Some people find a hobby they’re so good at and talented in growing up that their gift is easily transferred into a thriving, award-worthy career. Such is the case with choreographer and actor Chris Scott, who found his calling for dance after signing up for tap lessons while attending the famed Hollywood High School. The dancer, who has found success choreographing routines for television shows, films and an Internet web series, effortlessly showcases his talent in his memorable recent projects.
The multi-faceted choreographer and dancer just received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography for his work on the ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ routines ‘Misty Blue’ and ‘Velocity.’ Besides being a resident choreographer on Fox’s hit dancing competition, Scott is also a choreographer and founder of the acclaimed web series, ‘The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers’ (also known as ‘The LXD’). The series follows two groups of rival dancers who use their superpowers to battle each other. Scott also served as a fully credited choreographer on this summer’s dance romance drama, ‘Step Up: Revolution.’
Scott generously took the time recently to talk about his choreography and charity projects over the phone. Among other things, he discussed how he became a choreographer on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ‘The LXD’ and ‘Step Up: Revolution;’ his working relationships with fellow choreographers Jon Chu, Adam Shankman, Jamal Sims, Travis Wall and Chuck Maldonado; and how his dancing benefits the charities he works with, including Invisible Children, Inc.
ShockYa (SY): You’re serving as a resident choreographer for Fox’s current ninth season of its hit dance competition, ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ Why did you want to work for the show, and was it a dream of yours to choreograph dancers on the competition?
Chris Scott (CS): Yeah, it kind of came up out of nowhere. I choreographed for an innovative web series, called ‘The LXD,’ or ‘The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.’ ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ found us on YouTube. The web series was created by Jon M. Chu, who directed ‘Step Up 2: The Streets,’ which is how I met him and started working with The LXD.
After ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ found ‘The LXD’ on YouTube, they called us to do a number. So we went on the show, and did a dance to a song by Coldplay. It went over really well, and was well-received. It was a big, beautiful dance with freestylers, crunkers and a bunch of different styles. From doing that piece on the show, they asked me to come in and do the season finale of season 6.
I didn’t actually plan on choreographing the show. I didn’t know it was possible for me. Then they took me in, and asked me to do a big number on the finale, which was big for me. That’s a big honor, and a lot of people could have done that piece, but they asked me.
SY: You have been nominated for your first Emmy for Outstanding Choreography for your work on the ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ routines, ‘Misty Blue’ and ‘Velocity.’ What was your reaction when you found out that you had been nominated?
CS: It definitely didn’t really hit me right away. I was kind of like, is this for real? You don’t expect it, I don’t know how you ever expect it. There’s so much good work put out there on television throughout the year.
The way I found out was actually on Twitter (@ChrisLXD). I went on Twitter to see if people were responding to a routine I had done the night before. (‘So You Think You Can Dance’ creator, executive producer and regular judge) Nigel (Lythgoe) had given me a critique, and I wanted to see if people were defending me.
I was expecting a little negativity, and the first comment I saw was “Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.” I was like, what? No! Then I went on the website, and I said, oh, it’s for real. That moment changed my life. From now on, it will be Emmy-nominated choreographer.
It’s a real honor, especially for hip-hop. It hasn’t always been well-received, until ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and Fox.
SY: ‘Misty Blue’ and ‘Velocity,’ as well as your group, The LXD, featured on your web series, are your first performances shown on national television and streamed online. What was the feeling like, watching your routines being performed on television and the Internet, and what has the reaction to the routines been like by your fans?
CS: The feedback by fans has been amazing. I’m always willing to take a risk on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ I like doing routines where I think, this will be different.
I can teach the dancers footwork that no one’s really done on the show, for hip-hop. I know it’s true hip-hop foundation, and the show’s never really seen it before. Sometimes they don’t get how it’s hip-hop, but it’s actually a big foundation of hip-hop dancing, more so than a lot of the stuff out there. It’s one of my goals, to keep doing that. Then everyone gets it, and says, oh yeah, that is hip-hop.
People want to see toprocking or house style or Baltimore club style. Then I also got to do animating this season, which was a dream of mine. I love that style. People really connect and respond well to that style. It’s crazy. (laughs)
SY: Your web series, ‘The LXD,’ follows two groups of rival dancers: The Alliance of the Dark, the villains, and The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, the heroes, who discover they have superpowers through their dance abilities. The entire story takes place over hundreds of years, beginning in the 1920s up to the year 3000. Where did you and The LXD come up with the idea for the web series?
CS: A long time ago, after ‘Step Up 2,’ we battled Miley Cyrus on YouTube. It was the world’s largest online dance battle. It went viral back then, and had I think it got about 20 million views, which back then, was crazy. You didn’t have the 100 million views that we have now.
It was led by Jon Chu and (‘Step Up’ series actor) Adam Sevani, and Jon got about 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. We thought, we have this huge audience now, lets do something with it.
Jon used the dance empire Superhuman, who defy gravity and break rules and normal human possibilities with their bodies. He wanted to show that, and wanted to create a legion of extraordinary dancers who are superheros fighting for good. Then you have to create this group of extraordinary villains, so they’ll have something to fight against.
So it was this fun, dream job for me. Jon and I were involved in the creative process, and it was this huge learning process. Jon had us directing and producing and writing and learning the whole package. It’s this amazing thing that I’m extremely proud of.
SY: Speaking of Jon, besides creating ‘The LXD,’ he also wrote, directed and produced the series. Like you mentioned, he also directed ‘Step Up 2′ and ‘Step Up 3D,’ which you acted in. What was it like working with Jon on the web series and the films? Did you collaborate on the dance routines?
CS: Yeah, in a big sense, he discovered me in a way. He really took me under his wing and taught me so much. He definitely let me and (fellow actor and choreographer) Harry (Shum Jr.) collaborate with him on ‘The LXD.’ We created it with him, and we come up with concepts and ideas.
There was a period where Jon had to leave ‘The LXD’ to direct ‘Step Up 3,’ so Harry and I were even more involved (with the web series) at that point. We were making sure we were doing it, and Jon, justice, for all the creative aspects and tones he already set. So it definitely put a lot of responsibility on myself and Harry, but it was good and crazy.
As far as the ‘Step Up 2′ and ‘Step Up 3′ characters go, I was acting and dancing. I wasn’t on the creative side. One of the coolest things that happened to me was ‘Step Up: Revolution’ came around. Although Jon wasn’t directing it, he was producing it.
I also had a relationship with Scott Speer, who directed it, through ‘LXD.’ It all came around full circle. They put me in as a choreographer for the first time in the franchise, which was a huge deal for me. It came full circle, thanks to the training Jon gave me. I was able to be on the other side of the camera.
SY: Like you mentioned, you were a fully credited choreographer for ‘Step Up: Revolution.’ What was the experience like, coming up with the choreography for the dances in the movie?
CS: It was amazing. The number I was fully in charge of was the office plaza number, the one with everyone in the suits. That was an incredible experience. I had 60 dancers in rehearsal. I had these huge visuals with all these bodies.
I tried to take it to a real innovative place with hip-hop. There was also a lot of animating in that piece, which is something I love. It was incredible.I got to work with people like Twitch (Stephen Boss) and Jet Li. It was a crazy piece.
Then I also got to do some of the finale with (‘Footloose’ choreographer) Jamal Sims and Jon and (‘Stomp The Yard’ choreographer) Chuck Maldonado and (fellow ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ choreographer) Travis Wall. So it was this crazy, creative team of people.
We had the time of our lives with these dancers. I feel like it shows on the screen. It looks like we all had the best time. There weren’t any rules or boundaries, we got to break all those.
SY: Like you mentioned, you worked on some of the choreography for ‘Step Up: Revolution’ with Travis, Chuck and Jamal. What was your working relationship like with them on the film? Since Travis is also a choreographer for ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ did you know him before you began working on the film?
CS: Absolutely, we all knew each other, we were all friends. We all support each other, and love each other’s work.
In the process, I worked very closely with Jamal, he was the supervising choreographer. So basically everything was riding on this shoulders. In the process, he specifically gave me the role of choreography the office plaza routine, which I kind of got to do by myself.
Then Jamal, Travis and I collaborated on the museum number. I got to work with these Hoberman spheres, which are circles that kind of expand.
Then on the finale, that’s where we all collaborated together. That’s the time we really all came together full-force. I got to do Adam Sevani’s routine with the shields. I also got to do the part with the cops. I also got to collaborate with Chuck on the wall choreography. It was crazy.
Then Travis had his own bit in the finale. So I didn’t really get to work with Travis like I did with Jamal. But I want to make that happen someday.
SY: Besides ‘The LXD,’ ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Step Up: Revolution,’ you have also choreographed for several artists, including Miley Cyrus. You have also choreographed pieces for the 82nd Academy Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. What were those experiences like?
CS: Oh, they were amazing. When I worked with Miley, it was with Jamal Sims. He was the director, and the choreographer, of the tour. It was one of the first things I’ve ever done as a choreographer.
Jamal’s a big mentor of mine, and he said, do you want to learn to be a choreographer? I said yes, and he said, I’m doing Miley Cyrus’ tour, so come down to do a number. I said okay, went down and did the number and got the bug.
I said, do you mind if I just hang around? You don’t have to pay me, I just want to chill and learn. He goes, really, you want to do that? I said yes, and he said by all means, hang out. I stayed with them for the whole run of the tour, for two months, and soaked up everything I could.
Jamal’s a genius, so it was really amazing to be a part of that project. The tour was amazing. I didn’t know how talented Miley was until I worked with her-she’s really incredible.
It’s amazing to work with these musical geniuses, and they trust me, this young kid, with their whole show. It’s pretty amazing.
Then the Academy Awards was a dream come true, with Adam Shankman (who directed the televised awards ceremony). That came from a performance from ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ A lot came from that performance.
Adam watched our tech rehearsal the day before we performed it. He said, Harry, Chris, how would you like to choreograph on the Academy Awards? We said, let me check my schedule…yeah, we’d love to.
The next day he came in, and brought in his producing partner and a couple of executives. He said here’s your shot, don’t blow it. We said, oh my gosh, and we performed and did our last run-through. He said, good job guys, I’ll see you at the Academy Awards. It was amazing.
SY: Besides dancing, you’re also an avid supporter and collaborator of several charities, including Invisible Children, Inc. and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’s Dizzy Feet Foundation. Why do you think it’s important to be involved in these charities?
CS: I think it’s the most important thing I do. Every time I get stressed out working on a job on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ I really step back and go, take it easy, relax. This is an art form you’re doing. It’s important, but it’s fine if I go, I failed.
With the organizations, we cannot fail. There is no, oh well, we tried. With Invisible Children, Inc., we have to meet the goal, which is to rescue the child soldiers. Anytime I do anything with them, I go, this is what I have to put my time into and work on, to really make a difference.
By incorporating some dance into their campaign, we try to reach more and more people. We know how powerful dance is. It’s a universal language that everyone can understand. If we can get everyone to do the same dance, and know where that dance comes from, there will be that much more awareness about the conflict. It started in northern Uganda, and spread to the Congo and southern Sudan. We can really make a difference.
I’ve worked with a lot of charities, and children specifically, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just groundbreaking. They’re going to do it, whether people believe in it or not. They’re going to fix it, which is pretty amazing.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects, whether dancing, choreographing or with your charities, lined up that you can discuss?
CS: Yeah, I have a film coming out next year that I got to choreograph. It’s called ‘Teen Beach,’ and it’s a Disney Channel original movie. I’m really excited for it.
It’s directed by Jeffrey Hornaday, who’s also a choreographer. He did ‘Captain EO,’ and the original ‘Chorus Line’ movie and ‘Flashdance.’ It was such an amazing experience, working with Jeff. I can’t wait to see the final project.
It was a beautiful thing for me, because it’s a musical. On ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ I do hip-hop choreography, but I love musical theater. It’s a big part of my coming up as a choreographer.
It was a great opportunity, it was on the beach and it was fun. It was fun to go back to the ’60s go-go and ‘West Side Story’ days. I had a blast, and can’t wait to see it. It stars Ross Lynch, who’s an amazing dancer and a phenomenal talent. So I’m really excited to see it.
Written by: Karen Benardello
Photo Credit: Gabriel Goldberg