Hip-hop, ballroom, burlesque – dance moves from chorus line to headline act
In Las Vegas, dancing isn’t reserved exclusively for nightclubs.
Showcasing everything from b-boy style and ballroom tomodern burlesque and African dance, Vegas offers an array of shows with unusual and creative routines.
With popular television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “America’s Best Dance Crew” and “Dancing with the Stars,” dance is getting a lot of attention and is being incorporated into more and more Vegas shows.
“I think with the television shows out, it proves that dancing is very entertaining and I think it would follow suit to do it on the stage as well,” said hip-hop choreographer Napoleon Dumo. “Dance is coming alive [with] better stories, better choreography [and] more support and I think people are willing to go see it.”
It’s also attracting visiting headline performers like hip-hop troupe Jabbawockeez who are appearing Aug. 19 – 25 at MGM Grand.
Dance is also drawing fans to Vegas to see the shows. “We’re grateful for all of the fans that come from such far places,” said Kevin Brewer, one of the members of Jabbawockeez. “We have fans that come and fly eight to ten hours just to watch our show and go back the next day. That’s some awesome dedication.”
From provocative to pop
While a variety of dance styles are seen in Vegas shows, it all started with the showgirl. When someone mentions a dance show in Vegas, statuesqe showgirls strutting around a stage in sequins and feathers immediately comes to mind.
The production show “Jubilee!,” playing since 1981 at Bally’s, is one of the oldest-running dance shows in Vegas.
With elaborate headdresses, sequins and all-around bedazzle, women donning these costumes portray classic Vegas and they are all trained dancers, with backgrounds in ballet, jazz and other styles.
While “Jubilee!” represents the classic Vegas adult show, productions like “X Burlesque,” “Fantasy” and the newest topless show on the Strip, “PEEPSHOW,” are keeping Vegas audiences transfixed and they’re doing it by relying on dance from modern burlesque to pop.
Combining topless dancers with pop and hip-hop dance elements, “PEEPSHOW” at Planet Hollywood is like watching a fairy tale in the form of a long, sexy music video.
“’PEEPSHOW’ is different in that it is all about the striptease,” said Nick Kenkel, associate director and co-choreographer. “So many shows in Vegas are missing that element in my opinion. You turn around and all of the sudden the girls are nude and you don’t know how or more importantly, why. Our goal was to do a very sexy but respectful strip show where each girl’s individual energy and inner beauty gets to shine.”
Hip-hop in Vegas has become extremely popular. This year, Hip-Hop International was showcased at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa and the Orleans hotel, while (for the first time) Ultimate B-Boy Championship brings explosive, powerhouse moves to the MGM Grand, Aug. 6 – 7. With events this massive, Las Vegas is putting itself on the hip-hop dance map.
“Over the years, local dancers have worked hard to gain the reputation and respect of the small dance culture and commercial media took notice,” said Eugene Rah, founder and executive producer for Ultimate B-Boy Championship. “For as small as the scene is…the general public [doesn’t] know that some of these dancers are signed to major dance agencies, and they’re out in the industry representing Las Vegas. This is probably one of many reasons why there are more hip-hop events in the city.”
One of the popular shows exclusively dedicated to hip-hop is the Jabbawockeez “MUS.I.C.” Infusing stunning theatrics with hip-hop moves and b-boy stunts, this is more than just your average basement jam session.
“We try to give people a little bit of something, introduce them to the character and have some kind of underlying theme [so] that the end of the show, people walk away like, ‘Wow,’” said Brewer. “I think that’s the reason why it comes off that way because we’re a bunch of movie kids and incorporate all that into our shows. There’s a lot of different things that we’re inspired by and put it into one little show…I think people kind of dig it.”
Fans of hip-hop dance can also see moves in unexpected places, such as the Cirque du Soleil shows “VIVA Elvis” and “LOVE.” “VIVA Elvis” showcases everything from hip-hop dance to crump and drill team stepping, while “LOVE” has a segment of b-boy moves.
While the Beatles came out in the 1960s, hip-hop moves woven into this show actually work well with the music of that era. “The Beatles represented youthful energy of their time, delivering music that no one had ever heard before,” explained Kati Renaud, artistic director of LOVE. “Hip-hop today is new and revolutionary, which is symbolic when it comes to performing to a modern day mix of Beatles’ music
onstage at LOVE.”
Hip-hop incorporated in dance shows may seem new, but it really isn’t. According to husband-and-wife hip-hop dance choreography team Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, this style has been around longer than people may realize.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Napoleon Dumo, “the hip-hop movement has been in Vegas for quite a while. People [just] weren’t calling it hip-hop. We were doing hip-hop to different types of music. Pop, or even rock ’n’ roll music, was being thrown in front of people’s eyes right from the top. I think it’s a very entertaining style that the pop generation can really attach to. It has a lot of energy, power and a lot of connection [with] people.”
In addition to “LOVE,” the dynamic duo also choreographed numbers in “VIVA Elvis.” These include “Jailhouse Rock,” “Return to Sender,” as well as the opening and closing acts. The team also directed the Jabbawockeez show, “MUS.I.C.”
“We absolutely adore the boys,” Tabitha Dumo said. “We’ve been friends with some of them for over 10 years. We direct their show and bring it to life. The guys are responsible for creating their choreography, while we direct them through the moments and the highlights of the entire show. We think the same way, so it’s a fun, creative environment to work with the boys.
“It actually makes our job fun,” she continued. “It doesn’t get stale. We always try to keep in mind who the audience is while we’re preparing and what hasn’t been done before.”
Ballroom – in water
Hip-hop dance isn’t the only style that has received exposure through television. Thanks to shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” ballroom dancing has caught the attention of millions.
Now, fans can enjoy this style of dance in a Vegas show with a fun twist: in water. In addition to fiery hot ballroom moves, “Le Rêve” at Wynn Las Vegas makes ballroom even sexier with its water element.
Brian Burke, artistic director of “Le Rêve,” said “Dancing with the Stars” choreographer Maksim Chmerkovskiy helped choreograph the ballroom numbers in this show.
“Maks and his troupe had been doing performances at the hotel while Maks was on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Burke explained. “We began to work with Maks as our ballroom choreographer and discovered a new way to present ballroom with our stage, the water and the story line.
“We always had a synchronized swimming number named ‘The Tango,’ so it only made sense to incorporate dancing on water while the swimmers were upside down,” he continued. “It brought a new feel to this piece. The Paso [Doble] is a strong dance of passion and we felt the show needed some energy during the arc of the show. [Ballroom] dance brought a great elevation to the story and the overall rhythm of the show.”
“The water element makes everything different,” said Jessica King, one of the “Le Rêve” ballroom dancers. “Dancing in water on a rubber stage [takes] a different kind of strength and power in your movement. It’s really incredible to do such intricate partnering in ballroom with such a crazy element as
far as water.
“It blows your mind,” she continued. “It’s exciting – it keeps you on your toes. You’re in high heels, you’re slippery, your hair is soaking wet, there’s just so many things that make this show different for me than anything I’ve ever done. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Dancing to a worldly rhythm
Ethnic dance is also getting its share of exposure in Las Vegas shows, particularly in Mandalay Bay’s “Disney’s The Lion King.”
Dance aficionados are in for a treat: Here, you’ll see West African, ballet, acrobatics, modern dance, tap dance, jazz and even traditional South African folk dancing.
“Choreographer Garth Fagan’s movement embodies all forms of dance, from modern ballet to his Caribbean roots,” explained Celise Hicks, resident dancer supervisor. “It takes a very special dancer [to] be extremely trained in all types of dance and have the ability [and] personality to express many different characters throughout the show.”
According to Hicks, a dancer could be up to 13 different characters during one show.
“Each animal on Pride Rock has its own movement vocabulary and each movement is essential in establishing their character,” said dancer Marija Abney. “From the gazelles’ leap, to the cheetah’s sultry crawl across stage, each animal has its own dance. The evil brother, Scar, slithers while Mufasa gallantly lunges. This is a story that could not be told without movement, without dance.”
Not only does the “Lion King” showcase a variety of different styles, dancing with puppets and props can be quite a challenge. Dancers have to become the cheetah, giraffe or gazelle.
“During rehearsals, a ‘National Geographic’ collection of videos were on loop,” explained Abney. “We were always watching ‘Cheetahs on the Chase’ or ‘Lions versus Hyenas.’ In rehearsal, we would always try to keep the images of the actual animals our minds. You let the movement of the real African savanna inform your dance. It’s artistically satisfying [and] makes it more than worth it.”
Entertainment for the masses
If watching all of these dance shows inspires you to the point that you actually want to become a dancer, remember it takes a lot of hard work.
“I’ve been dancing for a long time, and I think that’s what it takes,” Brewer explained. “If you look at martial arts and Kung Fu, it’s basically time and dedication. Over a period of time, that dedication to whatever it is that you’re putting your energy into, you will attain a certain level of understanding. Keep dancing, hopefully it will come to you.”
For those who don’t have the moves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just sitting back and enjoying the show.
Ultimately, dance shows are entertainment for the masses. Vegas has come a long way from classic showgirls and is now highlighting dance from virtually every genre.
“Considering the city’s major headliners over the years, it can be considered a place to find dancers and entertainers in general,” said Rah. “Las Vegas can potentially be a city to be considered among the best in the world. Some may already see it that way.”