Back in 2010, “So You Think You Can Dance” producer Nigel Lythgoe established National Dance Day, an annual celebration of all things dance and a fundraiser for the dance education nonprofit then known as the Dizzy Feet Foundation. Since then, NDD has become a phenomenon. Each year, dancers and dance fans have learned an official NDD routine, showed up in droves for high-profile NDD events at the Kennedy Center and Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and hosted countless NDD parties of their own—always on the last Saturday in July.
But there are big changes afoot (see what we did there?) this year. The 2019 celebration will jump forward a few months on the calendar, to Saturday, September 21st. And Dizzy Feet has undergone an evolution of its own, with a new focus on the health benefits of dance, a new collaboration with the American Heart Association, and a new name: American Dance Movement.
We caught up with Lythgoe to talk about the reasons for all the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
First off: What prompted the reimagining of the Dizzy Feet Foundation?
Dizzy Feet was giving to a lot of schools, and I’d sometimes visit them to follow up on our donation. There was a moment when I visited a class of autistic students, and I saw the transformation that happened in these kids after the music went on and they started to dance. It really hit me, emotionally, that dance could have a huge effect on people who found communication and exercise difficult. Dizzy Feet initially focused on bringing dance to underserved communities, and I didn’t want to stop doing that, but I also wanted to start looking into dance therapy and exercise programs. I talked to the board about it, and many of its members were thinking similar things. We decided that the name “Dizzy Feet” was a little too frivolous for the area we were moving into. So, with help from a public relations company, we agreed on American Dance Movement. We liked “movement” because we meant it in both senses of the word: movement in the body, and forward movement.
And how did the American Heart Association collaboration come about?
They actually approached us! The AHA had seen the NDD videos we’d put out each year, and they asked us to make a dance video for their school health initiative, the Kid’s Heart Challenge. We ended up making three videos for them—one for elementary school kids, one for intermediary school kids, and one for high schools. The choreographers and the dancers were only too willing to give back. And I’m basically the poster child for this initiative—I’ve had two heart attacks.
Why the new date for NDD?
Well, a big part of it is that AHA will be sending out this year’s official NDD routine—choreographed by Matt Steffanina, which is very exciting—to 19 million schoolchildren, and so we figured it’d be a good idea to have NDD fall during the school year. But there was another reason, I’ll be honest: In July, the heat is ridiculous! I always end up looking a sweaty mess. Originally, we opted for the July date to coincide with “SYTYCD,” so we could push NDD on the show. But at the end of the day, getting more people to dance, and in a cooler climate, is what’s important.
Matt Steffanina (center) and dancers celebrating National Dance Day (courtesy American Dance Movement)
Will there still be a “SYTYCD” tie-in to NDD?
Yes, we’ll still find a way to do that, because “SYT” will be on-air all the way through September. And I believe we’re planning to put out the video in early July, so we’ll push that on the show.
How can dancers get involved in NDD and American Dance Movement?
As ever, we need donations, and we need them badly, because we give absolutely everything we can to these organizations. Even a dollar helps. And we want NDD to benefit other charities all over the country, too, so please, if you’re reading this: Organize your own dance parties! There are “days” for everything—hamburger day, you know, pancake day—and they’re all fun, but dance is something so much bigger. It’s a great art form, it’s great exercise. Celebrate it!