By Lois Elfman
Each summer, the contestants on So You Think You Can Dance eagerly anticipate the chance to work with choreographer Travis Wall.
Wall’s lyrical, emotional and often thought provoking pieces bring out the best in the talented young competitors vying to be named “America’s favorite dancer.” Although still young enough to be a contestant on the show (the cut-off age is 30), the Virginia native is already a fixture in the dance world.
The three-time Emmy nominee first stepped into the national spotlight at the age of 18 when he competed on season two of So You Think You Can Dance in 2006. Winning consistent praise for his technical skills—honed at his mother’s Virginia Beach dance studio, Denise Wall’s Dance Energy—he also infused sensitivity and depth into the dances, which ranged from hip hop to paso doble.
In 2009, he returned to the show as a choreographer with his pieces standing out for judges and viewers. All the praise didn’t stop Wall, 25, from being a nervous wreck prior to last week’s show, in which he not only choreographed but danced with season 10 contestant Amy Yakima, 19.
“I wanted to not let Amy down because there was a lot riding on the piece,” said Wall, referring to the fact that the viewer votes would determine whether or not Yakima advanced to this season’s final on September 3. “I was trying to get out of my own head about it, but I was really nervous.
“Backstage, I was pacing, my hands were sweating, I had paper towels in my armpits,” he continued. “Amy actually looked at me before we went on stage and said, ‘You’re Travis Wall. Are you seriously nervous right now? Get over it!’ I had the contestant calm the choreographer/dancer down. It was very funny.”
It was the most highly praised performance of the evening.
Although dancing in that particular setting made Wall nervous, he hasn’t been a stranger to the stage. His company, Shaping Sound, which was chronicled on the Oxygen series All the Right Moves, toured earlier this year and he has performed extensively.
In years past, the Best Choreography Emmy has been awarded during the separate Technical Arts ceremony, but this year’s nominees will jointly choreograph a number for the live primetime Emmy broadcast on Sept. 22, in which some of them, including Wall, will perform. At the conclusion of the number the Emmy will be presented.
“Getting a nomination is out of this world,” said Wall. “There’s nothing like the feeling when you get the phone call. I don’t think it proves and states who you are, but the fact that you get recognized is saying you participated in great television. It’s such an honor, overwhelming.”
Wall said he hasn’t yet allowed himself to think about what it would be like to win.
Over the course of his career, Wall has been influenced by his mother’s teaching. Other top dancers, including fellow So You Think You Can Dance alumni Jaimie Goodwin and Danny Tidwell, trained there. Wall described his mother as a selfless, dedicated teacher who is always learning herself so she can bring the best to her students. The Virginia Beach studio has a special energy, fueled by a passion for dance.
“It’s about dancing together,” Wall explained. “It’s not about raising these soloists. It’s about dancing and having this dance family. A lot of the dancers that I use now [in my company] were from my mom’s studio. You feed off each other’s energy and you learn from each other. It’s a community.”
Although his home base in now Los Angeles, Wall spends much of his year on the road—dancing, teaching and choreographing. Earlier this year, he choreographed the off-Broadway show, Bare, a rock musical about teenagers at a co-ed Catholic school grappling with issues of identity, sexuality and religion. In the fall, he’ll work on a movie with comedian Kevin Hart.
“It literally is life on the go,” said Wall, who will choreograph for next week’s So You Think You Can Dance finale.
The lifestyle suits someone so obsessed with flying that he has a tattoo of a wing down his right arm. His life as an artist definitely took flight after he stepped on a stage in 2006 for an audition that would help shape his life.
“I definitely had big dreams and I wanted to achieve them,” said Wall. “Everything I’ve ever wanted has happened and then some.”