Style and Finesse: Dancing With The Stars' Jarryd Byrne
Dancing With The Stars is back on Australian TV screens after a four year hiatus, bringing us a much-needed weekly dose of glitter, sequins, and sparkling dance routines. In a shock elimination on Monday night, DWTS veteran Jarryd Byrne and his celebrity partner Olympia Valance left the competition far earlier than anyone expected. With a score of 26 out of 30 for their sizzling Argentine tango last week, they felt secure in their position on top of the leaderboard and excited to take on the jive in week five. Unfortunately, although their quirky Pulp Fiction-inspired routine received positive feedback from the judges, it wasn’t enough, and the two fan favourites were sent home by the public vote. Even judge Sharna Burgess remarked, “There’s just no way we could have seen that coming.” A testament to both Jarryd and Olympia’s performance throughout the show is the grace with which they accepted their elimination; Olympia sending everyone into a fit of giggles with her comment, “I just can’t believe I’m being voted out in this outfit!”. Regardless of the events of this week, Jarryd has proved himself time and time again as a force to be reckoned with, both as a seasoned performer with DWTS and a choreographer and teacher in the Australian dance community. Energetiks caught up with him to chat about his DWTS experience this time round, his passion for teaching and what’s next for him in his career.
How are you feeling after Monday night?
I’m disappointed, it came as a huge shock to both of us, especially when on the dancing side of things we were top of the leaderboard last week and then in a good position this week, but obviously the public vote is what resulted in us being eliminated very early. I don’t think Olympia thought it would impact her as much as it has. The show has been a really incredible experience for her, she’s found this new love for dance and she really enjoyed the rehearsals and the creative process, so for that to finish so abruptly is a huge shock.
Do you think it was something in your routine this week that led to the elimination?
I’m really proud of the routine we did this week, with the time restrictions that both of us have been juggling. We’ve both been doing other jobs at the same time, so Olympia had to fly to Melbourne twice and I was in Sydney choreographing Dirty Dancing (The Immersive Cinema Experience coming to Melbourne this weekend), so it’s been a big challenge. The further you get into this show the harder it becomes, because not only are you doing your own routine but you’re also doing group routines, so I think what was missing for us was just time and detail. We really needed an extra week just to clean it and refine our arms and positions. The jive is really hard, and what people don’t realise is it’s like learning how to dance all over again with each new style. We got an amazing score for the Argentine tango last week, but the whole time we were connected. The jive is all side-by-side, so getting the synchronicity, the action, the kick and rebound and doing it all in heels was very difficult. That’s the challenge we were faced with, and unfortunately time wasn’t on our side.
What was your experience like working with Olympia?
This is my fourth season and I’m so impressed with her work ethic and her love for dance. The trust she has in my teaching and my choreography has been overwhelming, and because we’ve developed such a close friendship and a strong working partnership it’s probably been one of my easiest seasons. I’ve been really lucky with the partners that I’ve had, and Olympia and I will definitely stay friends after the show.
Do you find working with non-dancers and different celebrities each time a challenge?
I never find it difficult because I crave teaching. That is one of my favourite things about Dancing With The Stars, because it gives me an opportunity to share my love of dance and imprint dance into their hearts and bodies, which is so much fun. Every time I get a new celebrity I take things back to absolute basics, because you can’t teach one person in the same way as you would someone else, so I’m always looking for interesting ways of using vocabulary, explanations or demonstrations to try and make sense to them. You’ve got to build it in such a short space of time so the pressure is on but I live for the adrenaline rush of the competition. With each celebrity I’ve always gotten to a point where I’m really proud of the routines I’ve created and the friendships that I’ve formed.
You competed on Season 13 with former Miss Universe Jesinta Franklin, Season 14 with singer Ricki-Lee Coulter, and Season 15 with My Kitchen Rules’ Ash Pollard. Do you have a favourite season?
Each of them have special moments for me. I remember Jesinta in week six did a contemporary routine with me where she got top marks and I think she was top of the leaderboard, and in the finale with Ricki-Lee we did a Paso Doble and if you watch it back she looks like a professional dancer. She nails this double turn at the end that is still imprinted in my mind and she got a perfect score. With Ash I think it was week six as well, we did a contemporary routine where we got a perfect score and that was the defining moment. And it’s the same with Olympia, last week the Argentine tango that she did was near perfection and the feedback from it was great. Every season has these moments so I can’t really say which one is my favourite! Jesinta actually came to the show on Monday night so it was really special to have her come and watch and for that friendship to still exist is great.
Do you have a favourite dance style?
I grew up as a ballroom and latin dancer and I always loved hip hop, but funnily enough I really resonate with contemporary. I enjoy the lyrical side of storytelling. But I think Latin’s always going to be my first love in that respect. I love the jive, I love the cha cha and we were going to do rumba next week so we’re shattered we don’t get to do that.
What else do you love about Dancing With The Stars?
I love that it gives me an opportunity to meet people that I’d never usually meet. I get to work with these amazing celebrities and we end up connecting around a love of dance, so that’s really special. This season’s also been fantastic because they’ve really started to highlight the skills of the pro dancers. Kelley Abbey has been creating these amazing opening numbers so it’s been great to be able to work with her, let the leash off and show what we can really do. Australia has always been so interesting in its response to dance and the arts so to have the show back on TV is great because it puts dance back at the forefront where it should be. And I love seeing people like Sam (contestant Samuel Johnson) publicly endorse the happiness that comes from dance, he’s being a great role model in promoting dance so it’s been really good to have it back on TV.
You’ve talked a lot about your passion for teaching, how did you get from dancer to dance teacher, mentor and choreographer?
I started dancing when I was eight in my hometown of Wagga Wagga, so good that they named it twice (!) and when I was about sixteen my old primary school asked if I’d come back and teach. I started to find a joy in spreading my knowledge back to others, and when I started achieving some great things with my dancing I just loved being able to share that. I’ve been teaching for sixteen years now, from beginners all the way up to pros.
And you mentioned you’re currently working on Mushroom’s Dirty Dancing Immersive Cinema Experience. How has that been for you?
What’s been great about Dirty Dancing is that I’ve been able to define exactly what I wanted to do with the choreography. I think because I didn’t come through the standard lineage of going through a music theatre school or a full time performing arts school, the way that I see and create things is probably very different to most people. That’s probably why it’s been received so well, because I don’t want to simply choreograph the steps. I want my ensemble to leave with a love of partnering that inspires them to do more. So many dancers from the Sydney show have come back saying that they’re just so in love with these new styles, whether its salsa or ballroom or lifting. I hope to share that and inspire other pro dancers to diversify and expand their dance vocabulary. And this show is epic. It’s a whole new world of entertainment and it’s not going away, it’s going to stay. It’s a festival meets a stage show, meets a movie set, and the details, design, and the nuances of the characters are insane.
What’s next for you in your career? Will you be coming back to Dancing With The Stars?
I’ll stay on the show as long as they’ll have me! I’m getting towards the older end of the group now and I’ve been there for a few years but I love it. I also have my own show in the works; I really want to put the fusion style that I’ve developed on stage and give it a go. I’m going to continue to teach, I run a full dance fitness program in primary and high schools, and I choreograph wedding dances too. That’s such an interesting market now. A lot of people are seeing the value in spending that time and investment in creating a beautiful memory for their wedding.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring dancers thinking about a career in the industry?
Be true to yourself and really follow your gut instinct. With social media now we can all be so inspired but sometimes distracted by what’s happening around us. We’re losing the individuality and the personal identities you can create through dance and I just want to see dancers coming through with a real definition of who they are. Individuality is so important and so bookable. And the other advice I would give is just never stop chasing crazy dreams. I was a country kid who had no right to do what I’m doing but I always believed that I was meant to do something on a big scale. It’s taken a lot of years, a lot of determination and a lot of failures along the way. People only see the successes but I can assure you I’ve had a lot of trialling times that have led me to this point. That strength builds character and the ability to do this sort of work when you get there.
Finally, who is your tip to win Dancing With The Stars this season?
I don’t think you can go past Courtney Act. She’s phenomenal, she’s such an entertainer, and she has a beautiful personality. She’s just the complete package. On the other hand, my underdog is definitely Jimmy Giggle, he comes out with the goods every time, and as a personality you just resonate with him. And he’s got some serious dance skills. My two kids (aged four and five) are obsessed with him as well!
You can follow Jarryd on instagram @jarrydbyrne
Catch Dancing With The Stars at 7.30pm Sunday on Channel 10
For last minute tickets to the Dirty Dancing Immersive Cinema Experience, click here
Interview by Emily Newton-Smith
Photographs courtesy of Channel 10