Secrets from 11 iconic rom-com dance breakouts
Dance like everybody's watching
A proper rom-com celebration isn't complete without some quality time dedicated to dance breaks. Every classic romantic comedy has one — whether it's a full-on flash mob or a more demure tête-à-tête. As part of EW's special rom-com-themed issue, we talked to the teams behind some of our favorite musical numbers. Click through to read their untold stories.
She's All That
She's All That isn't a high school musical, but director Robert Iscove — who’d been a Broadway choreographer before helming films — wanted to make it one, at least for its prom-set climax. The only issue? Because the dance number hadn’t been in the original script, choreographer Adam Shankman had to create a routine last-minute.
“I had to literally choreograph it in about two hours,” he says. “It was the definition of flying by the seat of your pants.”
Shankman pulled it off, but co-executive producer Bob Weinstein had a note. “Bob kept saying, ‘But how do these kids all know the dance?’ ” Iscove remembers. To answer his question, Iscove brought Usher — yes, Usher — who played the campus DJ — yes, a campus DJ — back for reshoots to call out the steps.
“The whole thing was so ridiculous,” Shankman says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Well, he definitely didn’t choreograph it, because this is the whitest dance I’ve ever seen.’ ” Still, it worked, and stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook even checked off a bucket-list item. “[They] had never been to a prom,” Iscove explains. “I said, ‘I’m going to give them a prom to knock their socks off.’ ”—Shirley Li
The Wedding Planner
In tango, there are certain truths: It takes two, and the man always leads. But in The Wedding Planner’s snappy ballroom exchange between Mary (Jennifer Lopez) and Steve (Matthew McConaughey) — the engaged man Mary falls for despite orchestrating his nuptials — it’s feminine energy that transforms the traditional dance into a red-hot duel.
“He’s doing all the work manipulating her, but she’s doing the other side of the work with the lifts and kicks,” choreographer (now filmmaker) Anne Fletcher says of the scene, in which Mary confronts Steve about his unfaithful inclinations. “It’s a different, unique way to see two people argue.”
While Mary’s passion swaps tango’s gender roles, McConaughey’s preparation made Steve a worthy opponent. (McConaughey trained for two-and-ahalf months, while seasoned dancer Lopez needed only about three rehearsals.)
“She comes in angry and hot, but he doesn’t let her get away with it,” screenwriter Michael Ellis adds of the scene, which was filmed using a Marc Shaiman tune from The Addams Family soundtrack. “He couldn’t have done that if he didn’t have those steps down perfectly. Even though she’s leading that dance, he’s not a pushover.” —Joey Nolfi
13 Going on 30
In the 2004 flick, as the “30, flirty, and thriving” version of herself, Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) clings to 1980s cultural touchstones: The film includes several musical numbers, including a rendition of “Love Is a Battlefield” at a sleepover and, most famously, a “Thriller” dance party at a work event.
Choreographer Marguerite Derricks gave Jenna a “Pied Piper” sensibility, drawing her co-workers out to join in the iconic original Michael Jackson choreography. Derricks taught the moves over five one-hour sessions (though Mark Ruffalo opted for a few extra), and most of the cast, including Judy Greer and a moonwalking Andy Serkis, already had a familiarity with the moves from their youth.
“I do believe it’s in all our muscles somewhere with claws in the air and the head pops,” muses co-writer Josh Goldsmith. “As kids, we all take it very seriously, as does the character Jenna Rink, and Jennifer Garner does it so brilliantly. She’s not being ironic about it; she’s not goofing around, she’s doing it.”
If anything else, the number imparted joy to an entirely new audience. “We were the generation of the ‘Thriller’ video,” concludes Goldsmith. “I was 13 when it came out, but I’d like to think I kept the zombie dance alive for a new generation.” —Maureen Lee Lenker
Smack in the middle of 2018’s Love, Simon — the first-ever major studio-backed gay teen rom-com — is a fabulous musical number that, at first glance, might seem a little out of place. High schooler Simon (Nick Robinson), stuck in the closet and harboring a confusing crush, daydreams of living out and proud when he goes to college, dancing with buoyant delight to beloved queer anthem “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).”
The scene wasn’t even in the original script. “We had this desire to show…how happy and free and joyful he could one day be,” director Greg Berlanti tells EW. “We shot it in the MGM style…Color-wise, it’s a more enhanced palette than any other section of the movie.” They filmed the sequence for about four hours on the same day they shot the scene in which Simon comes out for the first time. “I kept referring to it as the gayest day on the schedule,” Berlanti cracks.
The dance makes for a vitally hopeful centerpiece. “It’s one of those songs where, if you’re in a club and it plays, somebody usually grabs your hand and pulls you onto the dance floor,” Berlanti says of the Whitney Houston tune. “We wanted to do that with the audience.” —David Canfield
Amy Schumer planned to end Trainwreck by dressing as a mascot, but director Judd Apatow wanted a dance. Schumer spent three months trying to perfect her moves — to a point: “Seeing somebody earnestly try and fail, I think that is way funnier. So for most of that scene I’m really trying.”
Schumer became so comfortable dancing that she did it when she wasn’t even required to do so. “On Bill Hader’s coverage, nobody was dancing but he had to react as if we were,” she said. “So I surprised him and full out did the dance for his reaction shot. And you can see him getting emotional. It was really sweet. It’s something that I will never ever forget.” —Derek Lawrence
John Carrafa had to think like a teenage girl to choreograph a dance set to Salt-N-Pepa’s 1986 hit “Push It,” performed by life-long friends (played by Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin) in 2011’s Something Borrowed. The scene, set during a sleepover which Carrafa calls a “flashback without having to go back to their childhood,” comes as Goodwin’s Rachel is having a secret affair and falling deeper in love with Dex — who happens to be the fiancé of her BFF Darcy (Hudson).
“The dance shows how far back their love for each other goes so that the audience thinks, ‘I can’t believe she’s doing that to her,” he says. Classic ‘80s moves like the Roger Rabbit and Cabbage Patch made it in, as did one Carrafa admits he “stole” from Tituss Burgess, who starred in his 2005 Beach Boys musical Good Vibrations.
While the side-to-side step accentuated by wrist flicks may not be a Burgess original, Carrafa says “it was something [Burgess] loved to do in the show.” Now that’s what you call something borrowed. —Gerrad Hall
In the holiday film, the Whitfield siblings come home for the holidays, catch up, and get down. And it mirrors how the film’s writer-director, Preston A. Whitmore II, celebrated as well.
“This is just something that we naturally did with my family and many other African-American families,” he says. “You have dinner, you watch television, and then you turn on the music and clear out for the soul train.”
And that’s exactly what Idris Elba, Regina King & Co. do — to Kool & the Gang’s “Get Down on It” — about 20 minutes into the film.
“On the day we were shooting it, everybody was just standing around,” recalls Whitmore. “So I began moving furniture [to make room for the dance train], the actors started helping, and we had a great time.”
According to Whitmore, former Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper was sitting next to him while shooting that scene, insisting he had never seen anything like it and that they had to find a way to use it for the film’s ending. So they shot a second dance scene, this time with the cast breaking character and freestyle dancing to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
“You’re not going to sit there and tell Columbus Short and Chris Brown how to dance,” Whitmore says with a laugh of the Stomp the Yard duo. “Everybody just came down and kind of did their own thing.” —Derek Lawrence
Pretty in Pink
If Jon Cryer had his way, Duckie would have been dancing to the Rolling Stones instead of Otis Redding during his impassioned record-store serenade for Andie (Molly Ringwald) in 1986’s Pretty in Pink. According to director Howard Deutch, the actor does a great Mick Jagger impression.
But since the sequence is all about Duckie conveying his unrequited crush on his best friend, a song like “Start Me Up” wasn’t going to cut it. A different tack was required, and few singers have ever captured the sound of longing like Redding. “It’s hard to listen to ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ without everybody feeling like they know what it’s like to have a broken heart,” Deutch says.
Prior to Pretty in Pink, Deutch directed several music videos — including Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy” and Billy Joel’s “Keeping the Faith” — which helped him plot out the scene. Together with choreographer Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing, High School Musical), Deutch and Cryer decided how to best express Duckie’s inner feelings.
“Jon showed Kenny what he could do, and Kenny refined it. I just had to stand back and make minor adjustments because it just worked when he heard that song,” Deutch says of Cryer’s performance. Sure, Andie was slightly horrified, “but the dance was about ‘Don’t you see how much I love you?’ with a sense of humor.” —Christian Holub
Isn't It Romantic
If you're gonna make a rom-com spoof, you gotta have to most romcom-iest musical number ever — which is why Isn't It Romantic went with a karaoke scene to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).”
It was the writers’ first song choice, though director Todd Strauss-Schulson was hesitant to spotlight a track that had already been covered by so many other artists. In the end, they settled on a tricked-out version for the flick, which debuts in full on February 13. —Devan Coggan
Friends With Benefits
“When we made this, it was the tipping point” of flash mobs’ popularity, says director Will Gluck. He was a fan of one mounted by Oprah Winfrey, so he hired its choreographer, Ashley Wallen. The scenes were intricate, with “many, many, many” extras copying the moves of 20 to 30 dancers. —Sarah Rodman
Every day until Valentine’s Day, Entertainment Weekly is celebrating our special romantic comedy-themed Untold Stories issue. Check out all of our behind-the-scenes tidbits, reunions, and oral histories — and follow #LoveEWstyle on Twitter and Instagram.
If Hugh Grant had his way, he would never have done his hip-swinging dance to The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Love).” Writer-director Richard Curtis, who’d previously worked with Grant on Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, says the actor wanted his prime minister to feel different from his previous characters — and, of course, to avoid showing off his less-than-professional moves.
“He felt that all the good work he was doing was going to be undone by his ghastly dancing,” Curtis remembers, laughing. “It was a very happy day [of shooting] for everyone, apart from Hugh.”
Still, that doesn’t mean Grant didn’t do his job. “Hugh was always the best prepared actor I’ve ever worked with,” Curtis explains. “He had planned where he turns and what goes where, so the fact that he didn’t want to do it didn’t mean that he didn’t prepare for it.”
In fact, perfecting the scene afterward proved a bigger challenge. Curtis had shot Grant mouthing along to the lyrics, but when they inserted the track, the lip-syncing didn’t, well, sync. “It was one of those things where you get to the edit, and you go, ‘God,’” Curtis says. “The timing was very hard.”
Instead, production had to recut the song and replace part of the chorus with a previous verse to make everything match. Consider it a labor of Love. —Shirley Li