Dance phenomenon Travis Wall and his mom Denise are no strangers to the spotlight. Travis’ success on “So You Think You Can Dance,” followed by his own reality show, have propelled him to reality dance stardom. Though he’s working behind the scenes as a choreographer these days, you can still catch him performing occasionally with his dance company, Shaping Sound. And Denise is a recognized dance expert in her own right, having taught dance for 38 years, founded her own studio, and produced over 50 dancers who have gone on to pursue dance professionally. Now these two are shining a light on the world of competitive dance with their new documentary “I Dream of Dance.”
The film follows Denise as she inspires her students to achieve the impossible when they attempt to win Nationals for the third time in a row—a feat that’s never been done before. The Walls aren’t the only familiar faces you’ll see either. Dance celebs like tWitch, Allison Holker, and Stacey Tookey also make appearances in the film. Dance Spirit spoke with the Walls about what it’s like being surrounded by cameras all the time and what they hope people will take away from the film. You can also catch an exclusive look at the trailer before the film comes out on October 2nd.
What made you decide to get involved with this project?
Denise: I’ve worked with the producer and director before for another project. And they’ve seen how crazy my life is and said “This looks like a story. How about it?”
Travis: My mom’s life was filmed for over a year, so with how much interaction I have at the dance studio, I walked right into it. And I wanted to be there to shed light on what my mom does, how passionate she is, and how much she sacrifices for the art of dance and how she inspires these dancers’ lives.
What do you hope people will take away from the documentary?
D: I hope people take away the passion that not only dance teachers have, but that the kids have, too. And I wanted non-dancers to get a better understanding of dance and for them to see the life lessons that it teaches and the commitment that it takes. Dancers already know this, but dance gives you a great work ethic.
T: My mom sacrifices everything. She’s treated every dance student like her own child and has always put them first. She’s a special woman to so many people and I think this documentary sheds light on how much she gives.
What’s it like having cameras follow you guys around all the time?
D: It didn’t bother me because I’m used to being on camera. When Travis had his reality show and I was on the show, I just went with the flow and acted like the cameras weren’t there. But for the kids it was more of an adjustment. You never knew when the crew was going to be there, but after they filmed a couple of rehearsals and classes, the kids just went with it.
T: When I’m deep inside creation mode I hate cameras. It intrudes on my creative process and I feel like I have to edit myself. So I’ll give a taste of it, and then the cameras have to go. That’s how I’ve always been. That’s how I was with my reality TV show and “So You Think You Can Dance.” I never do the full routine on the first day. I always wait till the cameras are gone to really dive into the piece. And there were moments during the filming where I had to ask the cameras to leave. You say “This is my space; can you respect it? I’ll bring ya back in when I have something to show you.”
What’s your favorite moment from the documentary?
D: One of my favorite moments was the scene where one of my senior dancers, who was leaving to go to college, was hugging me and telling me how hard it’s going to be not being around me. And there are other moments with other seniors that really touched me. Reliving those moments made me cry because not only am I their teacher, I’m their “Mama D.”
T: I think one of the most beautiful parts in the documentary involves this student whose name is Wyat. He didn’t make Top 20 at Nationals the previous year and you follow him working his butt off because he’s so determined to make Top 20 this time. And then the cameras caught the moment he won Nationals. He didn’t make Top 20 the year before and then came all the way back and won the next year. It was really cool that there were cameras around for that moment to watch how hard this kid worked. He had a goal, set it, achieved it, and exceeded it.
What’s your advice for young dancers who want to dance professionally?
D: Remember that every class makes a difference and that you have to make mistakes to learn, not only in dance but in life. The most important thing is that you learn a lesson from your mistakes. And don’t compare yourself to somebody else. People progress on different timetables. Everybody has different gifts and talents and those emerge at different times.
T: Get ready, because it’s a crazy ride. But there’s nothing like it in the end. Take as much class as possible. Always try and say yes to opportunity. Constantly keep challenging yourself. Remember every rejection will lead you to the place you’re supposed to be.