Giselle Peacock & Kevin Clifton in Burn the Floor
I like to get into the acting side of [ballroom]. When I'm dancing, I'm playing a character.
Hometown: Grimsby, “a small town on the northeast coast of England—it was voted the third worst place to live in Britain.”
Currently: Living up to his show’s title with a blistering Broadway debut performance in the dance spectacular Burn the Floor.
Born to Dance: Clifton’s earliest memories revolve around watching his parents dance together. “They were Latin American world champions, and they traveled all over the world doing demonstrations and floor shows,” he says. The elder Cliftons opened a dance school after retirement, and little Kevin stepped onto the ballroom floor at the tender age of four. “My mom and dad used to hate teaching me,” he says with a laugh. “I was a bit cheeky. If they told me I was doing it wrong, more often than not I would tell them no, I wasn’t.”
Sibling Revelry: For his first decade in competition, Clifton’s partner was his younger sister, Joanne. “People ask me, 'Was it weird?’” he says of dancing with a sibling. “It really wasn’t, because we started so young. The closeness of what we do came sort of second nature; the movements were just part of the performance.” By the time things could have gotten weird, the sibs developed divergent specialties (traditional ballroom for her; Latin American for him) and found other partners.
Practice Makes Perfect: What does it take to become one of the world’s top-ranked ballroom dancers? Clifton’s childhood routine tells the story: “My sister and I would be in school during the day and take classes at my mom and dad’s dance school every weeknight, fitting in homework. Every Thursday night, we’d drive two and a half hours to Birmingham for a class, then back for school. Friday night, we’d take a train to London and spend the weekend taking lessons, then a competition on Sunday, then back to Grimsby for school on Monday.” It was a schedule that left little time for hanging out, but Clifton’s friends made fun of only one thing: “I’m very pale, so I had to put on fake tan for competitions. Kids would tease me when I’d come to school looking orange.”
Cheek to Cheek: Clifton found love on the dance floor when he met a stunning blonde ballerina named Clare at a London salsa bar. “She decided to train in ballroom, and I said I would do ballet with her, which I was rubbish at!” he says with a chuckle. By the time they decided to get married (on 7/7/07, a date chosen by coincidence when the church they wanted was available), he was ready to retire from competition. “It got to the point where winning championships became more about the technical aspects of ballroom—dancing with the goal of impressing the judges,” he says. “I made the decision to join Burn the Floor, where I get much more license to express rather than impress.
Feel the Burn: Kevin and Clare have been with Burn the Floor since January 2008, dancing together and separately. “They tend to swap couples around to see which dancers work well together,” he explains. For the Broadway engagement, Kevin is partnered with Giselle Peacock and Clare is serving as director/choreographer Jason Gilkison’s assistant, though she’ll soon depart to dance in a company headed for China. The show’s sexy content—including a jive/cha cha number called “Fishies” in which Clifton seductively "reels in" a total of five women—is all in a day’s work. “It’s easier to access those emotions when I’m dancing with Clare,” he says, “but I like to get into the acting side of it. When I’m dancing, I’m playing a character.”
New York State of Mind: After dancing nonstop for two hours on a Broadway stage, Clifton unwinds with a meal and late-night TV. “I get so emotionally charged up during the show that I usually can’t get to sleep until four o’clock in the morning,” he says. “I’d like to say that I get up late morning, but usually it’s early afternoon, unless we have a matinee.” Exploring New York City is a favorite way to relax. “I love standing in Times Square just soaking up the sights,” he says. “I was really excited the first time I saw a yellow cab—I guess because it’s something you see in the movies. But then I realized there’s millions of them!”