hits by Michael Jackson, Pharrell Williams and Ella Fitzgerald.

The colourful set and fast-paced show is Medcalf’s forte. Over a 40-year career, he has produced concerts for Elton John, Lionel Richie and Billy Joel.

He recalls how the concept was triggered after meeting a group of ballroom dancers after a performance in London.

“I was just inspired by the passion, commitment, drive and work ethic in what they do and I just fell in love with them,” he says.

“It made me think of ways I can take the qualities they possess and really blend them with my rock and roll world, with all its theatre, technology, costuming and modern music.”

Aside from creating a hit show that has toured the world, Burn the Floor’s biggest legacy lies in including dance forms that date back hundreds of years.

“It was viewed as old fashioned because some of the dances, such as the Austrian waltz, go back to the 1700s,” Medcalf says.

“That's why it took us a couple of years to get the show right and why everyone initially thought I was crazy in trying to do this.

“But I was absolutely determined to make this work, not for myself, but really for the dancers.”

A cast of champions

Accelerating that trajectory to the mainstream was the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing and the US spin-off Dancing with the Stars, launched in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

The immediate success of the shows spawned various international versions including in the US, Australia and South Africa.

While Burn the Floor can’t take full credit for contributing to the enduring appeal of the programmes, Medcalf states the show and television franchise share a non-official but tight bond in that it supplies dozens of dancers to appear on the programmes.

“They work with us because they know they can find dancers who have that great personality and physicality, as well as a deep understanding of the art form and its history,” he says.

 Jorja Freeman and Gustavo Viglio are cast members of 'Burn the Floor'. Chris Whiteoak / The National

One dancer that made the temporary crossover is Jorja Freeman, who won the 2019 season of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars alongside fellow Aussie Samuel Johnson.

While the achievement resulted in the kind of attention that could have led to a new solo career, Freeman elected to stay with the company.

“I started with Burn the Floor when I was 19 and now I am 30, so I have pretty much grown up here,” she says.

“While I understand the allure of making it to television, it is when you are in a professional and international dance company that you can truly express yourself because you are always challenging yourself.”

Freeman’s tie to the company is also personal, as her husband, Italian ballroom dance champion Gustavo Viglio, is a fellow cast member.

However, don’t expect the couple to showcase that chemistry on stage. “The show also has other real-life couples and we are the only one who chooses not to dance together,” she says. “We just made the choice that it’s just better that way.”

Burn the Floor will perform several shows a day at Dubai's Global Village main stage from Tuesday to Sunday, until March 31, from 6pm onwards. Performance times vary. More information is available at globalvillage.ae or call +971 4 362 4114.

Updated: March 05, 2022, 6:05 AM
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