Best of 2011 (Behind the Scenes): 'Glee' choreographer Zach Woodlee on his busy year -- and his most challenging dance yet

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Image Credit: Adam Rose/Fox

As 2011 comes to a close, EW.com wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements and among the deserving is Glee choreographer Zach Woodlee. This year has been particularly big for Woodlee — and not just because the show’s dances have been more challenging than ever. Oxygen’s The Glee Project highlighted Woodlee’s week-to-week contribution to the show in a way casual fans had never seen before.  After watching Woodlee turn a novice group of aspiring Gleeks into dancing machines, we were left wondering — much like we do after watching the cast perform their elaborate dance numbers — “How does he do it?” Below, Woodlee told us how. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for EW.com‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.

By: Zach Woodlee

To single out a year of Glee would be impossible. Most of the cast and crew have been together from the beginning, making it a tightly spun group of great people. When we are not shooting, we are touring. When we’re not working, we’re still together as friends. I think the most challenging part of the job, besides the sheer volume, is the many different groups we work with. Ryan Murphy and the writers create such strong choir ensembles. Each of the them must have a different feel to the way they move. The New Directions, Troubletones, The Warblers, Vocal Adrenaline, even the Hipsters, all must have their own vibe.

Choreographing on the show taught me a wonderful lesson: Dance is not perfect. It has taught me to love dance again, not just technique. Certain rehearsals that I thought would be thorn in my side have become my favorite moments. I have loved teaching Cory [Monteith] “Single Ladies,” seeing Harry [Shum, Jr.] learning older Jazz styles, working with Lea [Michele] on pointe, tangoing with Gwyneth [Paltrow], even talking with Chord on stripper technique. Teaching non-dancing actors how to move and be comfortable with millions of people watching them builds in some very proud memories for me. I have been given a most unique job of turning a Bad News Bears-esque group of dance skill into a unit.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love to watch those of us who have trained for many years to hone a craft. However, the joy of someone dancing that hasn’t trained can be just as inspirational. We celebrated our 300th musical number this year, and I can happily say that I have a cast with style. Having actors that have become so comfortable moving and embracing their own skill set and style is rewarding.

Since we are such a tight knit cast and crew, dancing on set is a given. The inside dance jokes are always my favorite. There are numbers that have “moves” borrowed from the cast and crew’s off-screen jams. They are even hidden inside some dance numbers. For instance, in the song “Valerie,” we had moves that our Steadicam operator [Andrew Mitchell] does, as well as a little dance our DP [Chris Baffa] likes to sport. We infuse the Naya [Rivera] dance, we have moves with Kevin [McHale] in his wheelchair, and there is always a way to sneak in Mark [Salling]’s infamous moves, the list goes on… The epic pose of Cory posing as Big Tex at the end of “Last Name” was a tribute to my fellow Texans.

The surprising thing about the show is the dancing crew. If you could see how much our crew dances, you would laugh. The visual of seeing our crane operators moving in time to music, our costumers and prop master making new statements in each episode, our lighting designer with new ways to emphasize movement, and our production designer keeping a look to feel new, all make for a team I could not ask more from.

The best thing about the show is never knowing what is next. We have used mattresses and pillows, dodgeballs and food, wheelchairs and ramps, fire and bikers. Nothing is off-limits. The episode we are shooting at this very moment has us doing something I never thought we would be able to pull off! Sorry, no spoilers.

Glee has given me beautiful chapters in my life. I will never forget going to a hearing-impaired high school and working with a group of extremely talented deaf students. Now, The Glee Project has allowed me to work with many other disabled performers, and again… no spoilers. I thank Glee for opening my eyes to dancing again.

For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.


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