Q & A with Aakomon Jones: Making James Brown Dance Again
Aakomon Jones (left) and assistant choreographer Codie Wiggins on set of Get on Up
(courtesy Universal pictures)
Move over, Jersey Boys. There's a new jukebox movie in town, and this one gets a whole lot funkier. Get on Up, starring Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, hits theaters today.
This is one dance movie you shouldn't miss. OK, OK, so it may not be a dance movie the way Center Stage is a dance movie (though Get on Up choreographer Aakomon Jones did create the moves for Center Stage: Turn it Up—in addition to his work for Usher, Madonna and Janelle Monae), but Get on Up is chock-full of smooth—and did we mention funky?—moves, amazing performances and fascinating historical tid-bits. You might even literally leave the theater dancing: At the screening I attended, a guy stood up and danced in his seat during the end credits. (Even Lil Buck couldn't resist!)
What went into recreating Brown's legendary concert performances? I caught up with Jones to find out.
What excited you most about taking on this project?
The fact that it was James Brown was the biggest selling point. But the team was also unbelievable—from the director, Tate Taylor, to the producers, Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger. I had to be a part of it.
A still from Get on Up
(courtesy Universal Pictures)
How did you handle Brown's iconic performances? Did you try to recreate the dances from archival footage, or did you want to infuse the choreography with your own style?
I tried to stick to the performance references, because I wanted the film to be as accurate as possible. That being said, we weren't going for a carbon copy. It's a heightened reality. But any creative license I took came from the vocabulary of James Brown. If I sprinkled any extra moves in here or there—I took from moves I'd seen him do. The research for this film definitely started long before we started rehearsing. When working on a project like this you have to dig deep and look closely at the video footage.
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in Get on Up
(courtesy Universal Pictures)
Chadwick Boseman did so much dancing. Was there a dance double?
We did hire a double for one scene—but it wasn't for a performance. Instead, the double—dancer Marc Innis—filled in a body: At one point, James Brown walks past a younger version of himself, and we didn't want it to be digitally added in post-production. Every dance you see—every split, slip, glide, mashed potato, drop to the knees—is all Chadwick.
Boseman as James Brown
(courtesy Universal Pictures)
I've read that Chadwick didn't come in with any sort of dance background. What was most challenging about that process?
James Brown embodied pure, natural talent. It's hard to teach that in such a short period of time. We only had thirty days. We started with two-hour sessions, five days a week, but that grew to four-hour sessions, and then six-hour sessions seven days a week. His footwork really started getting good! What Chadwick did struggle with wasn't the splits or the sliding. It was having to do so many moves at the same time. James would have four or more things going on at the same time—working the mic, stomping his heels, snapping his fingers, using his lower body. And then he'd be singing on top of that.
Watch the trailer for Get on Up below, and then check your local movie listings for show times.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!
Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.
There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.
Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.