When it comes to inspiring Americans to get up and dance, there’s perhaps no better advocate than Nigel Lythgoe. The judge and co-creator of the Fox series So You Think You Can Dance began dancing when he was 10 years old and since then toured with a national ballet production, joined BBC’s Young Generation troupe as a dancer and choreographer, and even performed before the Queen of England.
Last year, Lythgoe, who also executive-produces American Idol, created the first ever National Dance Day through his Dizzy Feet Foundation, which provides scholarships to aspiring dancers. The U.S. Congress even officially recognized the day with a resolution. This year he partnered with the Larry King Cardiac Foundation (and Everyday Health) to kick off the public service campaign,Dance 4 Your Life!, which encourages Americans to dance all year round.
When National Dance Day arrives this year on July 30, Lythgoe hopes Americans will turn up the music and start their own dance parties or head to one of the local events at Six Flags locations across the country. To get the party started, participants can tune in to three how-to videos featuring well-known choreographers Mary Murphy, Robin Antin, and Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo, and then show off their own moves by uploading videos to YouTube.
Everyday Health sat down with Lythgoe to chat about dance, health, and his go-to moves.
Everyday Health: How did you come up with the idea for National Dance Day?
Nigel Lythgoe: I had watched a program on childhood obesity, and it got me thinking about a way to help. Then I woke up a couple of mornings later and thought that a national dance day was a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: It helps with obesity and health, and it puts dance into the heads of kids, which is, for me, important.
EH: So, what do we do on National Dance Day? Have a dance party at home? In the streets?
NL: I talked three different choreographers [Mary Murphy, Robin Antin, and Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo] into making dance videos of varying difficulty to put on the Web to give us some inspiration. But you certainly don’t have to learn one of their dances. National Dance Day is about individuals and everyone doing their part. I don’t want to be responsible for America, but hopefully Americans will get behind it for themselves.
This is an exciting opportunity to get your dancing schools, clubs, and societies together. If you don’t belong to anything like that, then just find out where the big routine is going to happen in your area and go and join that. I want people to take responsibility for their health on that day and say, “Hey, I’m going to have a lot of fun.”
EH: And dancing is so fun, but people may not realize just how healthy it is, right?
NL: The heart is a muscle and it needs to be used — and not just by falling in love. Any way of getting the heart rate up is tremendous, whether it’s brisk walking, jogging, or for me, obviously, the way I’d like to see people do it is by dancing. Dancing has for so long been in the shadows of American society, and now that we’ve brought it out with programs like Dance Your Ass Off, So You Think You Can Dance, and America’s Next Best Dance Crew, I’d love to see it stay out there in public consciousness. Plus, when we get up and jump around, it also gives us confidence.
EH: Having been a dancer for so long, have you always been so health-focused?
NL: Well, in 2003, I had a heart attack basically because I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, which stopped immediately after. If you can’t give up smoking, I recommend a heart attack [as motivation to quit], as long as you get through it, that is. In the same year, I got peritonitis [inflammation of the wall of the abdomen], and I lost 15 feet of my intestines after my appendix exploded. So it was a bad year for me, but having got through that, I’m much more aware of my health now. I used to think I was invulnerable like Superman. A lot of us go through life believing we don’t need to pay close enough attention to our health, especially if we’re not overweight. We think, “Oh we’re fine.” And of course we’re not.
EH: Can you help us out for National Dance Day: What are your go-to dance moves now? Do you put on a show whenever there’s a dance floor and music?
NL: God, no! I’m always frightened to death. I’m nervous all the time. And I’m such an extrovert when I’m out there [on the show] that people don’t truly realize I’m an introvert.
When I was young, I danced for Her Majesty the Queen. That was a huge thing for me, but I was frightened to death. Even now, I’m a real wallflower. People expect me to be brilliant, so when I’m just tapping my feet and bouncing from side to side, they go, “Is that it? Where’s all the waving? Aren’t you going to spin around on your head?” No, the only break dancing I’d be able to do is to break my neck.
Find out where the National Dance Day activities are in your area, and learn about the health benefits of dance.