Not one to stay idle, Paula Abdul leaps back with 'Live to Dance'


Those who high-kick across the kitchen when only goldfish are watching, those who tap because the surface below their feet has the right reverb and those who turn simply for the joy of spinning embody the CBS show "Live to Dance."

The Tuesday, Jan. 4, two-hour premiere is Paula Abdul's splashy return to network television. As an executive producer, mentor and chief cheerleader, Abdul is the force behind the show.

Above all, Abdul is a dancer.

"Coming up with the title of the show was just about that," she says. "It was, what is going to be that coined phrase that really describes what people feel like?

"The spirit and psyche of dancers are unlike any other performer," she continues. "The amount of dedication and putting yourself out there and the toll it takes on your body. But when you are doing what you are doing, you are in that zone. It is liberating. Dancers are that element that put the final touches on everything that is beautiful."

Abdul estimates 10,000 dancers across the country auditioned for the show, which moves to its regular time slot Wednesday, Jan. 5, and will be broadcast live beginning Jan. 12.

Dancers compete as soloists or in huge groups, Abdul says, and there are no age limits; the youngest hopeful was 6 and the eldest 93. All vie for the $500,000 prize.Abdul is careful to explain that she, Travis Payne and Kimberly Wyatt are not judges.

"This is not a show about judging," Abdul says. "We are leading experts. We all have extensive backgrounds in dance.

"The show is such a good-feeling show," Abdul says. "It is just the way of taking the judge out of it and putting the expert into it. It inspires.

"I am very mindful of kids in groups," she continues. "I can immediately notice the shortness of breath, and I see the flush in their cheeks, and at that moment (you think) how do you address someone in their tender years 9, 10 and 11, even into the teens. It isn't about a criticism; it's something that empowers them how to land the next audition. And that is a really wonderful experience."

Only a two-minute preview of the show was available at this writing, revealing a very toned Abdul and dancers exhibiting a wide spectrum of talent performing all forms of dance. Abdul was clear she didn't want goofy people throwing on chicken suits and doing the bunny hop just so they could say they auditioned.

"I didn't want this show to be about people being silly and do silly dancing," she says. "I didn't want that spirit. I wanted to make it where people get to operate in their unique ability."

Of the acts shown in the preview tape, which looks enticing, a few images linger. There's the future of dance found in a boy who explains he had to sacrifice sports but doesn't mind because he has to dance.

And there's a white-haired woman who looks as if she were born when women couldn't vote. She rocks fishnet stockings as she taps away. She's not, though, the past of dance; she still dances.

Both, clearly, live to dance.

Like all true dancers, Abdul honors the generations before her who forged new forms of dance and brought it to more people. Abdul's heroes are choreographer Bob Fosse, who changed Broadway dance, and the legendary Gene Kelly, who made it cool to dance in khakis and loafers. Abdul had the experience of a lifetime with Kelly when he rehearsed her for a Diet Coke commercial. She remains grateful that she had the chance to work with him.

Among the knowledge Abdul tries to pass onto newer dancers is "to operate from an area of gratitude," she says.

She also wants to impart the sheer joy of dancing and the constant need to hone skills. This philosophy is different from the typical judges panel. Besides having no official judges, "Live to Dance" will be different from "So You Think You Can Dance" in that dancers stay within their chosen genres.

Abdul, trained in tap, ballet, modern and jazz, also dances hip-hop and is game for any genre. She continues to take class.

"I keep myself as a perpetual student," Abdul says. "The only way you become a great teacher is to be a great student."

As a student, teacher, producer and mentor on "Live to Dance," Abdul sees the process from all angles. Viewers, however, need not be dance experts.

"The audience is not going to have to understand what pirouettes are or grand jetes," Abdul says. "They have to have something strike a chord in their hearts; maybe they wished their parents danced like this couple does or wished they were in a group with 25 members."

"Live to Dance" is also one of those shows the family can watch together. "Everyone gets something different from it," Abdul says. "They understand the level of commitment, and these people are living to dance."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad