Exclusive Interview with Benji Schwimmer of So You Think You Can Dance
August 21, 2006 by Kath Skerry
What happens when one of the world’s biggest TV websites asks two of So You Think You Can Dance‘s biggest fans to collaborate on an interview with the newly crowed ‘King of Dance’ Benji Schwimmer? You get one incredibly candid interview with one helluva Dancer just hours after his big win.
After talking to Benji Schwimmer, winner of this season’s So You Think You Can Dance, you can’t help but understand why this kid’s at the top of his class. At 22, the humble, resolute performer compares himself to Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we completely agree–except they both see it as magic where as we, the audience, know that it’s their hearts that separate them from the rest.
Benji: Thanks. It’s been a long journey but it’s been definitely worth it.
What was it like to hear Cat Deely say your name?
Benji: I think it was a mix of a lot of different things. Three months worth of blood, sweat, and tears, injuries, stress, wondering if I made it, didn’t make it. People criticizing me on the Internet. My parent’s dance studio burning down. There were so many things building on top of me at that final moment. It didn’t even matter which name she announced–it was just such a release. It took me a couple seconds to realize they called my name. I didn’t get it. Wasn’t expecting it to happen. One of the coolest experiences of my life.
Each week it seemed like the Benji fanclub grew and grew to the point where they were chanting your name–how important was the fan reaction and how did it affect your performance?
B: What was awesome about the fans that night was there’s a big group of people. It got to a point where they respected the top four so much that everybody was cheering for everybody but when they announced my name, I saw family members of every contestant stand up. They all knew what we had been through. And the fans of Benji, the Shwingers, as they called them[selves], were so cool–they supported me from the beginning. Their fingers were bleeding from voting so many times. It was awesome.
You mention family. You’ve been dancing with your Cousin Heidi for 17 years and were both in the show’s top four together–tell us what it was like to have that experience together.
B: I think that’s almost a bigger honor than being titled America’s favorite dancer–we were America’s favorite dance couple. We didn’t even try out together, which was odd, but for 17 years we worked on being in competitions together, and whatever the outcome of the finale, they just said she wasn’t the person. It was just really cool that we got there together and were in the finale together.
You stated at the beginning of the competition that you had not danced for two years prior to the show? How did you prepare for the auditions?
B: I came back after all that time off and I had such a desire to dance and so for months I kept on training and working and I ended up selling my car so I could afford to train like I had been. After that, I went down to L.A., took some classes and just kept going. Honestly, I was at a point where I wasn’t sleeping–I was so crazed. I became almost manic about the whole thing, but it really got me out of some tough times, too. Overall, it was just an amazing experience.
Going into the competition, did you think that your success in the Swing World would help or hinder your chances at making it to Vegas?
B: I think it helped. It was kind of a unique thing to have. I was happy to have represented the swing world in that aspect. Certain people had some negative criticism because of my success as a national champion, but for the most part they respected it.
Of all the choreographed routines performed by other contestants on the show, which one do you secretly wish you could have performed?
B: I wish I could’ve done the west coast swing. I did a jazz piece but I would’ve loved to do a west coast swing. In the future, I want to take ballet, Cuban classes–I want to do it all.
You were hospitalized in the week prior to the Final Four Competition but it was never addressed on the show. Were there moments when you feared this would affect your chances of moving on?
B: There was always an injury. It was almost every week where I collected a new one or even two. And it was almost like I was being prevented from doing more and more maneuvers. But I guess it’s part of the process and part of the show– is to use all that you possibly can and I know that whether I’d won it or not, I’d know I would’ve been able to finish the show and say, I’d done everything I possibly can to win this thing.
How do you foresee all of this success changing your personal life?
B: Personally, I’m going to have to be careful to who I befriend now, because there are certain people out there tend to take your money and privileges you have to their advantage. And I also get followed around and have paparazzi take pictures of me, and I don’t mind people asking for my autograph–I was in the same boat three months ago. But it’s going to be important to find time for friends and family and the people I love.
You’re a natural entertainer and you know how to play the audience; do you have aspirations of Broadway or possibly even film work?
B: Yeah, definitely. In fact–I just was cast to play the lead role as Fred Astaire in the upcoming film about his life. Nigel really helped me out with that, so it was just a real honor. I felt kind of like Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where you go through these great experiences and are rewarded something at the end like his everlasting gobstopper or the company or something.
What can you tell us about your role in Celine Dion’s Vegas Extravaganza “A New Day”?
B: Basically I’d be a dancer, I’d probably have a special number with Celine. and we’re possibly going to do a duet between Celine and I. I can’t wait–it’s going to so cool.
Which scares you more? Mary Murphy’s scream or Dmitry’s chest?
B: Gosh, you know it’s funny–both of those things are legends in themselves. I think the scariest thing is when Nigel and Cat pretend I’m about to kicked off the show and I don’t. I think I’ve had about two or three ulcers.
And lastly, what are your favorite TV shows?
B: One of my favorite shows is still the Seinfeld re-runs–they’re so hilarious. Also, the Office and the old U.K. versions of Whose Line is it Anyway are great, too.
Alright, well, congratulations, Benji! Good luck with your new life in show biz!
B: Awesome! Thanks, guys!
GMMR and Ducky will be checking out the SYTYCD tour when it hits Boston in the Fall. If you are seeing the tour in your area, let Ducky know. We are looking for special correspondents in each city!!