It is a thrill to welcome three-time world Latin Dance Champion and Choreographer Louis van Amstel to Examiner.com. He has entertained audiences nationwide with his nine appearances on Dancing with the Stars where he partnered with stars such as Lisa Rinna, Kelly Osbourne, Sabrina Bryan, Niecy Nash, and Priscilla Presley.
In addition to his accomplishments on the dance floor, Mr. van Amstel has set his sights on the world of fitness. He has created a program called LaBlast that combines both dance and fitness into an impressive workout that has students in 19 states and eight countries on five continents.
Louis took a break from his hectic schedule to talk about how he got interested in dance, his time on Dancing with the Stars and LaBlast’s evolution.
Jacob Elyachar: When were you first get interested in dancing?
Louis van Amstel: Actually, I was not interested in dance at first. It was my grandparents’ interest. They thought I needed to start dancing for social purposes. Both of them were competitive dancers and we would go to many events. They thought it was appropriate for me to learn how to dance. I guess it is the American equivalent of Cotillion. It is a part of etiquette training.
JE: What have been some of your favorite accomplishments in your career?
LvA: One accomplishment has to be winning the world Latin Dance championship three times. As a dancer, it is the ultimate prize we can win! That, of course is the biggest one. I think another major achievement for me is having the guts to move countries. Sixteen years ago, I moved from Europe to the United States and that was quite a big accomplishment in itself. Everything that I am doing right now is the result of that decision. In 2002, I produced a Broadway show and that is a major accomplishment for me. I had to rent a Broadway theater by myself. I created it, did all the work and had great volunteers that believed in me. Then, of course, being a part of Dancing with the Stars. The last major accomplishment is creating LaBlast and developing my new clothing line: LVA.
JE: Could you please describe to my readers, how “Dancing with the Stars” approached you?
LvA: Dancing with the Stars started out in England under the title: Strictly Come Dancing. The company that created the show, BBC Worldwide, called me from England and asked me if I was interested in taking part of Dancing with the Stars and the rest they say is history!
JE: How has your participation on “Dancing with the Stars” helped your career?
LvA: By having millions of viewers watch the show, all of our profiles (the Pros) have skyrocketed. People have called us celebrities and it has given us opportunities to create new businesses. That is what I did with LaBlast and LVA, plus just the fact that ballroom dancing has become mainstream because the show brought it to a lot of households. Some of the pros opened their own dance studios, others gone into acting and became movie stars like Julianne Hough or some have gone into the music scene like Mark Ballas.
JE: Before we sat down for our conversation, I went back and reviewed three of your best routines from “Dancing with the Stars.” I was wondering if we could talk about them?
LvA: Okay! I am curious to see which ones you picked out.
JE: As a longtime “Dancing with the Stars” fan, one of my favorite Paso Dobles of all the seasons had to be your Paso Doble with Lisa Rinna in Season Two!
LvA: Ah! “The Final Countdown!”
JE: I thought that routine and the Jive propelled Lisa’s status from underdog to frontrunner!
LvA: You are right! I think showing her midriff in that dress…she was very confident at that point. She started believing!
JE: How did that Paso help her confidence?
LvA: During the first two weeks of Season Two, she was so nervous. She could not stand still, she was shaking like crazy and everyone saw it. Then, the Jive saw a major change in her. She said: “Screw It! I’m doing this for me and I am doing this to have a good time! I am not going to worry about the outcome! I am going to dance my heart out!” and that is what she did.
By the time we came to the Paso Doble, she just had become so confident and had fun with the all of the elements of the show. She really went into the choreography and she clearly inspired a lot of people and her message was: “If you want something, you have to go get it!” Right after that Paso, she went into the Top Four and it was really nice. She was up against some heavy-hitters too including a person who had 15 years of ballet training (Stacy Keibler), a Super Bowl MVP Award Winner (Jerry Rice) and Drew Lachey. For Lisa to come out of nowhere and break into the Top Four…that Paso Doble summed it all up!
JE: The second routine I would like to discuss with you is the first time you performed the Viennese Waltz with Kelly Osbourne in Season Nine.
LvA: I am glad that you picked that one out because that was my favorite routine, too. I must say, we performed it again on Week 10 and the second time that we did it was my all-time favorite dance. It is neither from the choreographer or dancer’s point of view, but it was the accumulation of all these routines that she went through and the changes Kelly made in every facet of her life. That dance was both the most memorable and proudest moment of what I could have done to help someone change their life.
JE: The final routine I wanted to discuss with you was your Quickstep with Sabrina Bryan during the All-Star Season, which featured that incredible treble kick.
LvA: Sabrina was amazing! From a dancer’s point-of-view, she was my favorite partner. First of all, she could move and dance already…but for her to pick up a bulk of the elements so fast. She was incredible in the ballroom and I loved her! Sabrina reminded me of Kelly as a personality. She says whatever comes to mind and she will not tolerate people that are not sincere and I loved that quality about her.
Thank you for choosing those routines because they are truly some of my favorites.
JE: In addition to working on “Dancing with the Stars,” you also worked on “So You Think You Can Dance.” As a choreographer, what were some of the challenges that you faced while creating routines? How did you overcome them?
LvA: They are two completely different shows. If you look at my history on Dancing with the Stars, I had quite a few non-dancing celebrities. Most of the time, it is all about dealing with the nerves when it comes to the celebrities. They have never done anything like DWTS and they are out of their comfort zone.
With the So You Think You Can Dance dancers, it is another kind of nerve. They are very nervous when it comes to presentation but the execution of the Ballroom style is much harder than their own style. I had dancers on So You Think that actually did AMAZING and others that would actually fall apart. Liked the celebrity on DWTS even though it is less of a level, they would freak out!
What I like about DWTS is that I am involved! I am on the floor with my celebrities. I am not just teaching and choreographing…I am there! I have the responsibility of making them feel comfortable. On So You Think You Can Dance, I am sitting in the audience when the show goes live. I have no control and to me…it’s more nerve-racking than Dancing with the Stars.
JE: What were some of the factors that drove you to create LaBlast Fitness?
LvA: I saw an advertisement from the American Heart Association when I was in New York choreographing for All My Children. I was in my hotel room and saw a commercial that stated: “Heart disease is the number one disease in the United States.” Then it hit me, “I am part of the number one dance show in the United States and probably worldwide. What can I do to give back?” That was probably one of the big reasons I started LaBlast.
Another reason is that Lisa Rinna and I did two Dancing with the Stars tours: the winter and the summer tours. After one of our shows, she told me: “Louis, I am so addicted to this and even though there is no way I can go back on Dancing with the Stars, you got to create something so I can keep dancing!”
Yet another reason why I made LaBlast go worldwide was after my season with Kelly, I saw how it affected her and I thought: “If she could do it, anyone could do it.” LaBlast can help with weight loss. It can bring back femininity to women after breast cancer, bring back romance into people’s lives, and help make people happier. I also wanted to help out people who are heavily obese. They would be too embarrassed to go to a gym or show up in public. I decided to create the LaBlast DVD, so people could do it at home and no one has to see you. They could jump start that weight loss and once you feel more confident, then you could go out and join the public classes to finish their journey.
Altogether, those are the reasons why I launched LaBlast.
JE: Currently, LaBlast is offered in multiple states nationwide and in over 8 countries around the world. Why should my readers try LaBlast?
LvA: A lot of people find fitness boring and LaBlast makes it fun. Essentially, if you are a fan of Dancing with the Stars, you can learn what the celebrities learn on the show, that is what a lot of people want but it is also a workout in disguise, and it’s completely partner free. People underestimate the fitness level that is built into all of the LaBlast routines and they have no idea that they are working out. This sets them apart from any fitness dance program out there. We also dance to any genre of music or artist from any era. If you hear it on the radio, we dance to it! LaBlast is a fun way to learn to dance, a cheaper alternative to private ballroom lessons and it adds some creativity and fun other than jumping on a treadmill or a Stairmaster. You truly learn the skill of dance, while burning calories and having fun! You learn at your own pace, because LaBlast is a multi-level program.
JE: In addition to LaBlast, you are also launching your clothing line: LvA. What are some of the factors that you considered about the products that you are going to have in your line?
LvA: Three years after creating LaBlast, I studied what women were wearing across the country and globe. I realized that plus-size women wore their husband’s over-sized t-shirts to cover up or they cannot shop at stores because there is no workout gear, transition wear or regular clothes for them. I wanted to incorporate a clothing line and the niche is that many of my clients have busy lives. So besides the plus-size women that cannot shop anywhere, I also wanted to target moms that are also career women.
I want my line to include transitional wear for the women who have to go straight from class into lunch or business meetings. They can wear it to and from the gym and around the house or under a pair of jeans! You can even go to work with it because it is ready to wear and you can still workout in it. All the garments are going to have Dry Fit, which will absorb the sweat.
My motto for LvA is “I’m Every Woman!” It was inspired by The Bodyguard and Whitney Houston’s song: “I’m Every Woman.” I am also a big believer in equality and “do not judge someone else!” If I have five to six ethnic groups and five-to-six generations in my LaBlast class, I am very happy and I will cater LvA to any woman of any body size and ethnic group.
JE: Off the dance floor and off-camera, you are very passionate towards multiple charities including NoH8, GLSEN’s Anti-Bullying Campaign and Dance for the Cure. What does each of these charities mean to you and how can my readers get involved?
LvA: NoH8 is about equality! Glisten (GLSEN’s Anti-Bullying Campaign) is about anti-bullying for kids in school. I was bullied as a kid in school. I went to Washington and spoke to Congress with Clay Aiken, some kids that were being bullied and the President of GLSEN. We were in Washington in hopes that we could help stop the bullying.
Dance for the Cure supports men who battled or currently battling prostate cancer. I am also a strong supporter of the Breast Cancer Foundation. So many women come to class deal with breast cancer. Even though they do not have their breast, femininity and feeling good is an internal feeling and not an external feeling. LaBlast has really helped them and in turn, I want to support the Breast Cancer Foundation.
JE: If you had the chance to meet with aspiring dancers who want to go into the entertainment industry, what advice would you share with them?
LvA: Because TV has more to do with personality than dance quality unfortunately…if you do not have the confidence to almost be a public speaker then you have to work on that. In the television industry, the first question is always: “Does the camera like you?” If the camera likes you and you can back it up with great dancing, then the entertainment industry is for you! If you are just a great dancer, casting directors are not going to hire you…they are looking for dancers who have great personalities!
To learn more about Louis, his charities and LaBlast, visit his website: http://louisvanamstel.com/