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The choreographer: Jamal Sims of 'Footloose'

Intimidated at first at taking on the redo, he decided it best to keep the Southern homeyness of the original while adding modern dance moves.

September 04, 2011|By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times
  • Julianne Hough, center, as Ariel Moore and Kenny Wormald, right, as Ren MacCormack in "Footloose."
Julianne Hough, center, as Ariel Moore and Kenny Wormald, right, as Ren… (K.C. Bailey / Paramount…)

As a suburban kid growing up in the bedroom community of Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County, choreographer Jamal Sims gained most of his musical influence from television and movies. Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video made him want to dance; "Breakin" introduced him to spinning on his back. But it was "Footloose" that turned him on to a kind of dancing he hadn't seen before, specifically country line dancing. So when director Craig Brewer wanted to talk "Footloose" with Sims, best known as the choreographer of the "Step Up" movies, Sims admits to being intimidated — believing that the original 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon was not an easy redo.

Once he heard that Brewer was hoping to catch the spirit of the original, he was on board. "Craig and I both felt that if people are going to come and see 'Footloose,' we did not want them to get something that's way over the top like a 'High School Musical' production or a 'Glee' production. We wanted to respect the first one."

Brewer and Sims worked to maintain the Southern homeyness of the original while interjecting modern dance moves into the update. Specifically, Sims felt that the drive-in sequence set to a heavy rap track from Southern rapper David Banner was Sims' chance to put his mark on "Footloose," which opens Oct. 14. "It was my opportunity to bring in a little bit of street. To introduce this other world that feels more integrated and more hip."

And more Southern. He infused the aggressive dance scene with some Memphis Juking, Atlanta Bootyshaking — current Southern dance styles that have become popular on both coasts.

But Sims' biggest challenge was creating an update to Bacon's "Angry Dance," where he unleashes his frustration of being a city boy in a small town on an empty warehouse. "The hardest part was trying to not make it look corny," says Sims. "Nobody goes to a warehouse and just tears it up."

Sims and his assistant spent the day at the location, dancing. "It was hot. It was Atlanta, and we just went crazy for eight hours. [The scene] needed to feel as unchoreographed as it could be." The result? A high-energy masculine rage.

But Sims' most indelible mark on "Footloose" may be the same one he had on "Hannah Montana." As the choreographer of the Disney movie, Sims turned Miley Cyrus' "Hoedown Throwdown" line dance into a country fair staple.

He's back with another line dance in "Footloose," one that could prove as indelible. "It's crazy because now I'm known for line dancing," says Sims. "It's cool, but I really wasn't expecting that."

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