Five Minutes With Tabitha And Napoleon Of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’

Last week on So You Think You Can Dance, we were treated—yet again— to a mind-blowing, lyrical hip-hop routine so emotional that it brought AdeChike to tears. Footwork of that caliber could only come from the minds of America’s most beloved choreography couple Tabitha and Napoelon D’umo. We caught up with the dancing duo backstage after Wednesday night’s competition show. Click below to see what NappyTabs had to say about the future of hip-hop dance, what they argue about the most and which rapper’s songs they’re dying to whip up routines for — if only he’d let them.EBA: First with Alex Wong and now with AdeChike—both dancers who are untrained in hip hop— you choreographed some amazing and memorable routines. How are you able to connect with a contestant and unlock something inside of them maybe even they didn’t know they had?

Tabitha D’umo: We’ve known [All-Star] Comfort and have had the ability to work with Comfort a lot. And we don’t think she’s never been able to do this style that tells a story. And she’s so dramatic. And she has it in her and I felt like [AdeChike and Comfort] would make a good team and then she could bring it out in him. You know because immediately when they came into rehearsal there was good chemistry. And I’m like, “Okay, well it can’t be too good because you have to break up [in the routine].” And honestly, it really is sometimes the stars align. You just, you have a good idea. I’ve been listening to this song with Napoleon for a while and stewing on this idea. And it’s like, you hope when the time comes the couple that you have can rise to the occasion. They you know they’re physically able to do what you want or they’re not injured. So, there are so many things that come into play. And tonight, you know, the stars aligned and it was magical. Because it was everything we wanted it to be.

EBA: Right. Because you put all this time, and work, and care into crafting a dance, but at the end of the day it’s an experiment.

TD: And by the time you realize you need this one ingredient, they’re on stage. Cause the process is so quick.

EBA: How far in advance do you have these routines prepared? You mentioned you had been marinating on “Fallin'”, was this something you had filed away?

TD: We have to submit songs to get cleared. And then if you get a song cleared, you don’t know [which contestant] you’re going to get. So we had this song cleared, but we didn’t know who we were gonna get. It is kind of the luck of the draw sometimes. And you have an idea and you get songs and sometimes they get denied and you’re like, “Oh! But it’s only perfect with that song!” Like that’s Eminem. Eminem we love your new album. Please clear your sh*t!

EBA: You are married and choreography partners. Which do you guys disagree on more: music or movement?

Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo: Movement.

TD: We pretty much always agree on the music or the way we want the music and the concept to be. But if we do argue or disagree it would be, you know, what step is gonna tell it the best.

ND: If we’re doing a job outside of this. Let’s say, we do a lot of Cirque du Soleil or other things we never argue about the movement. But when we’re doing So You Think You Can Dance we tend to sometimes argue about the movement because–

TD: –we want to make sure it’s hip-hop and we feel like we’re in that box.

ND: We don’t do anything but hip-hop, that’s our main style; but i think a lot of people feel like if you do the lyrical hip-hop style they think, “Oh, it’s not hip hop movement”. But it all is. And sometimes we get a little worried that maybe it doesn’t look enough like hip hop so we go overboard with it.

TD: And sometimes it will limit us. Just relax it’s gonna be fine. We know that it’s through the chest (she does a dance signature NappyTabs move to demonstrate that we would have to practice for years to master)

EBA: When you get “dancer’s block” what’s in your tool box? What do you do to draw new inspiration?

TD: We love to see shows, movies. Like, a group number we did last season was inpsired by and the movie wasn’t even out yet it was just the promo for Alice In Wonderland.

ND: [It was] just the picture.

TD: We were like, “Oh, my god! It’s such bright colors and cool characters!” And then we’re on a tangent.  So it’s—

ND: —numerous places. Sometimes we’ll go shopping and we’ll see an outfit and we’ll go, “Ooh this will be a great little number for whatever it is.” And it’s kind of cool

EBA: There’s a famous line in the movie Center Stage, “Whatever you feel just dance it.” Was the emotional number from tonight based on that had happened ever in your real lives? Do you ever work out stuff in your relationship through your dances?

ND: It’s always from the music. It comes from us listening to the music and we’ve always loved that song and the way she sings it tells a lot and that’s what always tells us.

T: You can feel the hurt in her voice. And I think that maybe I haven’t been hurt in that way particularly, but I know what that hurt feels like. So you find a story that you kind of connect it with.

N: Most of a time it’s a connection to the music. And we always tell [the dancers] to put their headphones on and really listen to the music and it will tell you what to do.

EBA: You guys are known for pioneering at least on the SYTYCD stage the style of Lyrical Hip Hop. So I have to imagine that you’re on the cutting edge of what’s going on in dance right now.  What is the next wave of dance? What is coming?

ND: I feel, to be honest, it’s—

TD: —incorporating comedy.

ND: Yeah, we try to do a lot of comedy in our stuff and it’s a Broadway-esque way of doing hip hop.  So instead of lyrical, it would be Broadway hip hop. I think with shows like In The Heights you know it’s starting to get there now. People are going, “Oh, this is a style of dance that can reach lots and lots of people. Young, old everybody. And, I think that’s the next thing coming. It’s kind of what we want to do on the show now is incorporate that kind of thing. Like a character type of thing.

TD: Like a fun character piece. And what’s been good for us this season that we’ve trickled in a little bit because Twitch can be funny.  You know people that can. And it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s almost harder than a sad emotion sometimes to have that good comedic timing. Like even tonight in the routine [to Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad”].

ND: It’s hard to do that and he’s a master at that so it’s good for us.

Tabitha and Napoleon teach their routine for National Dance Day below:

Will tonight’s compeition show hold another jaw-dropping dance number from Napoleon and Tabitha? We’ll just have to tune in and see. And don’t forget, Saturday is National Dance Day. Have you been practicing NappyTabs’ official Dance Day Dance? Will you be attending the NDD flashmob in your city? We want to know!