In the dance world, Mandy Moore has long been a go-to name, but in 2017, the success of her choreography for La La Land made the rest of the world stop and take notice. After whirlwind seasons as choreographer and producer on both “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” she capped off the year with two Emmy Award nominations—and her first win.
You’ve come a long way on “So You Think You Can Dance”—from assistant to the choreographer (Season 1) to creative producer (Season 14). What keeps you returning to the show?
“So You Think You Can Dance” was one of my first jobs, so it feels like home. I love the chaos of live television; as soon as one show is over you’re on to the next.
What’s your process for choreographing within such a limited time frame?
When I first started choreographing for “SYTYCD” on Season 3, I prepped the entire thing in advance. But then I’d create an amazing routine for two contemporary dancers and find out I’d be working with a tap and a hip-hop dancer—with only six hours of rehearsal. Now I’ll have a few sections or an outline prepared. Then I give myself space to create on the dancers’ bodies.
How is the process different for “Dancing with the Stars”?
My numbers for “DWTS” are big, splashy productions, so I have to access a completely different skill set. It takes a lot of cerebral thinking—figuring out formations, costumes, song edits, phrasing of movement, staging and camera angles. It’s very mathematical.
And I imagine the time in pre-production is much longer when you’re working on a major film like La La Land?
Oh my god, yes. “Another Day of Sun,” the opening number for La La Land, was the most pre-production I’d ever done. There were so many logistics: Which way are the cars facing? How much space is between them? Does it have a reinforced roof? It took months of that before I could even start to think about steps.
You won your first Emmy Award in 2017 for “DWTS,” bringing you to one win and six nominations. Do the nods lose any of their weight over time?
When I was first nominated in 2008, I didn’t even know choreographers could get Emmys. It’s definitely on my mind when I’m choreographing now—and in the years that I haven’t been nominated, I can’t help but think, “Oh man, did my moves suck this year?” I know how hard it is to get noticed for live television.
When they called my name, all I felt was an incredible sense of gratitude. The award doesn’t just represent those two numbers; it represents hundreds of numbers and countless hours of work with so many people. I’m in the process of moving, so the Emmy is still in its box. I’ll have to find a special place for it in my new house.
You’ve worked across what seems like every genre—movies, television, commercials, concerts, award shows. What space do you feel most connected to?
I still feel most comfortable in a dance studio teaching, which has always been my main focus. But in terms of choreography, live television is where I feel most at home.
With all those hours on set, do you have time to soak it all in and unwind?
Honestly, not really. I’m trying to learn a bit more about balance, because I’m not very good at it. Life goes quickly, and I want to do as much as I can. And last year was certainly the craziest yet. I’ve realized that what I really need in my life now is a lot more snowboarding.