Going Underground with Paul Malek

Paul Malek is one of Australia’s leading dance entrepreneurs and innovators. He has choreographed for So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Disney, Crown and worked with artists such as Darren Hayes and Rhonda Burchmore. But some of his greatest achievements lie in invigorating the Australian dance scene through dance businesses Underground Melbourne, Immersed Dance Industry Gala, Project Y, Boom Media and Collaboration The Project.


I spoke to Paul Malek today about how Underground has changed the traditional dance concert and provided a platform which focuses on audience involvement and enjoyment of a whole range of dance styles to expand the dance culture in Melbourne.

Matt Bell: Underground has been promoted as a ‘dance event with a difference’. What makes it different?

Paul Malek: At most dance events you see one kind of style. You either like it or you hate it or you’re indifferent. With Underground, a whole range of styles are featured creating a very cohesive environment where you go in, you drink a lot and you socialise with not just your friends but with the other dancers. The amazing 200 performers at each event aren’t backstage, they are in the crowd, and everyone is cheering on each eclectic, different act that is on stage. We have vocal performances, we have hot DJs, the lighting display is incredible and the vibe from the moment you walk in . . . it just goes off.

MB: Is that why you chose the Revolt Artspace because it reflects the club environment rather than a traditional theatrical performance?

PM: The second I walked into Revolt Artspace I went ‘This is Underground’. And it was a great starting point for Underground. You walk in and you think ‘Where the hell am I? I am Underground’.

MB: What has the reception been like with the dance community?

PM: We have had eight Undergrounds in two years and at the beginning we thought there would be no way that we could hold this event four times in a year. But every single time we have put on an Underground we have had more applications. We get over 60 applications in Melbourne alone, just from people wanting to perform on the stage. The response from the dance community has been absolutely incredible. The amount of new crews, new dance groups and contemporary choreographers who have come out of the woodwork and are really young, really energetic and really talented is amazing. And now they are off performing at other events including corporate work. It has actually really invigorated the industry here in Melbourne!

MB: What kind of audiences have you been attracting to this platform?

PM: It started just with dancers’ friends but as soon as they came to see Underground they came back next time with their other friends who then bring their other friends to the next one. Anyone who isn’t associated with the dance industry at all can come along to these events and enjoy it.

It has mostly grown through word of mouth recommendations. People are saying ‘I went to Underground, it was insane. It was a dance show that I wanted to see.’ They remember seeing their little sister’s recital and hating all three and a half hours, but Underground is different. If you don’t like one number you aren’t stuck watching it. You can go and have a drink, have a dance, chat, meet a friend, hook up with someone and come back for the next completely different performance which you will definitely love. It is this wonderful environment where there is no pretention.

MB: You’ve clearly had interest from younger groups which caused this recent expansion into the under-18s event Underground Underage?

PM: Definitely. With the younger groups, their performance opportunities are generally in competitive environments. In this environment it becomes very, very exclusive and you stick with your pack of school dancers. The beauty of Underground Underage is that it is a completely non-competitive environment, it is just one big celebration of dance and the kids just have a ball. Everyone can intermingle amongst peers and meet new people. And I had forgotten how much teenagers love to just jump around and sing songs when you stick on some disco music or Nicki Minaj.

MB: At Underground Underage not only were the signed-up dancers performing but you also invited audiences members to hit the dance floor with a DJ. Is this audience involvement important to your model?

PM: Most definitely. We have had times where we inserted small dance competitions for the audience. There aren’t really any prizes, it is just about people getting up and showing off their moves because when it comes down to it, everyone dances. My dad dances, my mum dances, everyone in the world at some point dances. Whether they think they are good at it or not, everyone enjoys moving with music from the day they were born until the day that they die.

It is an opportunity where there is no pretention, no-one is judging and everyone is just dancing and that is what a party should be!

That environment certainly is what a party should be and provides some great insight into why Underground has grown so quickly!

There will be a big announcement coming next week concerning the future of Underground, so check back next week to learn what is in store for the next chapter!