Travis Wall Has All the Right Moves
Travis Wall is a little excited. It’s understandable. The day we spoke, he had learned about his Emmy nomination only the previous morning, for Outstanding Choreography for his new dance company Shaping Sound’s performance of "Without You" on Dancing With the Stars. That same day, Wall, 25, was also headed off to a rehearsal for the celebrity-filled Teen Choice Awards (he choreographed the opening number and other routines). Along with all that, Wall, best known as a former contestant turned choreographer for the popular TV show So You Think You Can Dance, is also heading up the cast of a reality show about forming the contemporary dance company Shaping Sound in Los Angeles.
All the Right Moves began airing July 31 on the Oxygen network, and is produced by the erudite World of Wonder team, producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Being Chad, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster and dozens of other fascinating features, reality shows and documentaries, often with an LGBT cast. Along with Wall, who is openly gay, the show stars dancers Nick Lazzarini (a fellow SYTYCD contestant), Kyle Robinson (Juilliard-trained mentee of Mikhail Baryshnikov) and Teddy Forance (back-up dancer for Lady Gaga and Janet Jackson).
The series follows the trips, turns, trials and triumphs of these four handsome, lithe dancers through health problems, ego battles and the sheer thrill of dancing. We get to meet Wall’s mom and his boyfriend as well. Each episode also includes a few full dance routines, said Wall.
Look for Wall’s choreography in this summer’s dance film Step Up: Revolution, as well as in music videos by Florence and the Machine, Adele and Demi Lovato. Also, as if he’s not busy enough, this fall Wall is headed to Broadway to choreograph the new musical Bare . That’s pretty good for a kid who sprang onto the dance floor of his mother’s suburban studio in Virginia Beach as a toddler. "I was born into it," said Wall with pride.
Despite his contemporary jazz background, Wall said he prefers to dance barefoot. But he learned every modern style, "ballet, jazz, tap, flamenco, gymnastics. My mom was very well-rounded."
Wall became a professional at a young age, featured in commercials and dance competitions. At 12, he was a featured kid and understudy in the Broadway revival of The Music Man. Six years later, he was touring with the New York City Dance Alliance.
"I move to Los Angeles when I was 18," said Wall of his time competing at 18 for the second season of SYTYCD . "Then it was back to New York City for three years. Now I’m here [in L.A.] - for now."
What’s it like being a contestant on a nationally broadcast dance show versus being a choreographer?
"I felt a lot more pressure being a choreographer," said Wall. "It’s on you if the contestant gets kicked off. It’s really stressful!" Wall gets only two days with the dancers before the routine is aired, he said. "You only get five hours total to put out a dance that’s one minute and 45 seconds."
Having just wrapped four months of taping, Wall is well aware of the fraction of aired footage that will pale in comparison to having a video crew follow their every move for almost half a year. But, he promised, "you do get to see a lot of dancing: rehearsals, and two full routines."
Wall said he supports any kind of dancing on TV, even that which might loosen their standards a bit.
"Any show on TV that shows some form that’s entertaining, that’s keeping dance out there. Some of us have worked our whole lives for what we do. To be recognized in these shows is great. Dance is kind of disappearing in some ways. So I’m happy that the world is seeing it through these shows."
Being on national TV and being openly gay has never been a big deal to Wall. His identity and his romantic relationship offer a refreshingly uncontroversial aspect to the world of entertainment.
"When I was a contestant on the show, I wasn’t high-profile enough to make a statement," said Wall. "I’ve lived my life in public for the past four or five years. I never thought about that much, except, you know, ’This is me.’"
Nevertheless, Wall understands that LGBT artists and teens can face problems on and offstage, which is why, along with supporting other nonprofits and causes, Wall has worked with the Point Foundation, which provides financial support, mentoring and leadership training to students who are marginalized due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
"It shouldn’t be treated like a big deal," he said. "Does my sexuality make me who I am? No, my craft does."
But Wall agrees with some statements made by SYTYCD judge Nigel Lythgoe, who frequently focuses on a male dancer’s "masculinity." Lythgoe’s opinions about the few male-male duets veered toward homophobia, according to several critics.
"To be a dancer in the industry, you need to be masculine," he said. "I like to see a strong male dancer, particularly one who can dance convincingly with women. That’s what you’re hired to do. We need to believe it. Dancing is a form of acting. I put on a face when I go onstage. Everything [Lythgoe] says is legit. But it may come across as a bit harsh."
Harsh as well to think about the more grueling aspects of the reality show All the Right Moves, where, said Wall, "The cameras were everywhere. I’m used to it, but there were moments where I was so stressed out and tired; I just did not want them there. But they wanted to capture the moment. In the five months they filmed the show, they pulled every last string out of me, including healthwise."
Now, recovering from that experience, working on a tour for the company, and developing other dance projects, Wall offered some advice to young dancers.
"Remember your voice and find it. It gets really tough. Keep trying, keep pushing, set goals. I set goals and remembered about trying to get where I want to be in my life."
Considering that "everything" was, and is now on his list, dancewise, the young man is already well on his way.