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