Exclusive Interview: Shane Sparks, Choreographer

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Shane Sparks
[Photo: newscom.com]

I'm so thrilled to report that I just finished an exclusive interview with master hip-hop choreographer, Shane Sparks. I've been a fan of Shane for years, ever since I first saw him on So You Think You Can Dance. He's personally been instrumental in bringing hip-hop to the mainstream and to give street dancers the possibilities they now have to perform their craft.

He's also a very friendly, personable man with totally contagious enthusiasm. He got a moment to talk with me just before he had to start getting ready for tonight's season finale of America's Best Dance Crew, where he is one of the three judges. I had a blast talking to him and hope you enjoy our conversation:

Q: All season, it's seemed to me like a two-crew show, did you have that feeling too?

Shane Sparks: No, only after the last three episodes. During the first five episodes, it could have went to anybody because Ringmasters were giving great shows in the beginning, Strikers All Stars were giving great shows in the beginning, you know what I mean? It could have been between four or five groups in the beginning. But when the Beat Freaks got the magic show, that's when they really changed the game. Then, it was only Beat Freaks.

Then the following week, they did the robotic routine with the glasses on in the very beginning. They killed the game with that one. Then when Quest did the last episode, they did the two routines…they changed the game. They killed every choreography piece that was put on the show that week, and probably the whole season. And I'm going to talk about this later because it was like they were saving the best for last. They knew they had to save the best stuff because Beat Freaks was on 'em.

I let them know, I said, “Ya'll are doing good, but Beat Freaks is on your butt. Ya'll got to come with it.” Them brothers came with it and they did it at the perfect time. So now it's up to America right now. They put themselves back in the running. Until last week they were losing.

Q: Do you have any early predictions about who might win tonight? After last week, it seems pretty close to me.

Shane Sparks: Yeah, it seems close to me too. But with their track record, I think it's going to go to Beat Freaks. But it could go to anybody, you know what I mean? This is the first time it's ever been this close. You remember at the end of the first show, you already knew that Jabbawockeez was going to win. And you already knew that Supercrew was going to win. This is the first time that it really don't matter. Because both the crews are so good, it's like whoever wins, I think we're going to satisfy everybody.

Q: Looking back a little bit, I know that when you worked on So You Think You Can Dance, you worked with some of the guys from Quest. Were you happy to see them come on America's Best Dance Crew?

Shane Sparks: Yes I was, because So You Think You Can Dance, if you're a hip-hop dancer, that show is not for you. So if you're a street dancer, a hip-hop dancer, that show is not for you. When they were on that show, it just showed how versatile a street dancer can be.

But being on our show, they're at home. And I know Hok, D-Trix and Ryan…they had to think that, oh my God, we get to do what we do best and do it together. They were at home, they were in heaven.

I was glad to see that because I grew up in crews, so I know how hard it is to separate from each other. Even though you have to do the best for the group, he was like, “I'm going to do So You Think You Can Dance just to get our name on the map.” And they could perform on SYTYCD. Imagine if you're there with your whole crew through the whole journey.

Q: And they've been so wonderful. I've been so pleased with them.

Shane Sparks: Oh, my God. Me too.

Q: Do you think the level of talent has increased each season of ABDC?

Shane Sparks: Definitely. This is probably the best season ever. I'm not going to say probably…it's definitely the best season ever. I think people have finally started to take it serious.

We've got people actually rehearsing. I found out last year that we had people rehearsing a year before the show even started auditions. The first season, people didn't know about it. They just came out with what they had. They weren't ready. But they were by the time the second season and the third season came around. There are people right now who are getting ready for the next season of the show. They're rehearsing right now. So when they get here, they're prepared. They're groomed and they're sharp. They're at the top of their game. So we're not going to get a group that only has one or two routines and then after the third episode, we're like, they're not that great. Hopefully, we're not going to get that no more.

Q: This season we saw Dynamic Edition bring the whole clogging thing. Do you expect to see more diversity in the kinds of dance we'll see in the next season?

Shane Sparks: Definitely. I already know people who are cloggers that are already looking at our show and they said that the cloggers that were on there were pretty good, but they're nothing compared to what we do. A lot of them are hip-hop oriented already. The crew that was on our show, they added little hip-hop moves from like '89 with the clogging. So they weren't that versatile. There's a lot of groups out there that are like, “Oh, Dude. We clog and we do hip-hop. So that's what we'll do when we come on the show.” So hopefully they can get together and keep it tight and be prepared for the audition.

Q: Which of the crews do you think has the best prospect for a professional future?

Shane Sparks: Strikers All Stars, I loved them. I think they can do a lot. Of course, Quest Crew and Beat Freaks. And Ringmasters. I love Ringmasters, the guys who bone crush. I think they're the most commercial crew on our show. I think somebody needs to grab them up and make a lot of money off of them. Imagine them doing Nike commercials and clothing commercials. You know what I mean? They can do so much with what they do so hopefully, somebody will take advantage of that.

Q: How exciting is it for you to see hip-hop dance come into its own?

Shane Sparks: That's all I did when I was younger. It wasn't about whether it would work out. It wasn't about that. It was total dedication. And I know a lot of people who feel just like that.

I love when these kids come on the show and they got something to look forward to. I didn't have that when I was young. I just had a dream. So now they got these shows, they got a person like me, a person like JC [Chasez], a person like Lil Mama and all these hip-hop stars and all these rap stars and all these dancers to look up to. They can see that there's a future in this hip-hop world. And I love it.

Q: You have been one of the people that were instrumental in making it come to the mainstream. So you are to be congratulated.

Shane Sparks: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

Q: On another subject, can we ever hope to see you back on SYTYCD, even as a guest choreographer?

Shane Sparks: Definitely. We are still working on that. I'm going to be able to get my face on camera again now. [For a while I could] only do that exclusively on MTV. But we're working it out so I can get my face on camera again. But I definitely will be doing choreography, though.

Q: That's great news! So what other projects are you currently working on?

Shane Sparks: I just finished Dream Girls in Korea. They did some sneak previews of the show and right now it's the number one show in Korea. And I did the whole Broadway show for Dream Girls. I'm about to go to New York next month for the auditions for the American side of the Dream Girls, which is going to open at the Apollo at the end of this year. So that's going to take a lot of my time this year.

I'm very excited about it because it's something so different. And it's another thing that I'm doing that's going to change the game for street dancers. I'm going to take hip-hop to Broadway. When you see the show, you're going to be blown away, not because I did it, but because I'm a street dancer and I'm doing what every choreographer's dream is to do…to do Broadway. It's beautiful. When you see it, you gonna go, “Oh, my God.”

They're saying it's the hottest show ever. It's going to open up the doors. I want choreographers to grow up saying, “I'm going to do videos, I'm going to do movies, then I'm going to do Broadway.”

Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about hip-hop being in the mainstream right now?

Shane Sparks: I just want all the dancers to just take time out to perfect their craft and get ready for that future. America's Best Dance Crew, So You Think You Can Dance and the future. Those shows are going to change our lives. Get ready for them. If you're going to audition, be sure you're prepared. Practice and take advantage of this moment. It's not going to last too long. But this is our time right now. For anybody who's trying to do lyrical, jazz, modern, hip-hop, ballet, any style of dance, this is your moment. Take advantage of it.

That's very good advice, indeed. So after such a thrilling afternoon, I have hours to wait for the finale on MTV tonight. I will be happy for either of the final two crews to be named America's Best Dance Crew. They both deserve the title. And I know that we have not seen the last of either of them.

Be sure to watch the America's Best Dance Crew finale tonight on MTV at 10pm ET/PT.

Who do you think will win?