Dance Flick: Bringing Comedy to the Dance

“Dance Flick,” written and directed by the Wayans Brothers, is being released May 22, 2009 by Paramount Pictures.

When casting, the producers sought funny people who could dance, though not all were prepared for the kind of dancing the movie would feature. “Half of these people had never done anything like this,” says Rick Alvarez. “In fact, none of them had done anything like this in a movie.”

Noted choreographer Dave Scott was brought onboard to get the cast in shape and devise the dance routines, an interesting choice since some of the movies being sent-up in “Dance Flick,” such as “Step Up 2,” “Stomp the Yard” and “You Got Served,” are movies Scott choreographed.

“It was kind of a double challenge for a choreographer, because not only are you choreographing scenes, but they have to do take-off on what you’ve done, as well as the work of other choreographers,” Scott explains.

“It’s actually quite a compliment for Scott,” notes Shoshana Bush, “because he did such a good job on his movies, and we’re commenting on his good job. And now he gets to send-up the routines he created.”

Doing a take-off of dance moves is not as simple as it might sound. “When I got on the project,” says Scott, “I thought it was going to be, like, clowning the dancing, making fun of it – you know, horrible dancing, but it’s good dancing, with comedy thrown into it.”

“It was really important for the movie to have good dances and great dance movements,” Marlon Wayans says. “The dance in most of these movies that we’re sending-up is really good.” Adds Rick Alvarez, “That’s the difference between this movie just being a comedy and being a take-off of dance movies.”

The trick was how to make good dance funny. Scott watched all the original films, including his own, looking for places to inject the trademark Wayans humor. “Dave gave us a lot of insight into those movies and helped us find the punch lines,” says Alvarez. “He really set the tone for those scenes.”

“The great thing about Dave is that he’s very collaborative,” Damien says. “And he gets the joke. He gets the funny. He’s not one of those guys who’s making his own individual movie. He understands the joke. It’s one thing to do some really cool moves, but he was able to infuse comedy within the dance moves.”

Scott also credits his director with having a better-than-average understanding of dance. “Damien’s not a dancer, but he’s a huge fan of dance, so he has a lot to bring to the table that you wouldn’t, at first, expect,” he notes. “He’ll go, ‘I want it to look like this, I want the feel of this film. I want the feel of that film.’ You can tell his knowledge isn’t just coming from the research he’s done. It’s because he has these different movies in his library already because he watches them. He’s an avid watcher of ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ so he really likes different dance styles. My job, then, is to interpret what he wants from the dancers.”

The Wayans and Scott worked together to create the humor in the choreography. “They gave me all the parodies for the different movies to work on. I just did my research and they put the comic beats in,” he explains. “It was a great education for me because I know choreography, but they showed me how to put the comic beats into the dancing. It’s interesting, because what you think may be funny is funnier for a longer period of time depending on where the comic beat is in the routine. And that’s what they know best.”

The next challenge was to teach the actors how to do those funny moves, particularly since most didn’t have professional dance backgrounds. “In the casting process, a lot of the actors said they had dancing experience,” he laughs. “They lied.”

Brennan Hillard had some education and had taken a master class with Scott. Essence Atkins had some experience from previous work, but for the most part, the cast’s experience level was minimal.

“At my audition, Damien asked me, ‘Can you dance?'” recalls Chelsea Makela. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to lose this part because I said I couldn’t dance.’ So I answered him, ‘Of course I can dance!'”

Ross Thomas found himself unexpectedly surprised upon arrival at his audition. “I saw all these guys in the audition waiting room at Paramount with chains on, going, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m Sinner 5, I’m D Boy 6’ – they all had these dance names. And I’m like, ‘Well, I’m Ross Thomas, and I gotta go in there in front of the Wayans and make a fool of myself right now.'”

“He wasn’t the best dancer we auditioned, but he was the funniest actor,” says Rick Alvarez. “So we brought him in, and he invested 120% in the dance sequences and it shows in the film.”

“Ross is a guy who probably has like 20 friends and they all told him that he’s dope. And then he walked outside,” says Scott. “But what Ross lacks in dance skills, he more than makes up for with his energy.”

“Damon could actually dance a little bit,” says Scott, “but he felt like he couldn’t, so he kind of made little noises when he was doing a move to accommodate what he thought he wasn’t doing right.”

Like any Wayans, he proved to be a quick study and an equally-quick improviser. “If you’d let him go and said, ‘Follow me,’ he’d do it his way. And what he thought was horrible actually looked good, and it worked for him because he’s funny. It was different, but it was funny. He could just mock me, follow me, and do what he thought I looked like and that’s where the comedy came in.”

To get the actors up to speed, Scott and his assistant, Kristi Crader, put them through a week or two of intensive “Millennium Class” boot camp. “We had two weeks of pre-production, and we danced our tushies off,” recalls Shoshana Bush. “He worked us hard. We actually had to change a lot of it last minute and he kept his cool. He just came in and worked his magic.”

“We kept calling him ‘Dancing Jesus,’ because he does miracles,” Damon Jr. says of his teacher. “He made people who suck at dancing look like they can actually dance.”