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.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.