Ashley Banjo rose to fame as the choreographer for the dance troupe Diversity, winners of Britain's Got Talent in 2009. In his new television show, Ashley Banjo's Big Town Dance, he and the troupe spend two months teaching people in Stockton-On-Tees how to dance.
Ashley chats about his earliest memories of dancing, how his physics background has helped him as a choreographer, and why you have to keep pushing yourself
WHY DID YOU WANT TO DO THIS PARTICULAR SHOW?
I loved the idea of dancing with normal people, showing that dance is for everybody. It just seemed perfect to go somewhere and use dancing to bring the community together.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE STOCKTON-ON-TEES?
It's really run-down; the recession has hit them quite hard. Every other shop was boarded up. We wanted to help the community a bit with this project. You're not going to fix it in two months, but just put a little light back into it. And it really, really did help.
DID YOU HAVE TROUBLE CONVINCING PEOPLE TO BE ON THE SHOW?
Loads. It's a big thing to commit to. Over time, the 'Yes' got a bit easier, but within the first month, when the momentum wasn't rolling, oh my god, I was literally just getting 'No' and 'Go away'.
DID THEY NEED TO TAKE TIME OFF FROM WORK?
Yeah, some people took time off from work, then some people would literally work all day and come straight, and other people would rehearse in the day and do night shifts. That's what made it so special. These people were committing time, effort and money to it.
WERE YOU WORRIED YOU WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO TEACH THIS MANY PEOPLE TO DANCE?
Yeah, normally when I'm doing something I think, 'this is going to be harder than I thought, but we can do it'. But at one point during this show I said, 'I don't know if there's anything I can do to pull this off. There are so many people, and so many people who can't dance'. In the end, it came off from sheer hard work and determination. It was tough though.
WHAT WAS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF DANCING?
Literally from the day I was born I was in my parent's dance studio in my mum's arms. I didn't want to dance until I was about six though, I was too embarrassed. But when I was 15, my mum, who was the main teacher, had an operation on her knees and because we couldn't afford another instructor, I took over. That's when it all really started for me.
YOUR PARENTS HAVE SUPPORTED YOUR DANCE CAREER, BUT DID THEY PUSH YOU TO GO TO UNIVERSITY TOO?
Yeah, my dad really wanted me to get an education. He said, 'Yes you've got talent, but you need to have a back-up plan'. I got into some of the top unis in the country, but I didn't go. I picked my uni based on what was closest to the studio, which meant I could then jump on the tube and go and teach dance.
DO YOU THINK STUDYING PHYSICS HELPED YOUR CHOREOGRAPHY?
It's handy for the planning of the choreography. When you're putting a show together, planning the structure, the narrative, how it fits - it's all logic. It's like you're planning a formula, a puzzle, and that's what my brain does. I'm pretty lucky.
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE REALISE HOW MUCH WORK IT IS?
No, no way. I practice from 9am to 10pm daily, and go through three T-shirts, 5,000 calories and litres of water - it's a lot of work. Then again, if you gave me a month off, I wouldn't know what to do with myself...
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
Follow in mine? Don't... I'm joking. I suppose just work hard. When I think I'm working hard, I know there's someone working harder. And if I'm hitting a goal, I don't think to myself, 'yes I'm on target'. I think to myself, 'I could have done more'. I'm always pushing it. So never be satisfied. Always push and push and push.
:: Ashley Banjo's Big Town Dance, Wednesday January 8, 8pm on Sky 1 HD