Every once in a while, Philip Villeneuve gathers up a few of his friends and his iPod, goes somewhere public in Toronto, and then dances, mostly by himself, to a song no one other than he can hear. The friends record it all in one take, and then Phil uploads the video (with music overdubbed and synced up) to YouTube.
The most recent one, of Villeneuve dancing through the Eaton Centre to Robyn’s “Fembot,” got covered on CHARTattack and tweeted by Robyn before landing here last week. When a flashmob lurks around every corner—especially if the corner is Yonge and Dundas—Villeneuve’s one-man videos are refreshing: they’re spontaneous and totally unselfconscious, but that apparent effortlessness belies the skill that goes into making the whole thing seem easy.
Villeneuve stopped dancing long enough to answer our questions for him earlier this week.
Torontoist: What do you do when you’re not publicly dancing?
Philip Villeneuve: I wish that was all I was ever doing, but alas I have a couple jobs. I work a 9–5 at Puretracks.com as their music content guy. I program our music stores and take care of label relations. I also write for Chart Magazine. I’m a DJ and play a few parties in the city, one of which is Big Primpin’, the big monthly gay hip-hop party! And lastly I’m in a couple bands: The I Love You Toos, and North Of Queen (a gospel-bluegrass band). Woowee.
How do you scout locations?
They just sort of pop out at me when I’m out and around the city. They’ve got to be public and they’ve got to have something unique about them. There also always has to be that slight chance of getting kicked out or stopped mid-song.
How much planning goes into any one of these?
Not much planning at all! And that’s how we like it.
Basically, when a song comes along that I really love, I start thinking about places in public I could dance to it. Then I let the film crew know a date and time, they show up, and in one take we film me dancing to the song. I always have the song playing on my iPod, so no-one else hears a thing.
For “Fembot,” I quickly fell in love with the song. I danced to it at home by myself a lot, and that’s when I knew it would have to be the next song.
I texted the film crew [Jackie Rowniak (“camera girl”), Tarra McGandy (“Best Boy / Dolly Grip,” who “also makes sure all is good around us when we’re filming”), and Lisa Nandoo (“Bag Lady,” whose “role is so simple but essential. She handles all the bags and coats while I dance”)] the day before and told them to meet me in the mall for an hour on a rainy Saturday. I had arranged for my friends Roni and Nani to meet me a few minutes before filming to come up with an extremely complex dance routine. The trick here was that they wouldn’t hear a thing and would only be dancing to my counting out loud. And voila! We all met and filmed it in six minutes.
If it were any more complicated than that, I don’t think we would do these.
How much of the dancing—the moves, where you’ll do them—is planned in advance? The Eaton Centre video definitely seemed like a combination of improvisation and following some sort of script.
With the exception of the choreographed scene [with Roni and Nani in the “Fembot” video], none of the moves, interactions, or direction of the videos is planned out. That’s what makes them so much fun! Not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing who I’ll run into, and just going with the song is really what gets me excited.
One last, big (and maybe obvious?) question: why do you do it?
Ah yes! The WHY!
Two years ago around Christmas time, I was very low on money and still wanted to give something to my family and friends. So I decided to make Phil: The Movie. It consisted of a bunch of scenes of me doing various things, night and day. Some of those things included me dancing, and the big one was me dancing to “Single Ladies” in a park, late November. We had so much fun filming that scene and the reaction was so great that I was inspired to do more and am now addicted!
There’s something about getting an amazing song in your headphones and just letting go. If “letting go” just so happens to be in public where I can dance and interact with complete strangers and get some cool interaction, then even better! It makes my heart race, in short. It also makes my heart warm when other people enjoy it afterwards.
Okay, that, and I’m a big show-off.