Once Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan won their roles in Step Up, they had to learn the film’s dance moves, and quick. He plays a delinquent forced to serve community service in an art school he vandalized. She plays a star ballerina whose partner gets injured weeks before her final performance. When she discovers his street moves, the couple sets the dance floor on fire.
Tatum and Dewan On Step Up Dancing
During rehearsals, there was no flame to be found. “Nerve racking,” said Tatum. “There are so many different levels of it. For example, I had to learn how to count music. I didn't know how to count music at all. And then aside from that, you learn it in like a closed environment, like in a dance studio by yourself, where it's just you and [the teacher]. And then they throw you out in front of people, and you're like, ‘You all are going to be here while I'm doing this?" It's different than going and dancing in a club. Even in a circle in a club, I don't even like to do, because it's really strange. You go to stand in a circle and you watch people dance. Like I don't know, that's nerve racking to me.”
Tatum ultimately learned how to count music by beat boxing to the steps. Dewan knew how to learn choreography, but acting took up more of her rehearsal time. “Basically, we had four weeks of rehearsals ahead of time so we did dance rehearsals eight hours a day,” she said. “On top of that, we had scene rehearsals with the director and the cast so, for me, it was just creating a character, creating the layers of a character, creating somebody that you can relate too. Although she was very similar to myself in a lot of ways, it was very similar to me at Nora’s age but there were a lot of differences I wanted to create. I did a lot of work, scene work, backstory and character development; stuff I had been coaching and training for when I got into acting. On top of that, we had tons of scene rehearsals with the director and the script changed so many times. At one time, my dad was dead, then my mom was dead then my dad wanted me to dance and my mom didn’t want me to dance and it was all these things. I had a backstory and character developed for every situation so I was prepared. I know what Nora does if this or that happens.”
Perhaps Dewan didn’t know how instrumental she was to Tatum’s ability to dance on screen. “I don't know how I would have done it without her, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was nervous with the partnering, but I actually got the partnering better than some of the other stuff. You know, it's easy for a guy to be a partner, especially if he's working with someone that knows what they're doing like she does. I don't know how much partnering she had done, but I don't know how we would have done it without her. Like we were auditioning other actors that didn't know how to dance, and it just would have never worked. It would have never worked in a million years, because they'd have had to get a dance double, and it just would have been fake and unbelievable. And she had to do some of the most technical stuff in the movie. Like Tyler's stuff, he takes the technical thing, he kind of makes it his own, so it was whatever I was comfortable doing. So I could manipulate mine. Hers had to be like dead on. And I learned so much from her.”
She gave him high marks too. “He’s such a good dancer on his own,” she said. “He really has so much natural talent and he had done it in clubs and street dancing and stuff. So when it came to the partnering and the more technical side of dance, Anne [Fletcher, director] was basically teaching the choreography but if we would do something that just didn’t feel right or I would be like ‘You know, if you move your body this way or put your hand here, it will help’. So, I’d help every now and then but he actually picked it up really quickly and it wasn’t something that was hard for him. It was pretty fun and we got along great.”
Ultimately, the biggest lesson was just keep trying. “Dancers, apparently, I found out, make it work,” he said. “I want to make a t-shirt [that says] ‘Make it work.’ Because I was falling on my face like every five minutes or just forgetting it, and the day of, like she was just like, ‘You just got to make it work. You just got to plunder through it, and whether it's good or bad, you just get it done.’ And you want to make it as good as possible. That's why you work so hard.”
Step Up opens to theatres today.
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