Contemporary jazz teacher, Slam, has made his mark on nearly every aspect of the industry from documentary film to the Broadway stage and from international pop tours to memorable TV commercials. If you’ve watched television or opened a fashion magazine in the past year and a half, you’ve probably seen Longchamp’s campaign starring Coco Rocha. And who else would be the mastermind behind the movement than BDC’s own Slam!
What was your dance training like growing up?
I started training to be a classical dancer at age 13. I went to the Royal Ballet School in Antwerp, a school with total of only 100 students. We danced all day and then had 2 hours of academics – Kind of like the Fame school but just for ballet. It was very strict but I’m very happy I did it because it actually made me the dancer that I am today and taught me to be disciplined. Growing up, I would also take a lot of Jazz dance classes at night. But before dancing, I had a big passion for gymnastics. I was obsessed with Nadia Comaneci…but then realized guys don’t get music on the floor exercise so that was a deal breaker for me.
When did you begin auditioning and teaching?
I guess I started auditioning at age 13 because I had to audition to get into the ballet school. But my first real audition for work I would say was at age 19. I used to love going to dance auditions, I remember when I didn’t have the money for class I would just go to auditions to stay in shape – it’s free class! I started giving classes a couple years after, but the actual teaching the classes came much later.
How did you land the job as choreographer for the Longchamp commercial?
Madonna called them. Just kidding! The ad agency approached me. They saw some of my previous work in fashion – Wella, German Vogue, and my recent Glamour Issue with Anne Hathaway – and they were aware of my work. So the producer contacted me and I had a couple meetings with them, I also had a dance rehearsal with Coco Rocha (who happens to be an amazing dancer and we clicked right away). Everything kind of fell in its place and all of our creative energies totally worked together. I’m also sure my expertise in working with women and making them look beautiful was a big help, too. I have experience choreographing a lot fashion productions. In April we just wrapped my second season with Longchamp, shot in NYC with Coco. I think they released some photos of the print ad already and the commercial should be out soon. Stay tuned!
From a choreographer’s standpoint how’s choreographing a commercial different from choreographing a live performance?
It is different but I enjoy both! Choreographing a commercial feels a little bit busier, more spontaneous because half of the time you are still choreographing on set (as it becomes more of a meeting of the minds with the art director). But I like that; I like that nervous energy and constantly changing energy. And also when shooting film, you have more options as far as editing. As a choreographer you can make different versions and edits. It is stressful, though, with all the different voices on set. But overall, it’s pretty amazing.
Choreographing a live performance feels more structured. The rehearsal schedule is set up upfront. When you have organized rehearsals I feel like you have more time to play around with choreography and also get to know the performers more. It feels a little more intimate to me because you get to connect with your audience on an almost spiritual level. And what I love about a live performance is its honesty, it’s either good or bad – there’s no editing process!
What was it like working with models like Coco Rocha and Liisa Winkler?
Amazing! They were both a pleasure.
Lisa comes from a dance background as well; she used to be a ballet dancer in a ballet company in Canada. I liked her innocence. I didn’t even get to rehearse with her in a studio – She flew in from Canada straight to JFK terminal 5 where we shot the Longchamp “You Should Be Dancing” commercial! We only rehearsed on set but she did great.
Working with Coco is amazing too, I always call her “the Martha Graham of modeling.” She does it all. Coco takes amazing direction and it is incredible to work with a true supermodel. And on top of all that she’s the sweetest and most humble person.
Coco has danced before – she was an Irish dancer growing up and she has danced in commercials for Black House White Market and in flash mobs for Fashion’s Night Out. How do you think dance experience helps one as a model?
Everything is movement these days. As you’ve probably heard, “In fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you are out!”
So if you are a model with dance experience, like in Coco’s case, you’re going to work more. I think it’s going to be more inspiring for the photographer and the client to have a model who can play different parts through her movement and follow direction. But then again, I also like working with models that can’t move at all! It becomes a challenge for both of us. There’s something raw about their dance inexperience and it captures a different (but still good) energy. I actually encourage a lot of models – both aspiring and established – to take a dance class… it’ll most definitely help them out on set, at a casting or anywhere they need to “move.”
I saw you on this season of “The Face” where you led models in a dance/movement challenge. What did you look for when you chose the winner of that challenge?
This was actually a great opportunity to show how dance influences fashion these days. I looked at each model’s energy, how quickly she picked up direction, her willingness to learn, and her inspiration. But as it turned out, the girls that had a harder time moving (but still sort of went for it and threw themselves into the challenge) actually photographed great!
Is choreographing for models different than choreographing for dancers since you have to focus on featuring a specific product?
Yes it is different with models. The product is the most important. You will have a really good take of a dance section but the product (in this case, the purse) wasn’t turned the right way or flap wasn’t facing up. So a lot times they go with the take we’re the product looked the best and maybe the performance was a bit less. I must say the energy on a fashion set is different then on a film commercial set with dancers In Fashion there are no rules, you just go! For example, you will start at 9am until 3am and the next day you start again at 9am again! But the choreography itself is basically still a creation from the choreographer… so the difference between choreographing for models is that you are choreographing around a specific product or message. In dance, you are a bit freer as an artist to take the audience where you want to go.