NEW YORK (Reuters) - After performing in more than 30 countries, ballroom dance company "Burn The Floor" debuts on Broadway on Sunday with producers saying the time -- and the timing -- is right.
Reality TV dance competition shows such as "Dancing with the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew" and movies such as "Step Up" are watched by millions and dance schools have seen an increase in students.
"Maybe 10 years ago (ballroom dancing) didn't have much street cred," said Jason Gilkison, who started with "Burn The Floor" as a dancer when it was founded in London in 1999. He is now the company's choreographer and director.
"But now to see your favorite celebrity do it on TV you can go out and learn swing and salsa. All of a sudden everyone seems to be dancing," he said. "When we first started the show 10 years ago it was the blue rinse set and now when we were in Japan last time it was screaming teenagers."
"Burn The Floor" producer and founder Harley Medcalf and Carrie Ann Inaba, also a producer of the Broadway show and a judge on "Dancing with the Stars," both said "the time is right" for a ballroom dancing production on Broadway.
"If you said to someone a couple of years ago 'What's the Paso Doble?' they would have been like 'what?'" said Medcalf, referring to a dance style modeled on a Spanish bullfight. "But now through the reality TV shows everyone is educated and they can see the dimension and the meaning (of dance)."
The program for "Burn The Floor," which will perform an initial three-month run on Broadway, also explains the different styles of dance performed in the show.
"What America and the world is learning when you watch great choreography and great dancers perform great choreography it's just beautiful," said Inaba.
"Dancing with the Stars" grew from the British TV show "Strictly Come Dancing" and the format has been licensed in more than 30 countries, while "So You Think You Can Dance" premiered in the United States in 2005 and local versions have and are being developed in more than 10 other countries.
At The Ailey Extension, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater program of dance classes for the general public, there has been an increase in students in 2009 of more than 40 percent compared to last year, said director Yvette Campbell.
Every month, more than 2,400 people take classes at the New York City-based group, up to 800 of whom are new students.
Campbell said the program's popularity was in part boosted when Alvin Ailey dancers were guest performers on "So You Think You Can Dance" a year ago.
"Whenever you're sitting on your sofa watching these television shows you think 'I can take a class,'" she said.
"It's back to a time where it's very romantic and very inspiring to dance like that," Campbell said. "We don't dance together anymore, as a culture we don't do partner dancing anymore ... . Now we do kind of a disco thing where everyone dances together on the floor but we don't touch each other."
She said The Ailey Extension even offers an Indian dance class, which began after the success of Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire."
"This whole Bollywood dance theme has become very popular in the United States, so I started offering this class which is totally sold out," Campbell said.
Joseph Roach, a theater professor at Yale University, said that an increase in the popularity of dance is "in part a direct challenge to the mind-body split, the basis of Western metaphysics, now obsolete."
Susan Ohmer, of the University of Notre Dame's Department of Film, Television and Theater, said she believes audiences admire the skill and focus of dancers in the reality TV shows and that it has become more acceptable because of some of the competitors, which include athletes such as football players.
"Dancing is not limited to a particular class or to people with lots of leisure time," she said. "It can be learned in a short period of time by people with athletic abilities, and that gives it a more populist appeal."
Editing by Doina Chiacu