Fort Worth — The commercial dance industry has gone through a major transformation over the last 10 to 15 years. Being a professional commercial dancer in the ‘90s meant moving to L.A. and auditioning for music videos and TV commercials. The term ‘dance celebrity’ did not exist. The closest a commercial dancer would get to fame was dancing in the background of a Britney Spears video. Commercial dancers today has seen an increase in jobs and exposure thanks to TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars and Dance Moms. These shows have jump-started many dancers’ professional careers, including Travis Wall’s. The public first got to see Wall as a contestant on Season 2 of SYTYCD, but it wasn’t until Season 5 when he was brought back as a choreographer that we got to see the emotional storyteller underneath all that incredible technique.
Growing up in his mom’s dance studio in Virginia Beach, Wall always knew he was destined for more than just dancing at a very young age. He landed his first professional at age nine when he appeared in a Dr. Pepper commercial. And he was only 18 when he became a contestant on SYTYCD in 2006, a blessing and a curse he says. A blessing because his body was able to keep up with the grueling schedule, but he says he found it hard to open up to the camera. “I really didn’t know how to act especially with my sexuality (at the time no SYTYCD contestant had ever come out). So, instead I just made it about the dancing. I wasn’t going to make it about anything else.”
After the show Wall became more focused on creating work with the hopes of one day returning to the SYTYCD stage to show off his choreographic chops. “It was a passion of mine to become a choreographer in the commercial dance industry and I told the show’s producers that they would invite me back.” Wall got his chance in Season 5 with a contemporary routine featuring Jason Glover and Jeanine Mason. “I was actually assisting Wade Robson that week and the night before the show the producers called me and asked me if I wanted to do my first piece. I basically had 12 hours to pick music and set the routine on the dancers.” Having guest choreographed on the show for numerous seasons now, Wall is quick to point out that he usually only gets five to six hours to work with the dancers. Outside of the show Wall has worked with Florence and the Machine, Chelsea Handler, Eminem and Rihanna. He also choreographed the contemporary numbers in the film Step Up Revolution and currently teaches on tour with NUVO Dance Convention.
When asked how it feels to have his journey as a choreographer documented in such a public way Wall says it is simply amazing. “I think it’s really cool for people to feel like they are part of a journey.” Wall also gets the added bonus of having these clips of his work forever archived on the Web. “I can just randomly go on You Tube and watch the pieces and remember what I was going through at that particular time. I always put a lot of myself into the pieces I do on SYTYCD and so I’m really watching my life process through these videos.”
Having spent so much time in front of the camera it only seemed natural that in 2012 the camera would follow him as he and his buddy’s Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson launched their contemporary dance company, Shaping Sound. The trials and triumphs that occurred during the company’s first season were documented in the reality series All The Right Moves, which aired on the Oxygen channel. While Wall is thankful for the exposure the show provided he says if he had to do it over again he probably wouldn’t have agreed to do the show. “At times the cameras really stunted the creative process. I felt like what came out wasn’t the true version of ourselves. We were constantly nervous about what someone was going to say and how the work would appear on camera so we just decided we needed to keep our art separate from the other stuff. So, what we ended up presenting on the show was really a stage show which was the product of constantly having the stress of the cameras on us.”
Even with its bumpy start Shaping Sound has thrived over the past four years captivating audiences across the U.S. with its dynamic mix of energy, emotion and athleticism as well as its celebrated cast of dancers, including SYTYCD All-star Jaimie Goodwin and Season 10 winner Amy Yakima. The 12-member company also includes Dallas native Skylar Boykin who trained at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX. The working dynamic between the four friends is quite cohesive according to Wall. “We are like brothers so we know how to work with each other and we know who pushes the other’s buttons.” As far as creating and choreographing Wall says it’s really a collaborative effort, but that over the past year he has taken more of a leadership role when it comes to the staging and directing aspects of the work.
Shaping Sound is produced by Break the Floor Productions and seeks to provide audiences with a greater understanding of contemporary dance through a fusion of jazz, modern and hip-hop choreography. North Texas audiences’ will get a chance to see Wall and the rest of the company when Shaping Sound comes to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
Wall describes the one-night only show as a dance theater experience in two acts. “You’re following this girl whose spirit is completely damaged and you watch her fall asleep and enter this dream where she learns how to love. She goes through all these experiences so she can take what she learns and apply them to her real life.” Wall adds, “There’s lots of different styles of movement and amazing music you’re going to love. The louder you cheer the harder we perform. We thrive off the noise.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com