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Step Up 3D Dancer Emma Lovewell on Shooting Dance in Three Dimensions

Cinema audiences have seen floating Na'vi and flying houses, but the three-dimensional dance battles of Step Up 3D (which arrives this Friday) may be a movie first. Curious about how all that hair-whipping, fist-pumping, and puddle-splashing was created behind the camera, Edith Zimmerman called on Emma Lovewell, a friend and backup dancer in the movie (she also works with the Kelly Peters Dance Company), to answer questions about the choreography for 3-D, having to spit large quantities of dust and water, and her special "danger" pay.

What exactly is your role in the movie?
There's lots of battles and club scenes where they need a bunch of dancers to be dancing in the background or in the middle of circles, so that was basically my role. Dancer No. 2050.

And how is 3-D choreography different than regular choreography?
It's crazy. They pretty much do all the choreography with the camera in mind — there’s a lot of hand-reaches and hand-punches toward the camera, because you know that it’ll look like there’s a hand coming at you if you're in the audience, and there’s a lot of close-ups of crazy arm choreography. There's also lots of tricks — flips toward the camera, different angles, like the camera’s above the dancers, below the dancers. It’s just going to look awesome.

What about water splashing? There was definitely some of that in the trailer.
The whole premise of the movie is that there’s these different houses, like fraternities, that all compete against each other for the title of best dance crew. Throughout the movie these different crews battle each other, and in every scene they use, like, every element — for instance, there was a battle in this warehouse where there was dust everywhere. All these dancers who look like construction workers just covered in dust, throwing dust at the camera, dust in their mouth, spitting dust at the camera, spitting dust at the other crew. And they have a water battle scene, too, where they’re dancing on dry ground at first, but then a pipeline breaks, and the water starts pouring in, but they don’t care and they keep dancing.

Of course.
Right. And they’re stomping in the water, and by the end of that scene they’re just totally drenched in water. So, spitting water, throwing water, kicking water toward the camera, toward the crews. And that’ll probably look amazing on a 3-D screen.

Is it fun to dance with dust and water?
Well, because this is a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] film, I was lucky enough to get paid SAG wages, and when you fill out your paperwork, they ask you how long your lunch break was, because if it’s shorter you’re supposed to be compensated for that, or if you’re there for longer than ten hours, you get an overtime rate, etc. And then right next to the question about your lunchtime it asks you, “Were any of these elements in the shot: Dust, water, fire, smoke?” And in every scene there were almost all of them. Like at least one element per scene. So you just get to check off dust or water and you get paid extra money, since those are “dangerous” conditions ... [It's like] you should be paid more for performing when you're wet than when you're dry.

Are you going to be able to see yourself on camera?
I don’t know. They had me do a part where I kind of pull the main guy away from the main girl. There’s a group of girls, and we try to distract him from his objective, which is to get this girl, and then like — I don’t want to give it away, but I bump them into each other, so they kiss. Choreographed bumping.

What are you wearing in the scene, in case people want to keep an eye out?
Actually I’m wearing a terrible outfit. It’s one of the first scenes in the movie, and it’s in black light, so I’m wearing this crossing guard’s vest, this hot-orange vest, with a purple-striped hoodie underneath. But it’s all very neon so it sticks out in the black light. But that’s everyone. They put this black light paint in our hair and on our eyelashes and stuff so we all looked like we were covered in highlighters.

Is there anything else Step Up fans can entertain themselves with, outside of the movie?
Well, there's an official competition where lots of dance studios — Miami, L.A., New York, Atlanta — each put together a video to a pre-choreographed routine, and then there’s online voting for the best. [Editor's note: Here's the video with the official rules.] Whichever dance studio wins gets put on the Step Up 3D website, which is huge because it’s such a good promotional tool. The Miami one is amazing. (But of course I'm most loyal to New York's.)

Photo: Emma Lovewell