Why The NFL’s Dirty Dancing Spot Was The Super Bowl’s Best Commercial—And, An Exclusive Interview With The Ad’s Associate Choreographer, Alison Solomon

by Michael Mahany | 2/6/2018 4:11 PM


Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and the offensive line of The New York Giants. Photo Credit: NFL.

 

These days, the Super Bowl isn't just about football— we, over at Dance Network, know so many people who show up to the party for the food and tune into the game just for the halftime show and the commercials alone. During this year’s gridiron showdown, however, we got it all: an AWESOME game (go EAGLES!!), a fantastic (and somehow, controversial) halftime show performed by Justin Timberlake, and, as always, some hit and miss ads. This year, though, it definitely goes without saying that for dancers, the NFL’s Dirty Dancing commercial was a home run…. err, touchdown, I should say.

 

If you happened to be up grabbing a second handful of chips and dip during that third quarter break, the commercial seemed to begin like any other ad for the NFL might; with players from the New York Giants offensive line casually talking and working out in their training facility. It’s only when superstar wide-receiver Odell Beckham Jr. goes out to receive a pass from former Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning, and Bill Meldey’s iconic velvety voice begins to croon, “Now I… had the time of my life…” one might notice something was afoot.

 

With a perfectly choreographed head turn, Odell looks back to Eli as Jennifer Warnes' quintessential vocal response seamlessly joins Medley’s, and that unforgettable beat drops in. From there, the two football luminaries join hands and begin to dance their version of the film’s original choreography.

 


 

The result: pure and utter brilliance. The tenacity at which these two top notch athletes fight to bring grace and fluidity through their battle-torn bodies is nothing short of remarkable. The partnering, Eli Manning’s version of Patrick Swayze’s legendary leap, the head thrashes, and that emblematic re-creation of the aisle choreography are all incredible.

 

Obviously though, if you’re gonna do Dirty Dancing, you HAVE to do the lift.

 


Photo Credits: NFL and Vestron Pictures.

 

And, as you can see above— much like Jennifer and Patrick did in the original film—these guys NAILED it.

 

Dance Network scored an exclusive interview with the associate choreographer of the commercial, Alison Solomon. Solomon, prior to her work on the NFL ad, has spent years establishing herself as a well known and well respected dancer and choreographer in the Broadway dance community. Having assisted some of today’s greats like three time TONY® winner Andy Blankenbuehler, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’s Josh Bergasse, Beautiful's Josh Prince, and more, she’s also danced on Broadway in Mia Michael’s Finding Neverland. Together with the ad’s choreographer, Stephanie Klemons (known for her work as associate, supervising, and resident choreographer of the enormously successful Hamilton), the two worked to create and stage the brilliant revamp of the iconic dance.

 


Ali Solomon. Photo Credit: Matthew Simpkins Photography

 

We asked Ali all about dancing with Eli, Odell, and the Giants, how hard it was to keep it all secret, and of course, about the unmistakeable and unforgettable lift. Read Dance Network’s interview below:

 

Dance Network: Ali, thanks so much for taking a second to chat with us. Congratulations on the hugely successful commercial! So, tell us, working with athletes versus dancers— especially these athletes, Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants offensive line— on this incredibly recognizable choreography… was it easy? was if hard? How did they handle it?

 

Alison Solomon: It was actually quite amazing and you'd be surprised how little time we had to teach them the steps. Eli and Odell are elite athletes so their work ethic and body awareness is incredibly impressive. They might not achieve the style as quickly as trained dancers, but when Stephanie and I showed them steps, they picked everything up super fast. You can almost see the inner workings of their brain too— they know immediately if they've made a mistake and then they self-correct. I can say the same thing for the offensive linemen.

 

We were on a really tight shooting schedule and the players were only available for a limited amount of time. Stephanie and I had to tag team— a lot. For example, while she was working with the director to get some of the Eli and Odell shots, I was at the other end of the field rehearsing with the linemen. They don't take breaks and they want to review over and over again up until the last possible minute. Eli also showed up hours early to get in a workout before getting into "costume and hair", was on the bike during every break, and went back to the gym as soon as he was wrapped shooting. He's a workhorse and the second you meet him you understand every bit of his success as an athlete.

 


Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning. Photo Credit: NFL.

 

DN: Wow! That’s crazy! It makes sense though because much like the elite dancers of the world, these guys are at the ultimate top of their game.

 

Now, since we’ve heard from numerous sources that it was the BEST spot in the whole game, we know this must have been SO HARD to keep secret! How much pre-production did you and choreographer Stephanie Klemons get, and how long did the spot take to shoot? What’s the response been like for you since the spot aired?

 

AS: I am blown away. I was joking earlier today because I've never been so popular on social media. (Laughing) I have more messages and comments per hour than on every birthday combined—ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but that's what it feels like!

 

To be honest, the process was fast and furious. We only had one day to rehearse with the extras and stand-ins, about an hour with Eli, and then one day to shoot. Most of the teaching and rehearsing with the players was done the day-of. Stephanie and I didn't get to do any pre-production together in person because she had been super busy traveling for Hamilton (she's the Associate Choreographer and Global Dance Supervisor - basically she's in charge of every single company!) We had a meeting with the director of the commercial and the ad agency just days before the whole process started— they story boarded, Stephanie proposed music cuts and choreography ideas, and it was all set in motion. She actually reached out to me the day before the first rehearsal and I cleared my schedule to meet her bright and early the next morning. We did most of our pre pro via email and text and in person at the facility whenever we weren't needed.

 

As far as keeping the secret...it was KILLING me. I privately shared some photos with my family but I had to constantly remind them about not sharing anything publicly or talking about it. Even with that, all I told them was that it involved Eli Manning and the Giants. I wanted them to know what to look for on the big day, but that was it. I was dying to tell people about the Dirty Dancing theme, but I knew the payoff would be better if no one saw it coming (plus we were sworn to secrecy, of course).

 

DN: We saw that you partnered with Eli a little bit in rehearsal, what was that like?

 

AS: It was amazing and hilarious and my neck was sore for days. Odell was out of town until the shoot day, so we rehearsed Eli on his own at first - but obviously there was some partnering and so I stepped in to be Odell until we had him there in person. There was actually even more choreography than what made the final cut of the commercial. I wish there was some behind the scenes footage to see how much of that dance the guys actually learned. It's impressive to say the least!

 


Photo Credit: NFL.

 

DN: So— the iconic Dirty Dancinglift” with Odell and Eli. Tell us about it.

 

AS: These guys were game for anything and everyone knew that if we were going to go for this idea then it HAD to end with the lift. There was no question in anyone's mind that we would make it happen.

 


Ali Solomon. Photo Credit: Matthew Simpkins Photography

 

DN: Amazing. Now, before we let you go: you’ve been an associate to so many of today’s biggest Broadway choreographers; Josh Bergasse, Andy Blankenbuehler, Josh Prince— since you’re emerging as a high profile choreographer yourself, how do you think these voices have influenced your work?

 

AS: Oh my goodness. I'm so flattered and shy and blushing all at once. The lessons I've learned from these guys is invaluable. Every day in the studio is like a master class. One of the things that I keep closest to my heart is that when I work on my own material or projects, I want to make sure I know what my voice is, and I think I've learned that from them. I'm not sure if that

makes sense, but if you think about choreographers like Andy and Josh, their voice is very distinct; their work is so easily recognizable. In addition, as a dancer for all of these guys you always know why you are dancing, what the steps mean, and how you are helping to tell the story. That is so important to me as an artist. I'm not saying that there's never a place for doing steps just for the sake of doing them, but the choreography that speaks to me, and the choreography that I want to create, is deeper than that. As I work on finding my voice, I think I have a lot of their voices inside my head. I can certainly see elements of each of them in my work when I create, but also in the way that I teach choreography, run auditions, et cetera. There have been plenty of moments where I've thought to myself, "what would Andy do…(or Josh B, or Josh P, or Al Blackstone, or Stephanie, or Lorin)?

 

It sounds cliche, but my life is hugely changed by all of these amazing choreographers and I'm constantly thanking my lucky stars.

 

————

 

We thank our lucky stars that Ali Solomon took the time to chat with us. For more on Ali and her awesome dance career, check out her website: www.alisolomon.com.


Check out these behind the scenes shots of Ali ad the crew on location

 


Ali Solomon and the New York Giants. Photo credit: Ali Solomon



Stephanie Klemons and Ali Solomon. Photo credit: Ali Solomon


Ali Solomon. Photo credit: Ali Solomon


Oh, and just for kicks— here’s the original film version of the dance. 



 

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