Tim Checks in from The Pulse

July 6, 2008

One of the coolest aspects of being a dancer is the access you have to the industry’s stars. As I write this, I’m sitting in a ballroom inside a Times Square hotel. Every chair in the place, including the one I’m sitting on, is shoved to the walls. Thirty dancers, ages 15 to 23, are taking up the floor. Standing in the middle of them, looking casual in black gym shorts, dark tube socks and a white V-neck T-shirt, is Brian Friedman. This is the same Brian Friedman, of course, who has worked with Pink and Mya and Britney Spears, who became famous on a broader scale for “So You Think You Can Dance” and, more recently, on The X Factor in the United Kingdom.

Brian is here as part of The Pulse, a convention that hits a dozen cities throughout the school year and has capstone summer events here in New York and then in Los Angeles (July 25-27).

Brian is one of a handful of top-shelf choreographers who are here. (Among the others: Mia Michaels, Cris Judd, Dave Scott, Wade Robson and Laurie Ann Gibson.) For the most part they can walk the streets of Manhattan unbothered. Just yesterday, in fact, I passed Cris Judd–a guy who has dealt with paparazzi in his past–walking alone on 53rd Street. But in this industry, and certainly within the walls of this convention, they are giants. Which makes it an incredible opportunity for aspiring dancers to get face-to-face coaching from the best in their field. (Try to find another entertainment field in which that happens. When’s the last time you heard of Justin Timberlake giving singing lessons?)

Last week in Los Angeles, Brian cleared his scheduled for four days and booked studio time and dancers to develop the routines he is teaching to the 700 students. But right now Brian is working with a smaller, select group: the members of his Brian Friedman Intensive. Top dancers from each city The Pulse visited throughout the year were invited to apply for the Intensive. Friedman reviewed about 100 DVD submissions and picked his top 30. They’re learning a full-blown piece that they’ll perform at The Pulse’s Gala event.

Late last week Friedman began teaching his dancers several hours per day. He told me at the time that he wanted to give them both classroom-type instruction and rehearsal-variety coaching.

But there’s a problem.

“We only have enough time for one of those environments,” Brian told me 24 hours into the four-day program. “We feel like we’re down to the wire with time, trying to get everything finished for the show.”

Even though Brian has emphasized to his group that they’re not here simply for the show: “They’re here for the process,” he says–reality remains: There’s a show to perform. While he’s a teacher at heart, he’s a showman too–and his name goes on this show. And so goes Brian’s inner battle: the urge to teach clashing against the urgency to perform.

“I know we’re going to get it finished, and I know it’s going to be an amazing product,” Brian told me. “But I’m still battling my own demons.”

Will he stomp out the demons and manage to simultaneously teach and prep his dancers for the show?

Check back throughout the week!