Robert Dean's Behind The Scenes 

To kick off his series ROBERT DEAN’S BEHIND THE SCENES, Robert sits down with Peta Roby & Nic Notley, Producers of BURN THE FLOOR!

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Peta Roby & Nic Notley, Producers of BURN THE FLOOR

How and when did you start your career in ballroom dance?

Peta: I was dancing before I was born. Both my parents were Championship Ballroom dancers from Perth Australia. I did start ballet first at 5. By the age of 7, I was introduced to my one and only dance partner, a young man called Jason Gilkison. We danced together for over 35 years, competing around the world, before retiring to headline Burn the Floor.

What started your career in entertainment and then ballroom dance?

Nic: Peta and I have been married over 30 years. We met back in 1983 on a cruise ship called the Oriana. I was working onboard as a bartender. Peta had won the cruise as a prize from a dance competition. From that time on, Peta has unsuccessfully tried to teach me to dance. In 2004 she gave up and we became producing partners with Harley Medcalf, the founder of Burn the Floor.

How did you transfer from dancer to choreographer/director?

Peta: The biggest challenge is the belief in yourself that you can do this. I always work closely with my dancers. I am a collaborator, not a dictator. I feel it is important to my dancers, as it gives them an emotional ownership to the show and their performances. I do though, always get the last word! As a dancer I was always taught to let the outside in and with our shows I am constantly aware of the evolution of day-to-day life. I need to be in tune with this. Finally, my largest role is to recognize the individual talent and find and release and allow the best out of my dancers.

Where did you get your concept for your show?

We are fortunate in our artform that we have an international language of dance, no spoken words, so all our communication with our audience is through dance and music. So, it is always the music that we work closely with. The music needs to relate to our audience. When we were offered our contract onboard the Epic, which was European based, Richard Ambrose and Robert Hertenstein explained the international breakdown of the passengers and explained they were very different than our US based cruise passengers. With this knowledge behind us, we study the music culture in each country first and then build a show around this.

What was your mission and what makes your show important to you?

What I love about the theater is the audience. The audience on a cruise ship is totally unique. There is an extraordinary equality. There is no breakdown of seats; no “cheap seats;” no class structure. So, you have a room where there is no division. The rich, the working class, the privileged, black, white, educated, Illiterate, gay and straight, happy, sad, single or married all waiting to watch you perform and when those lights go down, all are equal. They are all yours and it is your time to open up your heart to them and take them on a breathtaking journey. Magic, pure Magic …that is why I love theater.

How did the show get to Broadway?

It was Spring 2009. We had booked a 4-week season in a beautiful little theater in San Francisco called the Post Street. We were in our second week when a gentleman introduced himself to me as a major investor for Billy Elliot and asked if we would be interested in performing on Broadway! Four months later, we opened for what was supposed to be a 6-week run. We broke the box office record at the Longacre Theater the first few weeks and were extended 9 months.

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“NCL has pioneered the way forward and is the reason why audiences onboard cruise liners today are treated to major Broadway shows as a regular feature.”

Why collaborate with NCL?

We had tried very hard for many years to start a relationship with NCL. They take entertainment very seriously. They have a team that is brave and have the courage to make some bold decisions and were the only company that wanted to change the perception of cruise ship entertainment. We desperately wanted to be a part of this. NCL has pioneered the way forward and is the reason why audiences onboard cruise liners today are treated to major Broadway shows as a regular feature.

What are the strengths in this collaboration?

The communication and support with NCL are extraordinary, whether it is shoreside Miami, theatrical operations in Tampa or onboard entertainment management, the doors are always open for a discussion on “How we can do better?” Also, and sometimes this is taken for granted, the onboard entertainment management work tirelessly to assist the artists on and off stage. Artists are a strange mixture of many characters, so for onboard management it is not an enviable job. We are very well looked after and our cast always get to feel recognized and respected for their performances, which is very much appreciated and goes a long way to making them try and produce their best show always for their audience …smart management …

What do you attribute to the success of your show with NCL?

The ability to be able to adapt very quickly. Burn the Floor performers have the good fortune to be able to react to the onboard demographic. Our dance captains are in close communication with the Cruise Director who can offer us the information on the passenger demographics of each cruise. Some very interesting information is always available, including which countries the passengers are from, the average age and so on. All great information that is discussed with the cast. When the Breakaway moved from New York to New Orleans there was an obvious different demographic onboard and we adjusted the styling immediately.

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“Our dancers are from all over the globe and are the world’s best Competitive Ballroom and Latin dancers”

What makes this show unique and appealing?

Burn the Floor is a celebration of the Ballroom Dance Art form. Our dancers are from all over the globe and are the world’s best Competitive Ballroom and Latin dancers. It is an art form like no other and is always performed with a partner. Our dancers spend a lifetime working together on their connection, whether it be physical, visual or emotional.

There is an invisible formula with a ship audience and a Burn the Floor show and that is, the audiences are mostly couples. Couples go on a cruise for many reasons; an anniversary, a birthday, a honeymoon, or just to reconnect with one another. So, as a dance company, our motivation is not to break the “4th wall“ but to focus our energy to each other and our dance partners. This creates an emotional bond with our audience and brings them on stage with the dancers. .

If you had one piece of advice to someone starting out, what would it be?

I say this to all our dancers, “There is only one thing free in the theater world and that is the audience’s imagination.” So, it is important for any aspiring artist to understand this. Don’t be a shell; do not hide anything from your audience. They have a right to see your heartache, your pain, your fears and your laughter.

What is your fondest memory with NCL?

Our opening night on the Getaway in Holland will always remain with us. But our fondest memories are always the time when we were at the Tampa facility and we were invited to perform what is known in Tampa as the “Invited Run.” This is a very rare and exceptional opportunity that we are able to perform to our peers. I don’t think I will ever feel so many nerves, excitement and happiness in a dance studio.