Just Dance, the number one music video game franchise of all time boasting more than 120 million people worldwide who’ve shimmied, popped, locked and dabbed along with the game’s colorfully costumed coaches, is now making the jump from 2D to 3D with Just Dance Live.
Funnily enough, Kim Gavin was not one of those millions.
Three years ago the Just Dance Live creative director was working on Take That’s III tour when he got a call from Ubisoft (the company behind the game) asking if he’d be interested in turning Just Dance into a live experience. Gavin's been busy building quite the résumé over the last 20 years – including countless live events and TV shows, an immersive touring recreation of The Beatles recording sessions at Abbey Road studios, the fastest-selling U.K. theater tour ever, and London’s 2012 Olympic closing ceremony – which may explain his reaction: “I wasn't aware of Just Dance until that point.”
Ubisoft Live Entertainment Producer Hinde Daoui quickly got him caught up on the game and the company’s vision, while an immersive experience he did six months earlier with McDonald’s in the U.K. offered him his first foray into “people behavior,” putting him in a good position to consider just what a live, interactive version of Just Dance might look like.
“When I first looked at the game I thought, well, there’s a lot of creation already done,” says Gavin. “How do we take it into an arena and to what extent should we play the game?”
Cut to 2016, when Ubisoft gathered 300 Just Dance superfans in Paris to test, in Gavin’s words, “a bit of everything that we thought we might do,” including a phone-based competition element. Post-Paris, Gavin and his team’s research showed that the fans wanted one thing and one thing only: They wanted to dance with the real-life coaches, highlighting in Gavin’s mind what truly makes the Just Dance Live experience so special.
“I think that the gem of this is you don’t know who these people are when you play the game. You’ve got this person that you’re trying to copy, and they’ve created this character, and then this character steps out and you should see what happens when particularly the younger kids come in,” says Gavin. “The older kids [have] a beaming smile on their face, but the younger kids, when they see Panda or Fox or some of these characters suddenly become real, it’s almost like Christmas Day for them.”
So, courtesy of the fans in Paris, you can expect Just Dance Live’s cast of 16 to be planted firmly on the frontlines and out mingling in the crowd, communicating with audience members all night. You also no longer have to worry about complicating the experience with your phone, because the fans in Paris were resoundingly clear: Competition, shmompetition.
“They didn’t want to do that. They wanted to get ready to have a nice party, be interactive and dance all night,” says Gavin.
But first, you must be stamped. When walking through the doors of the Revention Music Center for the pilot tour’s stop in Houston this weekend, you’ll be assigned to one of four groups – pandas, foxes, Chihuahuas or moose. From there, you can walk the red carpet, get your look right in the “Get Ready For It” zone, and then dance your way through six themes, from outer space to haunted house, beach to ballroom.
“You don't go into a seat and watch and clap occasionally,” says Gavin. “The show’s all around [the audience]. We pop up these famous characters all over the place, but we also give them the chance to be interactive.”
Gavin adds, “It’s almost like a physical entertainment.”
Points will be awarded to the team that sings the loudest and dances the best, and you can bet you’ll hear a lot of familiar tunes as Gavin says he was given license to pick from the hundreds of songs used in the game since its 2009 debut. “It’s almost like a pop star doing his greatest hits,” says Gavin.
In between music from artists like The Chainsmokers, Lady Gaga and Pharrell, Gavin has inserted one to two minute sequences, or breathers, that will give participants a chance to sip some water and drink in the Just Dance aesthetic all around them.
“The costumes are mad. Sometimes you got people dressed as fruit, and all the coaches as fruit, and then there’s a beach section where everybody’s wearing flamingos around their waist [and] wacky glasses,” says Gavin. “It’s a spectacle and it looks beautiful.”
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Gavin believes that the spectacle of Just Dance Live will keep everyone, fan and non-fan alike, entertained, and he’s already seen evidence of this from two of the toughest critics: parents and his own crew. He says that crew members who worked on the tour’s opening weekend in Miami have, one by one, been bringing their partners and family members to the show, and parents have been giving feedback of the “I’m going to tell my friends” and “This is really great” variety – all good signs to Gavin.
“We have a saying in England, which is ‘the thin end of the wedge,’” says Gavin. “We’re just at the start of spreading the word and there’s no doubt about it – when [people] come to see [Just Dance Live], they definitely would come back, the reaction has been so strong. I feel like we’re building, and we’re building on a show that’s hopefully going to go to many more theaters.”
But as part of the inaugural tour, no matter how many cities Just Dance Live eventually travels to, Houston can always claim to be an early adopter.
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. March 22, 23 and 24 and 3 p.m. March 24 and 25 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For more information, visit justdancelive.com. $22 to $99.