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July 19, 2016

Smooth Moves

Maria Neuman
  • Rocco Ceselin
  • Rocco Ceselin

A decade ago few viewers cared when the choreographer title scrolled in the credits of a TV show or movie.

"People didn't even know what the term meant," says Zach Woodlee, the man responsible for the dance moves in Fox's Grease: Live! "But thanks to reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance and scripted shows like Glee, it's now become a part of popular culture." Woodlee should know — he was the choreographer on several seasons of Glee.

Originally from Mesquite, Texas, Woodlee started dancing when he was very young. His parents owned a dance studio — his mom, in fact, was a Cowboys cheerleader.

"There were four boys in the family and all of us went to dance class," he says with a laugh. "My other brothers became cops and a fireman, but I really loved it. After finishing school, I moved out to Los Angeles to give it a shot."

That shot included years of dancing for music videos, commercials and movies before he landed a gig on Madonna's "Re-Invention" tour in 2004.

"It was awesome. I was the dance captain and got to wear a blond wig during 'Vogue.' It was my swan song," says Woodlee, who then started assisting choreographer Anne Fletcher and ended up working on films such as Hairspray and 27 Dresses. That led to his stint on Glee as choreographer and coproducer.

"We had no idea what that would turn into," he says of the series. "Initially it was supposed to have three to four songs per episode, and it turned into eight to ten. The show kept getting renewed and going on tour."

When the opportunity arose to choreograph Grease: Live!, Woodlee got to flex his stage muscles again. The TV adaptation of the 1971 musical was broadcast live from Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank on January 31, using two soundstages, half the backlot and 44 cameras; it earned Fox its best season ratings to date.

"There's a certain magic to doing performances live that you just can't get with TV and film," Woodlee says. "We had nine weeks to prep and it really felt we were flying by the seat of our pants, but the result was incredible."

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