Dances with wolves

So you think you know Ja­son Cole­man? Well, he has a few sur­prises, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

ACON­VER­SA­TION with Ja­son Cole­man about his pro­fes­sional and pri­vate lives can be a rapid-fire af­fair.

Cole­man has a pierc­ing, wideeyed stare. But though he has an af­fa­bil­ity and la­conic wit, his emo­tions rise with molten in­ten­sity when ex­press­ing his views on So You Think You Can Dance, his Min­istry of Dance busi­ness ven­ture, and the in­tense me­dia in­ter­est in his life away from work.

He might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an un­prece­dented level of pub­lic recog­ni­tion as a re­sult of his judg­ing role on SYTYCD, but Cole­man’s self-as­sur­ance stems from the fact he’s been wield­ing his creative tal­ents to im­pres­sive ef­fect for more than 20 years.

The kid who was raised in Rosebud and swept through high school — an aca­dem­i­cally bright pupil who skipped year 9 and left af­ter year 10 to pur­sue his dream to dance — achieved his first big break when ac­cepted by the Aus­tralian Bal­let.

Feel­ing ham­strung by the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s rigid rules and reg­u­la­tions, he left for Syd­ney and scored a gig with the man who be­came his men­tor, re­spected chore­og­ra­pher and dancer David Atkins.

A long list of the­atri­cal and ma­jor-event cred­its have fol­lowed, in­clud­ing be­ing the chore­og­ra­pher for the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies at the 2000 Syd­ney Olympics.

But the same year was also mem­o­rable for what he sees as one of his fail­ings, his role as judge and chore­og­ra­pher on the hugely suc­cess­ful TV re­al­ity show Pop­stars.

‘‘I hated that ex­pe­ri­ence ( Pop­stars),’’ he says. ‘‘I was to­tally ex­ploited. They edited my sen­tences to make out I was some­thing I’m not. I con­sider my­self a gen­tle­man. I’m from a good fam­ily.

‘‘I don’t want to be medi­ocre, I want to be some­one and some­thing and make my par­ents proud.

‘‘I re­ally em­brace this show ( SYTYCD) be­cause I’m not edited. I’m to­tally in con­trol of my­self and how I’m por­trayed to the world.

‘‘ When re­al­ity tele­vi­sion started, it wasn’t re­al­ity. I con­sid­ered it to be ex­ploita­tion of re­al­ity. What we’re do­ing now is a cel­e­bra­tion of re­al­ity. The dif­fer­ence be­tween us and many other re­al­ity-show judges is that we were them (be­ing judged as per­form­ers) for 20 years. I have em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion for the peo­ple stand­ing in front of me.’’

He says so many judges on so many shows had no idea what it was like to stand on that line and give them­selves up to be judged.

‘‘Our crit­i­cism tends to be more in­spi­ra­tional,’’ he says. ‘‘I think that’s the dis­tinc­tive edge to our show. I don’t talk about peo­ple hav­ing buck teeth or pick on phys­i­cal ail­ments that can’t be fixed.’’

Cole­man’s mis­sion is to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of dance through Min­istry of Dance — the North Mel­bourne-based school that he es­tab­lished last year— and SYTYCD.

He de­scribes the dance stu­dio and the TV show as his two chil­dren — they might ‘‘live’’ in sep­a­rate cities but he can’t — and won’t — ne­glect ei­ther. Given he takes his role on the show so se­ri­ously, it comes as no sur­prise Cole­man’s quick to de­fend it.

He’s open in his dis­dain for chore­og­ra­pher Meryl Tankard, who has sug­gested the re­al­ity show is ‘‘hideous’’ and a ‘‘fast­food ver­sion of dance’’.

‘‘What the f---would she know about our show?’’ Cole­man says. ‘‘I’m not a fan of Meryl. There’s no need to put down oth­ers. This does not lift her sta­tus at all.’’

A more open and hon­est guy in show­biz you’ll be hard-pressed to meet. Cole­man, 39, is not only re­spected for his can­dour and ac­ces­si­bil­ity in me­dia cir­cles, he’s renowned for the time he of­fers fans of the show who cor­ner him for a chat.

Cole­man ac­cepts ‘‘there’s yin and yang’’ in hav­ing a high pro­file. He en­joys the priv­i­leges of recog­ni­tion, but he says a hand­ful of peo­ple who ap­proach him have clearly left their man­ners at home.

‘‘One of the worst ex­am­ples was a stranger com­ing into a church— a fu­neral wake— to get an au­to­graph,’’ he says.

‘‘An­other time I was on the street with friends and a guy who wanted a photo grabbed me to turn my chin for the pic­ture. I said, ‘Get your f---ing hands off, don’t touch me.

‘‘ Most though.’’

In an in­ter­view last year, Cole-



great, man dis­missed in­ter­est in his pri­vate life, say­ing: ‘‘I’m un­clas­si­fied and that’s the way the world should be.’’

He has a pub­lic pro­file, he says, be­cause he has forged a rep­u­ta­tion for his per­form­ing-arts ex­per­tise. That, he feels, earns him the right to pri­vacy on non-work is­sues.

‘‘I never lie about any­thing . . . I’m out and proud and happy with my life, but I don’t want to be ‘that gay guy’ be­cause that has noth­ing to do with what I’m do­ing here (at work),’’ he says.

Cole­man says he’s ‘‘very happy’’ and in a new re­la­tion­ship.

Molten mo­ment: Ja­son Cole­man’s af­fa­bil­ity stops at So You Think You Can Dance crit­ics.

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