The West

Jason Gilkison, Shannon Holtzapffel, Carrie Bickmore, Paula Abdul and Aaron Cash. Picture: Supplied

If anyone has been feeling the full force of the reality dance craze continuing to sweep the world off its feet, it's Paula Abdul and Jason Gilkison.

The global pop icon and Perth's own choreographer extraordinaire - judges on Ten's reboot of So You Think You Can Dance Australia following the show's three-year hiatus - are reaping the rewards of a cultural revolution harking back to the MTV-driven dance wave of the 1980s and the golden era of MGM musicals synonymous with Hollywood legends such as Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.

"Yes, it's a return of the golden age," Abdul, who has choreographed for the likes of Janet Jackson and George Michael and the films Big and Jerry Maguire, enthuses from Sydney.

"I think with dancers who are working today, it's the closest thing to the MGM musicals when a dancer was put under contract, or dancers were actually contracted performers who had a steady income.

"It's reminiscent of that time, thank God, and it's a wonderful time for dancers."

Indeed, it was Kelly's appearance in Singin' in the Rain that stole the heart of a four-year-old Abdul, and has continued to inspire the effervescent entertainer throughout a three-decade Grammy and Emmy award-winning career as a dancer, choreographer, singer and television personality (American Idol, The X-Factor America et al).

"I never was the 'Oh, we know she's gonna make it' kind of girl; nobody ever bet on me until I started having my own success and delivering," says the one-time Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader who was discovered by the Jacksons and reinvented herself in the late 80s as a multi-platinum recording artist with sales of more than 60 million copies worldwide.

"All you have to do to really stay in the game is be present and never lose that passion. I connected with passion at four years old . . . I saw Singin' in the Rain, I was kissing the TV set and stood up and looked at my mum and dad and said 'I'm gonna be that'.

"I don't know if it was to the dance of it or the spirit of Gene Kelly or what it made me feel inside but I knew I would be entertaining and communicating with people, and I think that staying with passion is the most critical aspect of having the ability to withstand this tough business.

"And to have longevity is being fearless with that passion . . . I think that's what sold me and it also allowed me to explore different passions in different areas and reinvent myself."

Like Abdul, Gilkison - a ballroom dancing champion in the 80s and 90s - has ridden a wave of post-dance career success with ongoing television appearances in the US and UK, most notably as a choreographer and guest judge on the American flagship of SYTYCD, which this year moves into its 11th season.

While enjoying his household- name status, which spawned from his role as a contributing choreographer on the inaugural 2008 season of SYTYCD Australia, Gilkison could never have predicted the unlikely rise to fame.

"It's crazy, my grandfather was always saying the life of a dancer is not an easy path, you won't get a lot of fame, you'll always be in the background," he recalls.

"But now, all of a sudden, dance is in the forefront of everybody's minds. Who'd have thought dancers would get their time in the spotlight like this?"

Gilkison is quick to sing the praises of fellow Australian SYTYCD judges Aaron Cash, who boasts 10 years as Cher's lead dancer, and Shannon Holtzapffel, whose CV includes working with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

He is also excited by the calibre of the 20 finalists, and confident the regenerated show - hosted by fellow Perth native Carrie Bickmore - will satisfy viewers' appetite for dance shows following Ten's 2012 flop, Everybody Dance Now.

"When SYTYCD Australia stopped after season three, I think there was so much disappointment, particularly from the dance community here because every year we churn out a new batch of great graduates from the full-time courses," Gilkison says.

"There's been so much anticipation to get Australian dance back on TV."

It's a sentiment echoed by Abdul, as she enthusiastically casts an eye over our home-grown talent revelling in dance's new golden age.

"Everyone knows how brilliantly talented Australian actors are, and writers and directors, but the dancers from Australia are really kicking butt in America," she says.

The West Australian

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