kelley abbey



so you think you can dance

Kelley choreographed the Top 20 in the Series 6 Final of So You Think You Can Dance USA in the stylish 'Scared of Me'.

Season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance Australia saw Kelley guest judge in the Top 100 week, the Top 20 and Top 12. Kelley also choreographed the incredible Fossey-inspired 'Let Me Think About It' and the beautiful peacock-feathered 'Mi Confesion'.

In season one of So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Kelley was a guest judge and choreographed the Top 20 group routines 'Lovestoned' and Top 12 'Blackbird', as well as a duet for Henry and Rhiannon. Kelley also performed in the season finale.

kelley says

I had the great pleasure of being invited to be a special guest judge and choreographer on the number one rating Channel Ten show “So You Think You Can Dance”. I was so excited as I am a huge fan of the American series, and I wanted to be involved in a show where dance and dancers are celebrated and recognized for their incredible dedication, and life long commitment to pursuing physical brilliance. Dancers are often represented as cliché’s in movies or stuck behind a singer in a concert. This show puts dancers up front and makes them the stars.

I first got involved on the top 100 week as a guest judge helping choose who the final top 20 would be. What an intense week that was! I also got to don my proverbial tracksuit and put them through the jazz day. I made this quite a hard combination as I really wanted to sort the men out from the boys so to speak. On this day, I predicted that Kate and Jack would be right up there in the finals as real contenders. I was pretty right!

This process was very demanding physically and psychologically for the dancers. They were dealing with nerves and pressure as a constant. It’s not just how you execute choreography on this show but how you handle the pressure and how you can allow your true self to shine through all of these demands.

I had a great time doing the first top twenty routine for the show to Justin Timberlake’s ‘Lovestoned’. It was a challenge to work with all genre’s of dancers and get them to unite in one piece. They were peaking to be starting the live shows and worked so incredibly hard.

I had an incredible response to the other group routine I did to “Blackbird” by Dionne Farris. It still amazes me who actually watches this show. I had a construction worker stop me in the street and tell me how much he loved the number with the hats and the black n white striped duds, and then went back to his jackhammering!

No one at home would have any idea of the hours those dancers work on this show. It’s pretty much dancing 24/7 7 days a week! Injuries, fatigue and exhaustion and incredible pressure. What a workload! And we are getting ready to do it all over again for season two!!!

I just love that the general public is so hot for dance right now!!!

so you think you can dance
Top 12 Dancers in 'Mi Confesion' - Season 2

so you think you can dance
Kelley rehearsing 'Blackbird' - Season 1


sytycd Quickstep to Stardom

Choreography has stepped into the limelight courtesty of reality television.

IT'S early in the evening on a cool, crisp Sydney night and at a television studio in inner-city Redfern a screaming, mainly teenage audience is becoming increasingly excited. The 500 or so guests have been waiting more than an hour for some action when finally the clock ticks towards 7.30pm and the live television cameras begin rolling.

The theme music for Ten's reality hit So You Think You Can Dance blares out and suddenly it's time to introduce the judging panel. There's prolonged cheering as regulars Jason Coleman, Bonnie Lithgoe and Matt Lee are introduced. But the biggest cheer by far goes to guest judge Kelley Abbey. Kelley who? you may ask. Well, in case you've missed the zeitgeist, Abbey is a choreographer, and a good one, and not only does this crowd know who she is, they appreciate her work.

"It is hilarious that people know who we are all of a sudden," ballroom dancing supremo Jason Gilkison says with a laugh. "And it's really interesting that dance in general is now so well known. For us, it has always been the workhorse of the arts industry, putting out the most and giving the most. But people couldn't recognise particular work. Now they do. Now they can say, 'Oh, that's (hip-hop artist) Nacho (Pop)'s work', or whoever."

Indeed, for this night's show, Abbey -- who has starred in and choreographed work for stage shows including Fame, Grease and West Side Story, as well as helping create the animated choreography on George Miller's Happy Feet film -- directs a fabulous Moulin Rouge-inspired jazz routine featuring the show's 12 remaining dancers and a large number of peacock-feathered fans.

The performance brings screams of delight from the audience and acclaim from aficionados. "She's a really good choreographer," says the woman sitting next to me, a ballet teacher.

"The fantastic thing for me about the show is that the general population is finally watching dance and the names of choreographers are getting known by people," affirms host Coleman, a well-known figure in the Melbourne dance world. "I mean, these people have always been there, choreographing routines for Christine Anu and Human Nature and others, but nobody knew who they were. But now people are appreciating the importance of choreography to the show. Which is just great."

Weekend Australian - Elizabeth Meryment
28-29 March 2009

sytycd Kelley Abbey - Choreographer

My favourite dance is:
I seriously don't have a favourite. When I choreograph I like to draw on all different styles and fuse them together. Everything from Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop ... the list goes on.

The choreographer/dancer/performer I look up to the most is:
I really look up to Bob Fosse. He was an incredible dancer and grew to be an amazing choreographer, who had such a distinctive original pioneering style that he became a director/choreographer on stage and screen. He is one of the select few who broke Hollywood as well as Broadway, and his work never dates. Chicago still runs today all over the world. Artists like Michael Jackson developed their signature stance sitting in one hip with the opposite foot poised from a signature Fosse pose. He has influenced and inspired many...

I believe So You Think You Can Dance is great opportunity for dancers in Australia because:
Dancers in Australia don't get as many opportunities to shine as they do in countries overseas. It has never been the case for a dancer to be celebrated and revered in the medium of television as it is in So You Think You Can Dance. Dancers are in front instead of in the background. It gives dance the integrity it deserves, as it is one of the arts where you have to work so hard and so long with such dedication, discipline, commitment, pain and sacrifice, for a short lived career. So You Think You Can Dance is great for the dance industry! It celebrates who we are!!

I am looking forward to being a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance because:
I will especially enjoy working with dancers who are specialist at one style and crossing over to learn another. It is a challenge to bring out a performance in a dancer that is learning a style for the first time. I just love working with dancers fullstop. I also get to choreograph routines that I am inspired to choreograph, instead of having to fulfill the needs of selling a product or narrating a specific story where you have to create in the guidelines of what is required. Here I am freed up to choreograph what I want to do. Thank you So You Think You Can Dance!

I believe for a contestant to win So You Think You Can Dance they will have to:
Blow people away with their technique, style and skill as well as entertain with personality and dynamic energy. You can't be a brilliant dancer that doesn't reveal who you are and feel what you're doing.

The best advice I can give the finalists is:

Stay committed and focused... don't be distracted by all the hype. Breathe and stay with your centre as that is where your heart and passion shoots from and that is the key to expressing yourself in a dance that is inspired and unfaltering. Stay connected with your joy!!

Food: Roast dinner
Song to dance to: India Arie's 'There's Hope'
TV Show: So You Think You Can Dance of course
Book: Eat, Pray, Love
Movie: Chocolat
Colour: Turquoise
Place to travel: Spain
Hobby: Painting

she choreographed the final 20, final 12 (Blackbird) and final 10 (Hiphop) group performences... and she also choreographed Rhiannon and Henry's (Sting- Jazz) 2008

Kelley Abbey - Choreographer

For over two decades Kelley Abbey has performed, danced and choreographed for theatre, film and television.

A leading lady in musicals like Sweet Charity and Fame – The Musical, Kelley has won as many hearts as awards. For Sweet Charity she received the Green Room, Variety Heart and MO Awards for Best Female Musical Theatre Performer. In Fame – The Musical, she both starred and choreographed, winning a MO Award for Best Female Performer/ Choreographer in a musical and the Green Room Award for Best Original Choreography.

Kelley has also worked as choreographer, lead performer and creative motion capture consultant on the award winning film Happy Feet and was honoured in the feature film category at the Los Angeles Choreography Media Honors for her work in the film.

Kelley is also one of Australia’s leading music video choreographers working with artists such as Human Nature and Sophie Monk.

In 1991, Kelley first came to public notice as Jo-Jo in the popular Australian Soap E-Street.
January 2008

sytycd Kelley Abbey - Dance Director, Choreographer & Performer

Admired by many, internationally recognised, intuitive, creatively connected to her knowledge and integrity driven, this amazing artist chats exclusively with Dtrain's Editor Dani Brown about her life, triumphs , aspirations and passions.

Chatting with Kelley and watching her take a pro-class at Brent Street studios was enough to stimulate and motivate me for the whole year! Her obvious love for the art of dance is in her every word accompanied by a respect and genuine appreciation for the art of the dance and most importantly the dancer.

She is the dancer’s choreographer and there is no wonder why she is highly respected by her peers and diligently pursued to work on new projects.

Her honesty will restore your faith in the industry (if needed) and her advice will inspire you to be the best you can be just as she strives for her own excellence. At 41 years of age she sets her eyes on the American dance scene and after being acknowledged at the recent illustrious Choreography Media Awards for her choreography on Happy Feet, it seems they are just as interested in her!

Kelley has just finished choreographing, consulting and playing a role in a new Australian feature film called How to Change in 9 weeks starring Sam Neil, Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto which will be released in June 2008. Currently she is embarking on the beginnings of Happy Feet Two and about to start work on the Ten Networks new Australian series of So You Think You Can Dance.

Kelley chatting about,
It is interesting because when people do my class I feel like they still feel like they are auditioning for me. So I actually have to remind them, this is not an audition. This is just class. I couldn’t give a bleep whether you stuff it up or not. I’d rather you just come here and have fun and be free and feel what you are doing and just have a good time. I think they (dancers) just want to make sure that I remember them next time an audition comes along.

I think it is so fantastic when pros do class because at some stage some stop doing classes and I don’t think anyone should. I think you should keep sharpening your tools and perfecting and maintaining your craft. I think when people don’t do that they can’t necessarily pull off what they should have been able to in an audition.

…So You Think You Can Dance
We are all watching the American series of So You Think You Can Dance and seeing how amazing these dancers are. Most of the dancers dance with their soul and their spirit and it’s a really hard thing to translate across a television camera and they seem to be able to do it.

I think America got the final two 'right.' It could have gone either way. I loved Sabra! She was knockout! A fantastic combination of strong technique, edgy attack, vivacious personality and incredible commitment to every style. She always looked like her inner 'joy' was pouring through her. She 'looked' like she loved to dance!

…standing out in an audition
Someone who has that edge, who is feeling what they are doing, who is dancing from the inside out rather than the outside in that is a big thing for me because that’s what dancing is. I think also too, just going fast, just maintaining your short term memory and picking up really quickly. Auditions are always hard and people who I have worked with for many many years still come in and get incredibly nervous.

…balancing hiring previously employed dancers to the newbies
Boy From Oz is a perfect example because there were a lot of people that worked for me on Happy Feet and all of those people came along (to the audition). I think everyone would imagine that I would just give jobs to the people that I was used to working with, but there were quite a few people from the film that didn’t get in the show (Boy From Oz). I think ultimately for me people get what’s right for them.

What it comes down to, especially with musical theatre, is the nitty gritty of what’s required for the telling of that story, it changes who that group of people are going to be and it is not necessarily going to be the people I hired last time.

I think more and more people are getting educated about how specific musical auditions are and how not to take it so personally, people are finally getting a better understanding of that.

…on staying fit & healthy
I really look after myself. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go out, I sleep, I eat well, I train, I go to the gym, I do yoga. I look after myself and I think you have to because it’s demanding too much of your body to not do that.

…working in America
I am definitely going to be spending more time there. In June 07 there were the Choreographer Media Honours Awards unlike any award ceremony here. They choose choreographers from a number of categories to be honoured. There’s the film category, television category, documentary etc and over a two year period they picked a number of feature film choreographers to be honoured. I was picked as one of the honourees. I was alongside the who’s who of LA. Paula Abdul was hosting and there I am! My choreography from Happy Feet was played on screen as well as takes of me working, then my name, everyone cheers each other on.

It was great to just be there that night and meet all those people and it was really good for my profile within that world in Los Angeles.

…being type-cast & getting gigs choreographing
It’s interesting because I’ve got an American agent now and that agent is someone who came out and saw The Boy From Oz and took me on before Happy Feet came out.

She introduces me in Los Angeles as ‘Kelly Abbey she is like Australia’s Bob Fossey’. She thinks that’s what I do and I am trying to explain to her I do many other styles. So I feel like she has kind of typecast me.

Choreography gigs are usually secured through interviews. I had an interview with Kenny Ortega the director (Boy From Oz) and he was wanting to co-choreograph the show. He wanted to have his say and was looking for someone to do the main part of the choreography. I think he interviewed many people.

We just kind of clicked and had the same ideas about things. It is interesting though because he hadn’t really seen anything that I had done. But I found out in hindsight he had rung a lot of people about me. So through reputation and getting on really well I got the job basically.

But on something like Happy Feet, the interview process was large and I had to explain things to people that didn’t really know about dance, about choreographic dynamics. I had to use graphs and numbers! I had to go through this whole process and that was just bizarre.

Some people have the gift of the gab and can talk their way in to any project and then some people might be extremely talented and don’t really talk that well and maybe miss out on the opportunity.

I kind of fit in between. I have been working for a long time. So I am definitely educated. I can speak about what I know. But I guess I am not someone that walks in to the room saying “I’m the person for the job.” I’m not that person!

…on inspiration
I got a lot of inspiration from the choreographers I worked for as a young dancer in my 20s who really inspired me at the time. David Atkins, Robyn Moase, Ross Coleman, Jane Beckett. They would have been the four main people. As a young dancer in my 20s they were mentors in my life, they were the choreographers you wanted to work for and they were inspiring.

Everything inspires me from seeing great dancing on a Broadway stage to a little village in Africa. I went to Madrid recently and I saw a group of Spanish women walking towards me chatting to each other shielding their faces with their fans. I get inspiration from images that I see in life as well as people and performers.

Bob Fossey is a big inspiration for me as a director/choreographer, someone who was innovative and ahead of his time, a visual genius. All the greats inspire me, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Sid Cherese and Shirley MacLaine.

I love dancing as much as I did when I was four and at six when I knew that I wanted to do it (forever). I’m still just as passionate about it. I think that is the thing that inspires me the most. It keeps me going. I can’t imagine not doing it. It would be like not breathing for me. I’m going to be one of those nanas at 77 doing the flamenco. I just know I won’t be able to stop. I just love it too much.

…what she would change about the industry in Oz
Financial support. I think So You Think You Can Dance is going to make a really big difference. I actually think that the American show has given dancers (in America) integrity and puts them in a place where they really should be admired. We work so hard all our lives and we usually get paid so little and that kind of TV show gives dance the profile it deserves.

I am hoping the show does the same thing here (in Oz). It would be great to see Australia have choreography awards. In America two of the choreographers won Emmy’s for their choreography and I thought wow that’s just not going to happen here. We don’t actually revere our profession and yet still everyone drives on because everyone is still passionate about it.

Do everything, everything, everything! Even if you hate one style invest in it. Invest in everything, every style, singing, acting, every style and facet of singing and acting and dancing. To be constantly working you need to be able to do everything and if people just say they want to do hip hop, I just want to be in a music videos then that person will run the risk of working one week of that year. We don’t have enough opportunities for anyone to afford to specialise in one thing.

I find that full-time students get low self esteem from looking at themselves in the mirror and picking themselves and picking at their bodies and picking at the way they do this and that. All that is very well and very important but I like to turn everyone away from the mirrors so they don’t look at themselves. So they can actually just dance without looking at their shape and cloning their teacher.

Turn away from the mirrors!

Kelley’s HITlist in brief…
Leading lady in Sweet Charity & Fame
Choreographer, lead performer & creative motion capture consultant on Golden Globe, Bafta & Oscar winning film Happy Feet.
Co-choreographer of Hugh Jackman’s The Boy From Oz
Choreographed musicals, Footloose, Follies & Fame
DanceTrain Magazine - Jan/Feb 2008