Strolling the boardwalk at Coney Island last summer, Brian Lawlor saw two men drowning… at least, in the choreographic sense of the word… so he threw them a lifeline — in the process setting off a chain of events that shook the high-stakes world of basic cable online dance contests to its very core.
Lawlor, a composer and musician who teaches at the Garden Street School of Performing Arts, seemingly isn’t shy about crossing over to express himself via the medium of dance. “My girlfriend Elise and I are rabid fans of the GSN [Game Show Network] show ‘Baggage,’” says Lawlor. “While looking up an episode online one day, we stumbled across the ‘Dance of a Lifetime’ competition.”
The contest offered a trip to Hollywood, where the winner would share the stage with none other than “Dancing with the Stars” and “Saved by the Bell” alum, Mario Lopez. With a fat, juicy worm like that on the hook, Lawlor jumped at the chance. “After checking out the minimal amount of submissions and impending deadline, I said ‘Hell…I would love to do a fierce two-step with A.C. Slater.’”
“I had a video from last summer — when we were playing a piano in Coney Island as part of the Sing for Hope Pop-Up Piano public art installation — where I crashed a dance party on the boardwalk.” Lawlor’s exquisite performance, which needs to be seen in order to be truly appreciated, would soon become a catalyst for online infamy.
Through assertive, borderline aggressive guerilla marketing that targeted all his friends and colleagues via Facebook and Twitter, Lawlor was able to generate a wave of grassroots support that carried him straight to the top of the “Dance of a Lifetime” charts.
“Everybody was super supportive,” says Lawlor. “I’m lucky [Garden Street School of Performing Arts owners] Dan and Annie McLoughlin know me well enough to understand my penchant for ridiculousness. They were on board hustling votes and advertising the competition. In addition to the other music teachers regularly saying ‘Voted for ya!’ I was happy to even have a couple of the dance faculty check out the video and share it with their students and colleagues. It was a genuine collective of support in the name of fun. I’m lucky to work with and for such cool people.”
Online, however, the climate was considerably less welcoming, as the comment thread for Lawlor’s video became a troll’s paradise of antagonistic sour grapes.
“I was a bit shocked at how venomous some people were in their hatred for me and my video,” says Lawlor. “There was a disillusioned notion that somehow this would launch the dance careers of some of the contestants. Ultimately, though, the haters sparked some of the craziest dialog on the poorly moderated message boards. I was just happy that so many of my friends and family contributed and shared in such a fun way. When it became apparent how popular my message board was, it was common practice for other contestants to come and ask for votes on my page.”
But as it turned out, Lawlor was to be the Al Gore of this hotly contested election. Despite an overwhelming number of popular votes, a panel of judges awarded the grand prize to one Shandy Underwood of Huntingburg, Indiana. Disappointed, Lawlor maintains his interest in the dance medium. “Dan McLoughlin recently suggested I teach a workshop titled ‘Crazy Boardwalk Improvisational Dance.’ Once I truly internalize my technique, I’ll be happy to share it in an academic setting.”
Hold Us Closer, Tiny Dancer
When asked which “Saved by the Bell” thespian he’d most like to share the spotlight with, Lawlor admits, “I’m a Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) kind of guy. I was hugely influenced by Lisa’s dedication to the art of movement through her and Screech’s innovative collaboration and development of ‘The Sprain’ move. It was truly a stunning example of overcoming adversity. A free-form dance explosion with her at the Max is something many men my age dreamed of. I still do.”
With all due respect for Mr. Lopez, Lawlor added, “If [the contest] was for a dance with Screech, I would have hustled twice as many votes.”
Now that the roller coaster ride over, the main question on everyone’s mind is: What’s next for Brian Lawlor? “I’m not sure I achieved enough of a status where I can ‘do’ anything with the fame or infamy,” he says. “I think I’ll stick to my forte and continue composing/teaching music.”
On the topic of Shandy Underwood, his bitter rival throughout the entire ordeal, a tight-lipped Lawlor has only this to say—”I wish her the best in shaking what her momma gave her.”