Published: April 13, 2011
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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH...
HARLEY MEDCALF

We are very honoured to give you an exclusive interview with Australian born, Harley Medcalf, Creator & Producer of the worldwide phenomenon Burn the Floor.
Reading through his heartfelt answers you will find out how from running a dance in Sydney's local Townhall, he has become a showbiz guru and worked with miriad of megastars, from Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra, from Elton John to Billy Joel, from Queen to Meat Loaf to Lionel Richie, to name but a few.
A self-made man in the jungle world of showbiz!
Ladies & Gentlemen, SBF member: Mr. Harley Medcalf.
Harley Medcalf

Harley with Billy Joel & Elton John at the 'Face to Face' Tour in Australia
1998
  • How did you get into show business?
    Quote ...standing in Times Square, in 2009, looking up at the Burn the Floor billboard... just blew me away!...
    Harley Medcalf: I started running a "dance", at a local Town Hall in Sydney in the summer of 1971. It wasn't about being in show business, rather very hot weekends at the beach, bored, nothing to do, nowhere for anyone to go. It was just a fun thing, that took on a life of its own. One dance became two, became a circuit, moved into concert halls, became international with concerts and events. Those early dances gave me the showbiz bug, and I sort of ran away with the circus! Thankfully I am still having fun, but have not been back to the beach for a long time!

  • Do you dance yourself?
    HM: I certainly can't ballroom dance. No matter what I try, my two left feet stay firmly planted on the ground. Yet, in last ten years ballroom dancing has changed my life.

  • How did the concept of Burn The Floor first get started?
    HM: Well into the prime of my career as a concert promoter and producer, at a chance meeting in London in 1997, I was touched by ballroom dancers, instantly feeling their passion, joy and commitment to dance and to life. Was I simply in the right place at the right time? A chance meeting for me, became my destiny!
    I began following the dancers in competitions, watching these incredible kids who were sleeping on floors, in and out of jobs, and putting every cent of family earned money towards dance lessons and travel. I desperately wanted to find a way to work with these young dancers. Was there a missing ingredient in ballroom dance competition I could discover? With my background in concert production I began to investigate adding theatre technology and presentation to the skill and artistry the dancers revealed on the ballroom competition floor. This was my first thread of an idea to create a new ballroom dance show.


  • What did it take to turn this idea into a production and did working under pressure help to generate new ideas?
    Harley with a larger than life Dame Edna outside the Music Box Theatre Broadway opening
November 2004 HM: Early in 1999 working in Hammersmith in an old military barracks hall, twelve hours a day, six days a week for six weeks, followed by a week of technical rehearsals, a show began to take shape.
    After chaotic dress rehearsals, the first shows were performed with much relief at the Bournemouth International Centre for our world premiere. A collection of spirited dancers, assembled from fifteen different countries, the fierce personalities all honed in dance competition, excelled on stage, the months of work and pressure released. The enduring comment of the night captured the feeling in the company: "it's as if we have all won the competition tonight!" Seemingly the Burn the Floor tradition of delivering under pressure and creating opportunity from little, 'no matter what it takes' was born at this time.

    Quote ...in now 40 years of touring, it was Ballroom Dancers I totally fell in love with, who captivated me, and sent my life in a totally different direction....
  • How did you develop this?
    HM: A never-ending cycle of marketing and touring around the world began, often with the show just running on euphoria and adrenalin. It was a time of solid learning, what worked, and what did not work in the show, with the very best teacher...the audience! Everyone could see we had a good show, but what would it take to make it great? Would our dancers, their vitality, be foundation enough to sustain us?
    Slowly, we were learning to succeed in any circumstances, no matter how challenging, how testing, good or difficult. Amidst critical reviews, I could still stand amongst our gradually growing audiences, and feel a chill, the hair on the back of my neck raised by watching the rumba or waltz.


  • Was ballroom dancing already popular at that time?
    HM: In these early times we did not reveal the "B" world in our marketing. Ballroom had been consigned to the back blocks of fashion as passť, out of date, so better to not mention it at all? At the very suggestion of the Ballroom word, publicists, promoters, venues alike gave me more of a quizzical look!

  • How did your partnership with Jason Gilkison come about?
    HM: The regular touring gave me time to spend with Jason Gilkison, who with Peta Roby had joined our first company in Bournemouth. It was to be my dance education, as Jason and Peta revealed to me pivotal moments of their wonderful journey. I gradually began to understand, and potentially, to discover the future direction of Burn the Floor, that for us production was secondary, that the 'truth' was to be in the dance.

    New York City, Providence Night Club
Harley attends the after party for the Broadway opening night for 'Burn the Floor'
August 2009 Having involved Jason in the choreography and make over process of the show since 2000, I then asked him to create a totally new version of Burn the Floor, his vision, his creativity for our future touring and together with Peta and our younger new breed of dancers, we began this process in 2005.
    Quote ...Dance is such a joy, healthy, wholesome, and if you embrace it, inspirational. There is much more to discover...
    Little did I know that Jason had 'secretly' been keeping notes for his own show, his own bold statement, to reinvent ballroom in a new fashion. He described it in a very animated way, as "finding a gem in your grandmother's jewellery box, polishing it, and then revealing it in a brand new setting".

    And so, this time we began an extensive workshop, no need to rush this new production. And, as the saying goes: "timing is everything". A groundswell had begun, with the onset of reality dance television, and Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, along with dance movies and studios full of new clientele.


  • When did Burn the Floor come to a turning point?
    HM: In 2006 we were finally able to reveal the cloak and boldly and honestly call ourselves a Ballroom show. Actually not just reveal, but shout it from the rooftops!
    Although our experiments continued as we began to tour the new Burn the Floor show, we were more focused and strategic. 'Ballroom. Reinvented' was our tag line, a fitting and proud description of the Gilkison ethic.
    In 2008 we clocked up another touring benchmark, celebrating performances in 150 cities, all in less than ten years!


  • Up until now, what has been your most prestigious venue?
    HM: We have played in the Royal Albert Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Tokyo Forum, the Great Hall of the People in Beijing all highlights, absolutely. Plus some stunning spaces. Like the Colonial Theatre in Boston, perhaps the most beautiful, or the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, simply breathtaking, or the historic Canon Theatre in Toronto.
    However, in July 2009 we reached new heights with our first season on Broadway, at the gem, the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street. Ballroom on Broadway! Just walking onto that stage was something, but no prouder moment for the Burn the Floor company, as we extended our season and performed 193 shows.
    Really, just standing on 48th St was enough to do me in emotionally, thirty plus Broadway Theatres within a few blocks, below your 'own' marquee, crowd lines extended down the block to Times Square. That was so special, beyond words, the total shiver factor.


  • New York City, Longacre Theatre
Theatre marquee announcing 'Burn the Floor'
2009 How does it feel to be so successful after passionately believing in something that at one time, others believed to be passť?
    HM: I can proudly stand amongst the audience, feeling, knowing, that they too can now experience that touch of the dancers, the chill of excitement, fuelled by their rebellious energy, chemistry and passion, the very elements that first intoxicated me. I can easily shed a few tears in the back row any night, watching this show, but standing in Times Square, in 2009, looking up at the Burn the Floor billboard... just blew me away!

  • What in your opinion has made Burn the Floor such an international success?
    HM: Dance needs no translation, so we have been successful in unexpected places like China, where we have toured four times, Japan where we have been six times and Korea, with four tours. Often our success in Asia has helped keep the show on the road. The live show has always evolved, giving a fresh show to our fans over the years. We have worked hard to develop new markets, investing time and money of course, to tour regularly and build an audience. The dancers have been tireless with their commitment to publicity and interviews. Overall it has been about giving value, our dancers have always delivered 100% on stage, every night, and audiences recognise and appreciate that.
    Quote ...Was I simply in the right place at the right time? A chance meeting for me, became my destiny!...


  • What does it take to move a massive production across vast distances when touring?
    HM: Touring is a business for control freaks. Fortunately, I know a good control freak when I see one, so I have been able to put together a great team of people to run Burn the Floor, all serious eight-day a week, committed, talented work-a-holics. They make is seem easy, moving tonnes of cargo, stacks and stacks of paperwork and red tape, along with forty people, on crazy tight deadlines, often razors edge. The Burn the Floor team in action is a joy to behold.

  • New York City, Longacre Theatre
Raj Kapoor, Julie McDonald, Harley Medcalf, Jason Gilkison & Tony Selznick
2009 How do audiences differ throughout the world and what changes do you have to make to meet their expectations?
    HM: We perform the same show in every market. We don't have a dialogue, so that makes our recipe simple. We have always tried to have a different opening surprise when going into repeat markets. Traditionally our dancers always enter through the audience seating ares at the top of the show. We have tried to reveal this in different ways, sort of a Burn the Floor signature, or surprise factor to kick the night off. Really though, it is always about giving value for money, sending everyone home feeling uplifted, happy, with a big smile, feet tapping on the way out.

  • The whole world has been taken by storm with dance fever through dance reality TV shows and stage productions such as Burn the Floor. How do you see this developing in the future?
    HM: I don't feel the dance boom is near it's peak. Dance is such a joy, healthy, wholesome, and if you embrace it, inspirational. There is much more to discover. The younger dancers coming through are more committed, more focussed, and have this rebellious flair, so the future holds real promise, if not excitement.

  • In the past you have worked with megastars such as Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Billy Joel, Michael Crawford, Billy Connolly, Queen, Michael Flatley, Meat Loaf, Barry Humphries, Lionel Richie, Kenny G and Sarah Brightman. How different is it working in the Ballroom dance world?
    Quote ...in last ten years ballroom dancing has changed my life...

    HM: I've had a really lucky career, working with amazing people. You learn fast on the road or get hit by a truck and limp away. It is a tough training ground. I learnt from some great teachers, production managers who were capable of making something out of nothing, real leaders with 'give me solutions not problems' attitudes. Production guys like Stickles, Lamb, Stansfield, Bradley. Managers who could cut you to shreds with a 'stare'. I toured with Artists who would 'raise the hair on the back of you neck' every night, some all-time legends, great experiences you could only dream of. But in the end, in now 40 years of touring, it was Ballroom Dancers I totally fell in love with, who captivated me, and sent my life in a totally different direction. These dancers inspired me and challenged me with their work ethic and discipline, and above all their grace, beauty and abundance of talent.

    Can you please tell us about the workshops that you've organised?
  • Harley just after the completed tour with Billy Connolly, 'The Man' Australian Tour
March 2011 HM: We are currently developing our fitness workshops, as part of the development of the Burn the Floor brand and we are operating in four studios in and around Perth. Jason has choreographed the sessions which are run by some of our young dancers. You can learn basic dance steps of Cha Cha Cha, Samba and Salsa in a class environment which focuses on cardiac fitness and strength. We are talking our time, developing a really strong, well thought out, one-hour long routine before we begin to push to other market horizons. We have such an opportunity with the growing brand strength of Burn the Floor.
    Ideally this will be a stepping stone to TV content for us. And then there is the Burn the Floor movie that's in development. Might need nine-day workers...


  • What do you think of ShowBiz Friends?
    HM: Show business is about networks and networking, so this is a great initiative.


    Thank you Harley for this enticing interview and best of luck with your upcoming projects!!!