Originally Published August 18, 2006
Benji Schwimmer is America's favorite dancer. And he's gone through a lot to get there.
Schwimmer had been preparing for So You Think You Can Dance since November. In 2005, Schwimmer and his cousin Heidi Groskreutz (also a competitor on So You Think You Can Dance), won the U.S. Open Swing Dance Championship. Schwimmer was happy he won, but couldn't get over the depression he was feeling over his ex-girlfriend. While on a Mormon mission in Mexico, his girlfriend sent him a letter, ending their relationship. "I was so depressed, and I didn't want to date because no one compared to the girl I was still in love with," Schwimmer said. The next day, one of Schwimmer's friends told him he needed to see a clip of a TV show. That clip was of Nick Lazzarini, last year's So You Think You Can Dance winner. Schwimmer said he immediately knew he had to be on that show, and trained constantly until it was time for the auditions. He downloaded all the So You Think You Can Dance clips off the Internet, and watched them religiously until 3 or 4 in the morning. Schwimmer said, "I wondered if it would be possible if I could make this show, let alone win it." He said he thinks it's nuts that it actually happened. "I pulled myself out of this depression with the eventual goal of being on the show," he said.
Schwimmer has since spoken with his ex. In the beginning of the show he called her to let her know she might be mentioned. He said they made peace with one another and that all is well. Schwimmer considers his ex a good friend and said she was supportive throughout the show, getting everyone she knew to vote. Schwimmer also said that in the Mormon community, people get upset when a man is "Dear John'd" on his mission. So, when Schwimmer's ex talked to people about the show, they (not knowing she's his ex), would respond with comments about what a horrible person his ex was. While Schwimmer did let out a little laugh when he told this story, he said, "She's a great person, I wish her the best."
And ladies, Schwimmer is oh so very single. "I've been romantically linked in the tabloids and Internet threads," he said, "but none of it's true... unfortunately, in some cases."
Schwimmer still can't believe so many females like him. He mentioned the signs people held in the audience that had comments like "Benji, father my children" and "I would have waited for you." "I think it's hilarious," he said. "I'm kind of a geek. I'm kind of scrawny. I don't have gorgeous features. But for some reason, certain people kind of like me."
As they should. After only a few minutes of speaking with Schwimmer, it was quite apparent that he's a fun guy who has his head on his shoulders. Schwimmer is a third generation swing dancer. His father, Buddy Schwimmer, is known as the "King of Swing," and his "grandfather was the most incredible swing dancer ever," Schwimmer said. His parents never forced him to dance, but it was something he always wanted to do. "I had my own little band at four-years-old and all the neighborhood girls were my backup dancers." He continued, "It was always in my head that I'd be a famous star, dancer, or actor."
Schwimmer isn't just about the fame though. He decided to extend his mission in Mexico to over two years, and during that extension his family and friends visited him there. Schwimmer spent that week showing them the villages in which he had lived and the people he had taught and stayed with. Schwimmer's family and friends brought the people clothing and toys, and Schwimmer realized that there were a series of orphanages that needed special attention. This caused Schwimmer to start D.E.M.A.N.D., which stands for Dancers Everywhere Making a Needed Difference. The website for the foundation is in the process of being created, so Schwimmer asks people to stay up to date by checking his MySpace at myspace.com/benjidance.
Not only has Schwimmer won the title of America's Favorite Dancer, but he also received $100,000 and a 1-year dance contract in Celine Dion's Las Vegas show. Schwimmer plans to use some of the money for his charity, some to buy a plane ticket to Mexico, and "save the rest of it for a rainy day." By doing this show, "I've solidified the fact I can actually raise a family in this industry," Schwimmer said. As for the Celine Dion show, Schwimmer is still not sure if he's going to accept the offer, because the show does not really incorporate his dance style. Yet, Schwimmer said, he spoke with Mia Michaels who choreographs Dion's show, and she said they'll work with his style. In addition she said they might create a swing duet for Schwimmer and Dion, which Schwimmer said is something to consider.
Either way, Schwimmer knows he has "such a cool future ahead." He's already had three offers for Broadway, two sitcom offers and two movie offers. In fact, he will be playing Fred Astaire in an upcoming movie. Schwimmer said he wants to bring back the Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire type movies. "Those movies were just too good. They were timeless and classic. I can't remember the last movie I saw, but I can remember those movies from when I was five."
As for this new life, Schwimmer is still getting used to it, describing it as "nuts" and "insane." "I've always had fans running across the street, ripping my shirt off," he joked, adding "just kidding." Seriously Schwimmer said, "It's amazing people would like me that much to do that." He added, "I don't have the looks and I don't have the good body for television." When I reminded Schwimmer of all the women that are now in love with him, he said, "Then forget about my body issues. Let's just go with America!"
Schwimmer is starting to get the hang of it: America loves him. And, other than learning "dreams can come true," "be grateful for what you have in the moment," and "sometimes you have to go through affliction to appreciate all the good things you have in your life," he may have learned his most important personal lesson of all: "Nice guys do finish first," Schwimmer said.