Chicago Dance Crash covers so much ground that you just kind of expect they’ll always be up to something different than whatever you saw the last time. But right along side of all those wide ranging adventures in choreography and concert dance, Crash has a rock-steady tradition that’s been going strong for a long time. It’s their Keeper of the Floor series — KTF, the second longest-running live show in the history of Chicago. Founded in 2007, it’s been hosted for the last ten years by Matthew Hollis, or as he’s better known when he takes charge of KTF, Matrick Swayze.
Words cannot do justice to the Crash-infused, Mattrick-Swayze-curated good-natured mayhem of KTF, so instead of saying any more about it, we asked Matthew to tell us all about Mattrick and ten years of KTF with Chicago Dance Crash. Here’s what he told us —
At the end of the day I just love to laugh, and being able to share this laughter and comedy with the audience brings me an immeasurable amount of joy.
Johnny Nevin: When Chicago Dance Crash steps out on the floor on May 19th, it will be ten years since Matrick Swayze began hosting their wildly popular Keeper of the Floor shows. What’s the story, or even better, the back story, about how Crash found you and how you found them?
Matthew Hollis: I had been friends with Charlie Cutler for years and through this became friendly with the Dance Crash. Shortly before Mark Hackman contacted me we were both running shows at stage 773 but had little to no interaction with each other. I mention this because it made hearing from the Crash a surprise. Mark called and mentioned he was looking for a host for their KTF battles and that he could pay me in beer (which this always surprises me cause it’s like just use the money you’re gonna use to buy that beer and just pay me).
Up to this point in my career I had little experience hosting and was most adept at more traditional dance theater productions. Regardless, I agreed to the job mostly out of a desire to try something new. I decided to continue using my performance moniker Mattrick Swayze as it was what people were already calling me and I liked the idea of having a separation between my hosting and my daily life. I wore pants in that first show and what would come to be my signature cummerbund, cuffs, and bow tie; it wouldn’t be until the next KTF that I would debut my now ever present fishnet and heels ensemble. My friend and longtime collaborator Jyl Fehrenkamp was the first Swayzette and came with me that evening to provide some extra comic relief and some moral support. That evening was scary because it was a new audience, they were kinda drunk and rowdy, and I had no idea what to expect. Turns out my smart mouth was an asset that evening and I was a hit. Mark asked me to continue hosting the future shows and together we have molded them into the version you see today.
Johnny: Do you remember any of your first impressions from those early years, or maybe any especially memorable moments? Since you’ve seen just about all of them, what do you think makes for a great KTF moment? Is it more about the performers, about the crowd, or what?
I believe in asking for forgiveness instead of permission and don’t think I even ran the idea by Mark.
Matthew: The early years of KTF were a little rough. Shows were at the Lakeshore Theater which I think has since become The Laugh Factory, the event wouldn’t start until 11 or later, and the performers were always an interesting jumble of crash dancers and wild card dancers from around town. Like anything that’s new there was a definite excitement that accompanied these productions. As a host I was finding my own style and as a show we were creating and polishing the format that would become the show as we know it today.
In terms of memorable moments, I would say the first time I wore heels for the KTF audience. I had been wearing heels for quite some time in my own shows but this moment was different. The crowd wasn’t nearly as gay friendly as my usual audience and I didn’t know what to expect. I believe in asking for forgiveness instead of permission and don’t think I even ran the idea by Mark. I was shocked by how well it was received then and how it continues to please and elate. One of my favorite memories in regards to the heels is when a man roughly my father’s age who was there with his wife came up to me and showed me all the pictures he took of my ass during show. It was cute and sweet and, well, I have a nice ass.
Also, in the early days I was plagued by everyone giving me a hard time about the voting. As you know, the dancers dance, the audience votes and voila we have a winner. Since the audience applause determine a winner, people become very passionate, as this level of participation allows them to be more invested in the show and its outcome. Due to this passion at the end of each and every show people would approach me and tell me how I made the wrong decision, who they thought should’ve won, ask me ‘what were you thinking,’ etc. In fact at one of the early crew battles one of the dancers even got up in my face on stage and told me that I was bullshit. I needed some backup so we purchased a decibel meter which not only gave me a scapegoat but it’s scientific, and unless you are president, you can’t deny science.
…at the end of the day it’s the audience who really determines if the evening is going to be one to remember.
KTF is driven by the audience. My job is to facilitate the evening and make things run smoothly and be enjoyably. The dancers are present to wow us with their imagination and talent. My Swayzettes exist for the sole purpose of hyping the crowd and ensuring that each moment is coupled with some levity and ridiculous energy. However, at the end of the day it’s the audience who really determines if the evening is going to be one to remember. If the audience energy starts to fizzle so does the evening, and if their energy is off the charts the evening feels like a greater success. As host, I feel like it’s my job to keep the crowd invested in every moment and when things don’t go well I take it very much to heart. In that same vain, nothing feels more amazing than when the audience, performers, and myself come together and lean into an evening of laughter and spectacle.
Johnny: There’s a special kind of comedy when Matrick Swayze is on stage, understated and easygoing in a way, but kind of nonstop in attitude and anticipation. Where does all of that come from — do you play this by ear, or do you have a particular perspective on how to laugh with an audience?
In order to be an effective host you need to be quick, cunning, and generous with your humor. You can’t be afraid to be the punchline.
Matthew: Well….I’m always kinda working up material in my head but much of what you see in stage is played out in the moment. My KTF intro has become pretty concrete through the years, to the point that even the audience knows what I’m about to say. I love this mainly because it gives the audience another opportunity to participate and that participation right from the start really helps to convey the idea that we are all in this experience together.
Basically, I was born with a smart mouth and it’s really a wonder I haven’t been slapped around or punched more often because of the things that fall out of my mouth. However, this smart mouth is an asset on stage because it allows me to comment and exist in the moment. In order to be an effective host you need to be quick, cunning, and generous with your humor. You can’t be afraid to be the punchline. I like racy humor, I like cutting humor, and I like this humor to be born from the moment, but I try to stay away from things that are extremely cruel or lewd. You’ll notice that even though I love an innuendo or off color reference I don’t really swear a bunch on stage. At the end of the day I just love to laugh, and being able to share this laughter and comedy with the audience brings me an immeasurable amount of joy.
… that participation right from the start really helps to convey the idea that we are all in this experience together.
Johnny: You’re also a dancer as well as a choreographer — can you tell us a little about those two sides of what you do and what you love artistically?
Rather than complain I just decided to make the kind of dance that I wanted to be in. My dances always had a lot of dialogue, were driven by a dark sense of humor, and were largely story driven.
Matthew: I would like to say I’m a former dancer. I was a modern dancer for a number of years in Chicago and it was though this experience that I entered the world of choreography. What I didn’t love about the world of concert dance was how serious everything was. Dance was lacking a sense of humor and the more I danced, the more I was becoming less invested with the stoic faced stage presence that was so common. Rather than complain I just decided to make the kind of dance that I wanted to be in. My dances always had a lot of dialogue, were driven by a dark sense of humor, and were largely story driven.
I created the Power of Cheer to be a catalyst to create change in my life, and needless to say, it did.
This adventure in dance and choreography lead me to create The Power of Cheer which was a performance group focused on spreading positivity, humor, and legs. The POC and myself would perform all around town and became a staple halftime presentation for The Windy City Rollers. Since the derby girls all have really clever derby names the dancers and myself created cheer names. Your cheer name was supposed to be something that reflected you and your inner cheerleader. I really loved city dancing and the major motion picture ‘Dirty Dancing’ so from this experience Mattrick Swayze was born. I went on to apply for and receive the Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant which helped me study and produce a show about cheerleading. This show was the critically acclaimed box office sensation that ran next door to the Crash show shortly before I became host of KTF. I created the Power of Cheer to be a catalyst to create change in my life, and needless to say, it did.
Johnny: What kinds of projects are you cooking up for our future?
Matthew: Aside from hosting more shows with the Crash I will be with Chicago Tap Theater this June at the Athenaeum. I’m also working on doing an entire evening of Mattrick Swayze. It would be a cabaret type performance where I would tell stories and take off my clothes. You know, something I could do at grade schools and church socials.
Chicago Dance Crash presents KTF – Keeper of The Floor, 10 Years of Mattrick Swayze on Saturday, May 19th (9:30pm) at Chicago’s Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622. Tickets are no longer available online, but you can try contacting the Den Theatre Box office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 773-697-3830.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Chicago Dance Crash