Jennifer Madison, CBS Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Nigel Lythgoe woke up Thursday morning to staggering news.
His hit competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” had been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, with more of his staff mentioned than any year in the show’s nearly decade-long history.
“Obviously, I’m thrilled to be here after 10 years,” he said.
But the winged golden statuettes handed out this fall don’t seem to sway the 66-year-old British television executive quite as much as the impact he sees the show and his work with dance education nonprofit Dizzy Feet Foundation having on the public.
“Little things, like dads coming up to me saying, ‘My son wants to be a dancer and I’ve watched the show and I want to support him in dance.’ That’s remarkable,” he said.
The executive producer founded Dizzy Feet with director Adam Shankman in 2009.
Buoyed by the success of SYTYCD and challenged by headlines spouting statistics about rising childhood obesity, Lythgoe extended his outreach in 2010 with the formation of National Dance Day, successfully persuading Congress to recognize the event on the last Saturday of July to encourage healthy, active lifestyles.
This year, he’s partnering with The Music Center to bring entertainment and dance education to downtown L.A. on July 25.
“Originally I was sitting in bed watching breakfast TV, early morning, and I was hearing this story about the problem with children in this country and how so many were at risk of obesity. And I thought, the best thing to get people moving is dance; it’s a joyous way of keeping fit,” he said. “Which is why we ended up going to Congress.”
Five years later, the event is now marked by hundreds of thousands across the U.S., some speckling social media with photos, videos and cheerful messages of inspiration, others joining in their own hometowns where grassroots events are organized, often by Dizzy Feet scholarship recipients.
Lythgoe says 3,000-4,000 people are expected to flood The Music Center Plaza in L.A. at the free all-day event.
The program begins at 11 a.m. with a warm-up from SYTYCD top-10 finalist Nathan Trasoras and routines of varying difficulty led by season 9 winner Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and choreographer Ray Leeper.
The public will also have the opportunity to learn repertoire and view interactive performances from companies including San Pedro City Ballet, Invertigo Dance Theatre, Mestre Amen and Capoeira Batuque, Jacob Jonas The Company, the DEA Youth Program, GROOV3 and Australia’s Bust a Move, whose members will also dance as part of the Special Olympics World Games in L.A., coincidentally opening the same day.
“It’s just a great fun day, it really is. There are dance companies coming on, so there’s an entertainment value,” Lythgoe said.
At its heart, however, the event is about bringing communities together.
“At restaurants these days, people are texting. They’re on their phones. It’s a strange society kind of,” he added.
For those who may be hesitant to put down their glowing screens, step out from behind their bedroom mirrors and share their moves in a public space, Lythgoe says there’s no need to be shy.
“We started dancing long before we started talking. You’ll see that babies move and bounce around and smile. Somehow through the years as we grow up we start to feel anxious and embarrassed and we stop dancing,” he said, noting that for many adults, dancing in public requires a little “Dutch courage.”
While it’s a phenomenon he’s always found “perplexing,” Lythgoe says dance is nevertheless getting a warm reception from Angelenos, particularly at public events. He was pleased to see how successfully The Music Center on Monday launched Moves After Dark, commissioned by outgoing Vice President of Programming Renae Williams Niles.
But he also hopes to see some changes at the historic venue in the wake of Rachel Moore’s recent appointment as its president and CEO.
“I think there are some wonderful things happening here. We’ve got Rachel Moore coming in as the CEO. That has to be good,” he said of the American Ballet Theatre’s executive director, who will step into her new position in October.
Fundraising, however, remains an obstacle, as local arts executives are quick to say.
“I think we’re going to see dance coming to its own in the next 4-5 years in Los Angeles,” Lythgoe said, noting more support is still needed for existing companies to flourish.
“L.A. Ballet is supported not as well as it should be. Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project is working hard as well. … But we need to grow the companies that are out here. Especially because we need more diversity in dance,” he said. Misty Copeland’s recent promotion at ABT, according to Lythgoe, only scratches the surface.
Still, the state of local dance is something the executive is committed to strengthening.
In addition to National Dance Day, Dizzy Feet is also preparing for its annual fundraising gala Aug. 1, a day after Lythgoe wraps production on the Inaugural Dance Challenge at The Wallis, the first time the Special Olympics will offer such an event at its World Games.
For the SYTYCD creator, the movement continues. And he hopes it will for others as well.
“It’s natural to us. It’s in our bodies,” he said. “It’s a rhythm in us all, whether it’s our mother’s heartbeat or our heartbeat — it’s in us.”
For more information about National Dance Day, visit the Dizzy Feet Foundation online.