Denise Wall may not be a recognizable face on screen and the entertainment industry but she is a recognized dance expert in her own right, having taught dance for 38 years, founded her own studio (Denise Wall’s Dance Energy) and produced over 50 dancers who have gone on to pursue dance professionally.
Now, alongside her famous choreographer son, Travis Wall, she is stepping into the limelight to give us a look behind the curtain of the world of competitive dance in a Documentary titled I Dream of Dance. The film synopsis describes the film as following legendary dance teacher (Denise Wall) and her Emmy-Award winning son (Travis Wall) as they transform the lives of the kids they teach, inspiring them to compete for the title of the Best Dancer and the Top Teen Dance Group in America, but the film is more than that.
Whatever you’re dealing with people look at the final result, everybody wants everything quick because they see the end result. They don’t see the journey. The journey is where they get the strength to make it happen. I Dream of Dance shows that journey.
One of the main things I wanted to know was how the film had its inception. What led to such a powerful documentary being made. Denise Wall told the back story of the making of I Dream of Dance.
It all began with a producer and director that had worked with Denise doing Liberty tax commercials in the Virginia beach area. They eventually ventured out and worked in NYC where they did a flash mob in Times Square with a singer from American Idol. The crew consisted of local dancers and dancers that trained with Denise and the studio. From working and knowing her for a few years the director and producer got to see her crazy life.
At one point, the duo was working with Sony and the studio loved their style so much they asked if they knew anyone interesting enough to do another documentary on. The director immediately through of Denise Wall and mentioned her to Sony, along with the fact that her son, Travis Wall, is a famous Emmy wining choreographer. The crazy lifestyle of the dance world would make a great documentary allowing the public to see the hard work and the journey that the parents, students and herself go through.
“Sometimes there’s failure involved but you learn the lesson from that and you grow stronger and move forward.” Denise explains, “I was just really excited to be able to do something that would be inspirational not just for dancers but anybody that is passionate about something.”
Every film has its protagonists. The people you root for and cheer on through their struggle. I Dream of Dance is no different as we get a peek of what some of Denise’s students go through every year as they prepare for Nationals. We meet dancers like Morgan, Wyeth, Hallie and Anthony and get to know their backstory. But how were they selected in the hundreds of students in Denise’s studio?
“The first time when the pinks came in we sat down and talked with the students. We had normal conversations asked them specific questions. We did that for a few weeks finding out who has a story. Everybody has a story but the [producers] were finding out who could really communicate and come across on the film to the audience.”
She describes it as those whose souls could be seen through the screen and understood. The stories just started developing and things unfolded in such a way that even though one set of students had been initially selected to be featured, another set emerged as the focus. The way the story was edited was compelling and riveting making the viewer become attached to each dancers’ story.
One of such stories was that of Wyeth Walker. His previous stop at Nationals was a disappointing one as he did not even place in the Top 20 male dancers. The documentary shows his journey as he tries once again to at least place and ends up being named the Top Male dancer that year.
Denise explains how this change came about. “The year before, he came home from Nationals and before starting the fall session he asked for a meeting.” She expected the meeting to focus on his future college life. What he planned for his future as far as whether or not they want to dance for a living. The day of the meeting she discovered this was not the case. “Wyeth walked in and [told me] ‘I was really disappointed that I didn’t make the Top 20 and I want to know what I need to do to make the Top 20 this year’.”
The advice? Follow through. “It’s what you do when no ones watching.”
Denise explains that Wyeth was not born with a lot of flexibility, which is something her choreographer son, Travis Wall, had pointed out to her as something that was holding him back from his choreography. When the students work with the choreographers they only have a short amount of time to learn the routines so they can only work with what the student has to offer. “I told [Wyeth] ‘you have to do all those things I’ve asked you to do outside of class and every class means something. You can’t decide to work for 3 months and phone in your classes for two weeks. It has to be a daily goal that every class means something’.”
He did just that and more. Wyeth’s story shows that you can go from not winning something to getting what you want. He admitted his part of the blame on that and stepped up “I always tell these kids ‘you might say you want to dance but I need to know that you have to dance. If you’re really that passionate and you want to be successful then it has to be something that you have to have, not just want.”
In the days of social media obsession we live in, many aspiring dancers become discouraged at seeing the talent of others. They may say “I wish I could dance like that but I will never be that good.” I asked Denise Wall what advise she had for the younger generation of dancers.
“Know there’s going to be failures. Learn your lesson from whatever you fail at. When you have adversity it makes you stronger. When you pick yourself up and learn that lesson and work harder, you have to have that positive attitude. Think ‘what is the lesson I’m supposed to learn?!”
Her students are not allowed to say they can’t do something. Doing so entails giving up. Keeping positive means admitting they’re struggling but never saying “I can’t.”
Denise adds, “When you’re on social media you’re watching kids that are maybe naturally talented. That doesn’t mean you won’t get that turnout and that flexibility. You’re seeing only the final product not the work that goes in it. You can look at them and be inspired but don’t compare yourself to them.”
“Your journey is going to be different. Your journey can be amazing if you keep a positive attitude and work every day. Get up every morning and decide your goals. Make long term and short term goals. They will change as your body changes. Have short term goals and stay positive.”
With such words of motivation it is no surprise that Denise Wall has inspired hundreds of dancers who also call her “Mama D.” Denise Wall has made an everlasting mark in the dance industry and the documentary I Dream of Dance shows exactly why. The journey may not be easy and it may not always be sunshine and rainbows but the end product is worth it.
I Dream of Dance is now available on iTunes.