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‘Burn the Floor’ fires up intensity on ballroom dancing

During a performance of “Burn the Floor,” Damon and Rebecca Sugden present Tanguerra, the firey dance of passion.  Courtesy of “Burn the Floor” (Courtesy of “Burn the Floor” / The Spokesman-Review)

Maybe there are a few people who still think of “ballroom dancing” as a staid waltz around the parquet, as in “The Lawrence Welk Show.” “Burn the Floor” will set that notion afire, dance around it and stomp it to ashes.

This global touring spectacle, which makes its first visit to Spokane on Saturday, is a high-energy showcase for competition ballroom dancing, which is another animal entirely. This show is far more “Dancing With the Stars” than “Lawrence Welk.”

Here’s how Australian reviewer Pier Leach described the current “Burn the Floor” show, which is subtitled “FloorPlay”:

“The young female dancers look more like they’ve stepped off a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot than out of a ballroom dance hall, while the shirts on the male dancers start off unbuttoned before they succumb to the collective will of most of the audience, and are relinquished altogether.”

“Burn the Floor” is not a competition itself, but an elaborate, high-voltage vehicle for competition-tested dancers from around the world.

The 20-plus dancers in the troupe all have earned top competition credentials in places ranging from Britain to Australia to Sweden to Slovakia and Russia.

The show was conceived in Britain in 1997 when producer Harley Medcalf saw a display of ballroom and Latin dancing at Sir Elton John’s 50th Birthday Celebration in London.

Medcalf had the “spark of an idea”: Why not create an entire theatrical extravaganza with the same energy and talent?

“I was soon to meet and discover the ballroom dance world and its people, with their intensity, commitment, discipline and work ethic,” wrote Medcalf, in a history of “Burn the Floor” for the official Web site.

So he put together a “Burn the Floor” film project in England in 1999, which led to a European tour later that year. Crowds responded enthusiastically.

Since then, the show has continued touring all over the world, with audiences adding up to the millions. It has recently been a crowd-pleasing staple in places as varied as Shanghai, Osaka, Monte Carlo, Melbourne, Atlantic City, Biloxi, Miss. and Las Vegas.

The show has undergone several overhauls over the years, but the original spirit prevails, according to Medcalf.

“In all, the very heart of our show remains unchanged, and it is simply defined by the spirit of the dancers, their rebellious nature now directed impeccably by Jason Gilkison in ‘FloorPlay,’ ” he wrote.

The show consists of a series of dance vignettes which evoke such settings as a Harlem nightclub, an Argentine tango palace, a ’20s speakeasy, a Spanish bull ring and the Latin Quarter.

The dance styles range from rumba to samba to jitterbug to salsa to, yes, waltz. There is even a “dance duel.”

Even if some of the dance styles are traditional, the lighting and costumes are thoroughly contemporary.

Much of the music is prerecorded, but the show has its own percussionists and vocalists, who perform songs ranging from “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” to “Sing, Sing, Sing” to “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “Tainted Love.”

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at

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