“So, do you think you could interview Travis Wall?” We’ve been getting that request a lot around here, so thanks to everyone who pushed for it. We’re happy to deliver!
Travis Wall is just 23-years-old, which is easy to forget when you consider what he’s already managed to accomplish. Dancing all his life, he starred in a nationwide Dr.Pepper commercial when he was nine. He was performing on Broadway in a revival of The Music Man at 12. But perhaps his biggest break as a dancer came in 2006, when then 18-year-old Travis competed on the second season of So You Think You Can Dance.
If nothing else, you probably remember that gorgeous (and Emmy-winning) Mia Michaels routine he performed with Heidi Groskreutz called The Bench. EW.com recently ranked it as #2 on their list of the 15 greatest So You Think You Can Dance routines.
Travis was the runner-up in Season 2, and even though he was widely considered to be one of the most technically gifted dancers ever on the show, like many other SYTYCD contestants, that might easily have been the last that people outside the dance world heard from him.
Not so, because it turns out dancing is one of Travis’ minor talents. Travis returned to SYTYCD in Season 5 as a choreographer, and ever since he’s been contributing some of the show’s most exciting and memorable contemporary numbers.
The handsome blond kid from Virginia Beach, VA is also raising eyebrows with some recent tweeted conversations between himself and a fellow named GymDom. Inquiring minds want to know: Are they a couple? Is Travis officially “out”?
The answer to that is yes, Travis is out. In fact, he never really considered himself “in” and is a bit surprised at all the
fuss those tweets caused.
We recently had a chance to talk with this amazing talent about his boyfriend, his family, his experiences on So You Think You Can Dance (including being your authentic self as a gay contestant on a public voting reality show), the personal experiences that have inspired his choreography, his own upcoming reality show, and even his great appreciation for one Nigel Lythgoe.
Hi Travis! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We’re excited that you’re participating as a choreographer again this season on So You Think You Can Dance. Curious, are you now a permanent employee of the show, or do you just come on for certain weeks?
Travis Wall: They just kind of go around your schedule and when your conflicts are, which weeks you can’t do. They’ve asked me to do a couple episodes this season, but they try and spread it out so it’s not so wham bam. The next time I’m on will be the top 12. I’ll have two pieces, a jazz and a contemporary. Then the top eight, the top six, and then, hopefully, the finale.
I loved that statue piece that you did two weeks ago with [dancers] Melanie and Marko. That was pretty amazing.
Thank you! I was really proud of that one.
So I’ve got a question about your process. When you choreograph a piece like that, is it largely formed before you even work with the dancers? Or do you wait to work with the dancers and figure out what they can do and then tailor the piece to them? I guess what I’m asking is: would that statue piece with Melanie and Marko have been completely different if it had been a different couple dancing
Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. I was a contestant on the show so I experienced some choreographers not fitting a routine to my body, or not showcasing what I do best… they might just kind of come in with a pre-planned notion.
Anyway, I experienced that on my season, and I learned that when you’re coming on the show as a choreographer that to get the best product and keep your dancers safe for next week you really need to tailor the piece to them and their talents. At the end of the day it’s not about the choreographer… it’s about getting the dancers on to top ten so they can go out on tour. Our job is to get people to vote for them and have America like them.
I have a general idea when I come in, but nothing’s really planned. I really do choreography on the spot.
Looking at what you guys do, sometimes when I watch it feels like it’s more about judging the
choreographers than the dancers. Is there some stress involved as a choreographer on the show? Everything you’ve done so far on the show has been amazing, but even with some of the other great choreographers — if they do enough pieces, eventually they do a piece that the judges are like, “Eh.”
Is that stressful for you?
Oh yeah, it’s scary for sure. You’re afraid of what someone is going to say, and it’s live, and some judges say things that are tough and you wonder, “Do you really have to cut that choreographer down?” If you don’t have the greatest piece of work, you don’t have the greatest piece of work. You don’t need to call it out. Then it does become about the choreography and not about the dancers.
It’s tough because we really only have four hours with the dancers. One and a half on the first day and three on the second. So, you have to come up with something amazing, and if the dancers don’t pull it off then sometimes it’s on the choreographers.
I’m curious, for that piece a few weeks ago with Melanie and Marko, you worked with them for four hours. How much did they work on their own?
If they’re responsible dancers they’ll go home and they’ll find a space in their little apartment complex and they’ll rehearse themselves. And obviously Melanie and Marko did that. They really got the partnering down, and a lot of it was hard. I gave them a really hard routine because I had two amazing dancers. The partnering in that piece, well I couldn’t really have done on anybody else in the show.
So when you choreograph for the top 12 it really is going to be a crap shoot who you’re working with?
Exactly. I don’t know who’s gonna be safe the next two weeks because the voting is crazy and you never know. Everything changes every day.
I want to talk to you about that piece from last year between Neil and Kent.
Dancers Kent Boyd (left) and Neil Haskell
I really liked that piece because it was the first time on the show that there were two guys
dancing and it wasn’t sort of gimmicky… like two guys playing baseball or two princes fighting. There was actually some emotion in that piece.
So, honestly, was that about an ex? What was that about?
[Pauses] I’m not going to go into it too deeply because I touched on it briefly in the show, and I respect the person that I went through this with. But it was a best friend of mine, a best friend that I really cared about and was close to for two years… and was like my brother in more ways than one. And it was just the worst… you know, we had to part ways, and there was a lot of twisted things about it, so…
Okay, I’m not asking for names or anything.
It was something that happened to me, and it was really crazy when it happened.
On a lighter note, can we talk about who you’re dating these days?
[laughs] Oh, I’m totally cool with that… it’s just that one little thing.
Somebody sent me these tweets between you and Dom [Palange]. Is that your partner’s name?
Yeah, he’s the first boyfriend I’ve had in five years, so it’s a big deal for me. I had a boyfriend back when I was on the show, and I had some crazy things happen to me in the past four years with weird relationships. Like, not really a boyfriend relationship, but something else.
But this is my first like actual boyfriend and actual relationship. And someone I’m actually in love with, so it’s pretty exciting!
That’s great! How long have you guys been together?
Three months last week.
So you’re out then?
I’ve never made a big statement like, “Oh I’m gay.” It’s like if you know you know, and I’ve never been afraid to not say something on Twitter. So I didn’t even realize the impact of me like just saying “I miss you, I love you” on Twitter and then people are saying that I came out. [laughs] Well, I guess I came out.
So tell me about this upcoming reality show.
The show is about me and three of my best friends. Two of them are straight and me and Nick are gay, and it’s the four of us living in a house together, and I think we’re calling it “Kings of Dance.” We’re like the four new up-and-coming choreographers, and we all work together, and it’s sort of unheard of the camaraderie we have. You know it’s a dog-eat-dog world as a choreographer, but the four of us are starting a dance company together.
Everyone [in television] is trying to touch on the dance scene and show what dancers actually do. And they’ve gotten it wrong. And we wanted to show it right.
We’re obviously having like a Glee moment every show, where there will be a dance number at the end of it, and it’s like showing the process, lifting the curtain on how choreographers create a piece and how we live together.
I’ve known all these guys since I was like nine-years-old, so we fight like brothers and we live like brothers and we grow beside each other, and you see relationships that happen outside of the four of us. There’s always people over at our house. We have a huge house. It’s like a dance brothel.
“Dance Brothel.” That would make a good title! Is Dom going to be involved in the reality show?
Yeah, he’ll probably be a part of it, you’ll definitely see him in it.
Is this for a particular network, or are you guys working with a production company?
We were picked up by World of Wonder,that’s the production company.
Oh yeah, they do RuPaul’s shows for us [on TheBacklot’s parent company Logo].
Yeah, we’re talking with Oxygen and with Logo.
You said “Nick.” Is that Nick Lazzarini [SYTYCD Season 1 winner] or someone else?
Yeah, it’s Nick Lazzarini
I have to ask, how stressful is it for gay male dancers on So You Think You Can Dance? I’ve often wondered about reality shows where you have the public voting. I imagine some gay contestants who are pretty much “out” in their personal lives might feel the need to sort of “front” in order to get votes from viewers.
When I was 18 and on the show it was very stressful to find the balance of being yourself and coming across in an authentic way. Honestly, the way I’ve always been with my friends… I’m not considered to be very flamboyant or over the top… [laughs] I mean, I watch more sports than any of my straight friends do…. so I don’t have such a hard time finding chemistry. Basically, when I’m dancing I feel like I can have chemistry with anyone I dance with.
I felt like the only time it was a little stressful was maybe when they interviewed me or… I don’t know… I never had to put on a front like that, but it’s true that I wanted to be in the top ten, and I wanted to go all the way closer to the top, and maybe it’s not necessary to come out and talk about that stuff when it’s a dance competition. It was me dancing, and maybe that’s all you needed to know.
Waiting for the judges’ critique…
I get that, I do, but it just seems like straight male dancers would have a huge leg up because in those interviews they could talk about their girlfriends or flirt with their partners. And maybe they get points for that with voters it seems like. You’re right that it should be about the dancing, but people are voting, in a way, for personality. That’s a big part of it.
Competing on the show, you never seemed to be trying to be anything you weren’t, but sometimes I see a contestant pretending to flirt in the interview with Cat [Deeley] or their dance partner and I think, “Oh come on, who are you trying to kid!” And I feel badly for them.
Or, the weird thing is, some of those contestants you think, “Oh come on…” about — they actually don’t know themselves until halfway through the show! And then they’re like, “I’m gay, oh shit!” There’s a lot of people that have gone on that show that don’t even know yet, you know what I mean? [laughs]
Okay, that’s funny. Is Mia [Michaels] gone from the show, or is she just taking a break?
Mia is working on Rock of Ages this year. I don’t really know too much about her contractual stuff. She left Season Six, came back Season 7 as a judge and things didn’t work out for Season 8 I guess for judging. I don’t really know anything about it.
Speaking of judges, do you ever want to be on the panel?
I don’t think I could ever be a judge. I think I’m way too involved in the dance world and the dance convention world and up-and-coming dancers. I know everybody, so I would be so biased judging to, like, put particular people through, because I know all of those kids. Like Season 8: out of the top twenty I know like 14 of them on a personal level, like I’ve choreographed for them before. So… I don’t know… I feel like I’m way too involved to judge.
Do you pretty much consider yourself a choreographer these days, or are you still dancing as well?
Yeah, I’m dancing in pieces that I do. You know I just did [a piece with] Adele [on Dancing with the Stars] and I danced in it.
I saw that. That was great.
Thank you. When I was eighteen I decided that I wanted to become a choreographer. I wanted to have a longevity to my career and not be a dancer until I’m thirty and feel like my body is giving out and thinking, “Oh God, now what am I gonna do?”
Also, I’m much more talented as a choreographer than a dancer. I don’t like watching myself dance, but I love watching my work. So I found something that I love and don’t have any insecurities about it. I have so many insecurities as a dancer. About my body type, about certain things that are just wrong with my body and I hate. But I don’t have any insecurities about my choreography.
Okay, what parts of your body don’t you like? I mean you’ve got a pretty good body!
Things I was just born with. Like my hips. I was born with my hips jammed. So I have scar tissue and terrible trauma to my hips that like… my hips are gonna like glue shut one day because of all the bone spurs in my hip. So it just hurts to dance. It hurts to get a leg up even.
So, I knew that when I got x-rays at eighteen. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to put my leg up by my face any more by the time I was 25. So that really helped me to decide what I wanted to do.
And at 23 it’s really hard to break in to the industry as a choreographer. But because of So You Think You Can Dance, you know I’ve gotten so many jobs off of it, and different phone calls keep coming in every day. It’s pretty awesome.
With director Adam Shankman, working on choreography for the 2010 Academy Awards
In addition to the upcoming reality show and SYTCD, is there anything else you’re working on right now?
Yeah, me and [roommates] Teddy [Forance], Misha [Gabriel] and Nick [Lazzarini] have started a dance company called “Shaping Sound,” and we’re going to be putting together a show in LA.
Teddy was Mia Michaels’ assistant for four years, and Misha has danced for everybody and worked on the Michael Jackson “This Is It” tour.
I meant to ask, how is your Mom? [Travis’ mother, Denise Wall was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer last year.] She’s good. She’s now cancer-free, which is awesome. That whole process was just crazy, she kept getting infections from her double mastectomy. It was a hard road, but we got there.
Travis with mom Denise Wall and brother Danny Tidwell (left)
What’s up with Danny [Tidwell] these days? [Travis’ brother, who was the SYTYCD
runner-up season three] Where is he?
Norway. He’s dancing in a Norwegian ballet company.
I love the music that you select. Like that Jason Mraz tune you used for the Jason and
Jeanine pendant number two years ago? That was stunning. So how do you choose your music? Just stuff you’re listening to on your iPod?
I first started choreographing for dance studios and soloists and dance competitions and stuff, so I already have a lot of music that I’ve used from that. You think about what people like, what’s effective, what’s really easy on the American eye. Because, for my pieces, I try to get across to the naked eye, I’m not trying to get across just to dancers. So my pieces are effective and everybody can understand it. It’s black and white. It’s easy to pick up. Its not like “Oh God, that was so weird, and so conceptual, I don’t get it just yet…”
And that’s why I pick something like Jason Mraz. I pick something that everyone will like. But I also try to pick music sometimes that people don’t know about, like Passion Pit and Stars. So it plays on So You Think, and then it actually shows up on the iTunes Top100 the next day!
Tell me something about Nigel. [SYTYCD judge and executive producer] He can be a polarizing figure for some viewers.
As much as sometimes people want to disagree with what he says, if they could kind of just take a step back and look at what he’s done for dance. I mean, before So You Think You Can Dance the only dance show out there was Dancing with the Stars, and that’s all ballroom.
So he gave something that I do a light. Not only me, but it put my style, contemporary, on the map. No one knew what that was in America. I mean, before this show if you’d asked anyone in like Idaho about contemporary dance, they would have gone, “What?”
So it completely just made it one of the most talked about, most trending things ever. So it’s amazing. It’s given me a job. And it’s also given me a platform to grow on. I thank Nigel for that every day.
I also have to thank [SYTYCD] co-executive producer Jeff Thacker. No one knows what he does, but honestly, he’s the mind behind the show. He’s the one that chooses the choreographers. He does everything, I send him flowers every Father’s Day because he’s the only father figure I truly have. And when I was on the show he took care of me, he looked after me. He was like my Dad.
You can keep up with Travis via Twitter @travISova