The dance scene has exploded the past few years in Atlanta and abroad. On the small screen, there are shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars. Taking it to the big screen this summer is another installment in the Step Up series: Step Up: Revolution. The film’s leads, Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman, and choreographer Jamal Sims recently stopped by Atlanta to discuss the upcoming release of the film.
What were the flash mobs like?
Jamal: We shot most of the film on location in Miami, and some of it in a studio. We designed the flash mobs for the movie. It is not one of those flash mobs you see on YouTube where people just go out and have these generic steps. They were really designed. We are doing a dance movie. It can’t just be regular dance. It has to be something that is special. We used escalators or cars that were bouncing. We had to make sure that the environments were cool enough to warrant these flash mobs to make the 3D stand out.
What kind of dance sequences should we expect?
Jamal: The last movie we left on a pretty high point. The difference with this movie is that it is not a dance battle. Step up Revolution is dance used as a voice to speak on different social situations.
The power of the movie was in the number of people. Also, the styles of dance. We had contemporary, salsa and crumping. We used every last style we had and incorporated them into the dance numbers. We eve used bungie chords. There is some special stuff in there.
Ryan: As far as the dances go, the duet between myself and Kathryn choreographed by Travis Wall is my favorite for the couple in the movie. It is a dance seen throughout the movie, but not shown in its entirety until the end of the movie.
As far as flash mobs go, everyone mob we did was the coolest one. We would think, “Wow nothing could top that,” and then we would do the next one. Throughout the movie, the viewer is going to have that same feeling. It is unbelievable the way the choreographers laid it out and how the dancers perform it.
Kathryn: I think it is so cool how the flash mobs are in different settings. Because of that, it brings such an excitement to the movie. It is like, “What are they going to do next?” It depends on where we go and where the mob will be. The mob has to blend into the community and that brings a lot of excitement. All the mobs are so different, and it makes it hard to pick just one.
As far as the contemporary duet that Ryan and I do, it is something new that you haven’t seen in a dance film before. To be able to express the story between the two characters through movement is very powerful.
How did you cast for the different flash mobs?
Jamal: We had a long casting process. We did not just want to have fillers. We wanted people who could really dance. We had to find the dancers that had something special about them. That was a hard process.
Being in Miami, their dance style is a little different. It is not as commercial as Los Angeles. They don’t shoot a lot of dance movies there, so you don’t have people who have experience auditioning. Some people can audition and tank, and be really good dancers because they have never auditioned before. They do not know how to present themselves without being nervous. We have to judge on what they do in that moment and not on what they do at the club.
How do you choose dancers?
Jamal: Because this is my fourth movie, I can tell in two eight counts if someone has it. I’ve gotten that good to tell, “They can do it, or that’s not going to work.” That comes after a certain amount of time doing this.
It’s hard. I am a dancer first. I know how it feels to be on the other side of the table, wanting to do something so bad. Wanting to express yourself through dance and to be a part of the whole process. I would tell people, “Thank you for coming.” Then I would see them fifteen minutes later in a different outfit come through the door to try again. I get it though. Dancers are so passionate.
Did Ryan do any extra training?
Ryan: Not really. I did a week of additional training with Kathryn and another choreographer right before we went to Miami. I kind of just dove into it. Hopefully it worked out.
Jamal: It had to work. Ryan is a MMA fighter. He knows how to move his body and he has muscle memory. Picking up choreography is easy for him. He doesn’t think it is.
He’ll get it and he’ll have it. The next day he will come back and it will be that even better. He also has that mental attitude that it takes. Some people who doubt themselves will never dance. The minute you can stop with all of that; you’ll start to find that you can dance.
Kathryn: From a partner standpoint, doing contemporary choreography is a more hands on. It is about a physical connection. It was insane because he would be in the studio working on the mob choreography. I was in the other studio working with Travis on the duet.
Next thing you know, they would send him in. He didn’t even know that he was going to be doing contemporary at all.
I teased him at first. He did not know what he was getting into but he came in and just naturally did it. He got past the idea of, ” I am going to grab you here and lift you there and hope that my hand lands in the right place.” He just knew where to be. He was a natural partner. There are people who have trained their whole lives who have trouble with it.
Why have you chosen dance after being a fighter?
Ryan: I had no clue how hard dance was until I got in there and started doing it. I put it right up there with MMA as far as training goes. We would do training every day for three weeks for nine hours. On top of that, I would have to make myself look like I knew what they were doing.
I would go home and train for another three hours. It was difficult. I lost fifteen pounds within the first week just from dancing. For me, dancing is fun. I used to do it in the clubs and never thought about it. As soon as they introduced me to the dance world, I just got engulfed by it. Dance was something I wanted to be a part of. I think I will forever be a part of it. I am very proud to be a dancer.
Kathryn, how did being on So You Think You Can Dance train you for this movie?
Kathryn: Being on SYTYCD you are always paired up with different partners to tell a story. I think that is one thing that is very powerful and translates into acting. You are always given a certain situation or circumstance that need to be portrayed for the audience to understand. I think that’s when I realized the importance of telling stories. I started to understand how to use my background and where I came from to connect with those stories.
One time on the show I did an army piece and I have never been in the army. However I was able to connect to leaving someone you love, or leaving home for the first time. It is digging in and finding those things that you can relate to. I think that translates a ton in acting. It is just without the voice. It is learning how to speak on top of that.
It was director Scott Speer’s first movie. Everyone was new besides the Jamal Sims. How was that?
Kathryn: Scott Speer is an amazing man. I went into my first audition and he was so warm and welcoming. He told me, “Don’t worry about it. We like you. You can try it again.” He was so open and understanding.
He is someone who loves what he does and that translates. It made our group a family. At the end of the day he would tell everyone thank you or apologize for something that went wrong during the day. He did not have to do that. He had so much on his plate. He is a very considerate and kind man. Even on Sundays, we would work on our scenes because we wanted it to be so good. It was our first film. We wanted to put in the extra time. To have someone who would take his day off and spend it with us, only made the cast stronger.
Ryan: There are two ways people new to the industry can go. One way is no one really knows what to do. Everyone is bouncing ideas off of each other.
We got lucky with our way. Everyone was so hungry and they’ve got so much to offer. It creates this amazing movie. There would be times where I or Kathryn did not have to be on set but we would go there because we wanted to learn more.
Jamal: For me, I love new energy. Scott would say,” We are going to do this. What do you think?” He knew that I had done this before and I would know if the number was going to work. He would ask me before we even got to the location.
He could have easily said. We are dancing on ice and that’s it. Instead he would ask, “Do you think that’s going to work?” I would say,”They are going to slide and they are probably going to bust their heads open.” He would say,”Let’s not do that.” It was consideration.
Also, I could have never asked for better leads. Kathryn’s has ability and training. Ryan came in having never done it before, but looking like he’s done it a thousand years. We threw them anything and they did it. We had to learn a salsa number in an hour. Ryan was filming in between and Kathryn and I were on the side choreographing the dance. They were both just down for it. That is something that you do not come across every day. I have had other actors say, “Well this is my day off, so I am not going to come in today.”
Step Up: Revolution shows passion, dedication and hard work- qualities that are essential to dance. Catch Step Up: Revolution dances its way into theaters on Friday, July 27.