John Byrne restages The Breakfast Club for JCPenney

The last time we heard from 25-year-old choreographer John Byrne, he wrote about the difference between working in L.A. and NYC (November 2007). John went from dancing with Taylor II to choreographing in Hollywood, where he’s worked with celebrities like Norah Jones, Elton John, Mary J. Blige and Gwen Stefani and done commercials for H&M, Capital One and Burger King. Here, he gives us a backstage pass to his re-creation of the library dance scene from the 1985 hit movie The Breakfast Club for a JCPenney back-to-school fashion commercial. —Lauren Levinson

Last April, director David LaChapelle asked me to re-create the dance sequences from the 1985 teen flick The Breakfast Club for a new JCPenney commercial. In the movie, five teenagers—a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a realist—are locked in a library for detention. When the principal leaves, the students spontaneously break into a dance party; they climb onto sculptures, desks and stairs to express their unique dance styles.

The commercial is part of JCPenney’s fall “Back to School” fashion campaign, which is aimed at encouraging all of us to be unique and dance to our own beat! Here’s a diary of our week in Hollywood.

Monday, April 28

9:00 p.m.: Director David LaChapelle phones me in NYC and hires me for the gig. I’ve worked with him many times before, and he thinks I’m right for the job.

Tuesday, April 29

11:00 a.m.: I meet up with my assistant Jessica Starr, whom I’ve worked with since I began choreographing in 2003. At 25, she’s the founder of Muse, a progressive new dance convention. We drive directly to preproduction to read through the script and analyze the storyboards (detailed sketches of each scene that a director creates before filming.) Jessica and I then begin to strategize how to replicate the choreography from The Breakfast Club move for move. We plan to learn the choreography from the movie so we can teach it to our cast of 12 dancers. We also create original choreography in case the director wants something new.

Wednesday, April 30

10:00 a.m.: Jessica and I spend 12 hours analyzing and notating each movement from The Breakfast Club DVD. We work frame-by-frame. The scene shows the teens doing solos, duets and trios. The dancing is brilliant. Each character has a distinctive and raw quality, and the movement ranges from goth head-banging to ballet to a geeky rock ’n’ roll duet that doesn’t follow any counts. We put the moves into our bodies so we’re prepared to teach the dancers tomorrow.

11:00 p.m.: We have a party in our room at the Custom Hotel and reunite with some of our friends in L.A., including Corey Graves, who has just started touring with Hannah Montana!

Thursday, May 1

8:00 a.m.: We arrive on location at the JCPenney set, and after a warm-up, Jessica teaches the choreography while I cross-reference the moves with the original movie on a TV monitor. The dancers were cast by NYC advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

10:00 a.m.: Having taught all of the movie’s original signature dances in only two hours, I decide to move on to creating new choreography. I ask the dancers to create solos and duets that they would do if they were locked in a library. I assign each dancer five random words, and then challenge them to come up with a move for each. Once the dancers create movements, we mold them into solos, duets and trios.

12:30 p.m.: The advertising agency and JCPenney executives come to watch rehearsal, and they love it—they’re impressed with how we matched the choreography from the movie and are excited about the new choreography. It includes breaking, flips and even a little New Orleans “second line” bit (a traditional dance style created by crowds dancing in the streets in New Orleans).

2:00 p.m.: We finish rehearsal and I urge the dancers to review the choreography when they go home. Unfortunately, we’ve only been given one rehearsal day, so it’s important that the dancers remember everything for tomorrow. There will be very little time to review on set.

Friday, May 2

7:00 a.m.: On set, we stand by the director’s chair watching the live playback screens. Being on set is always chaotic. On the shoot day, rehearsal must be done between takes or during the lunch break. We review choreography and go over changes with the dancers while they’re getting their makeup done and changing their clothes. I monitor the shoot and step in to guide the dancers when needed. Jessica helps prepare them by doing last-minute cleaning. Everything goes smoothly, and we finish by dinnertime. We shot all of the exterior scenes today; tomorrow we’ll do the interiors.

Saturday, May 3

7:00 a.m.: We arrive on set for Day 2 of the shoot. With spare time on our hands, Jessica and I act out every scene from the West Side Story cast recording CD in the director’s trailer. This is what we do to relax when we have time to kill. Being on set is my favorite part of being a choreographer, because everyone has very creative energy and sometimes we get to goof around.

10:00 a.m.: We begin to work on set. As Jessica reviews and cleans choreography off set, I coach dancers on set. We end up using both choreography from the original movie and the new dances conceived on Wednesday. Everything goes flawlessly and once again our collaboration is a huge success. The best part is seeing all of the elements come together!

It’s a surreal experience because it looks, feels and sounds like we’ve traveled back in time to the original set of The Breakfast Club. The only thing missing is Molly Ringwald, the teenage star from the original film.

10:00 p.m.: After two days of shooting, it’s a wrap! The commercial is set to begin airing in late summer when students are getting ready to go back to school.

So much work goes into creating a 30-second television commercial! Millions of dollars, countless hours and hundreds of people are involved in making the little clips that flash onto your TV screen between your favorite shows.

My job as choreographer is to not only create exciting movement, but also to foster a nurturing and safe environment for all of the dancers. But what I love most about choreographing for TV and film are the special moments when the camera catches something from a different perspective than what I had originally imagined. These moments keep me excited and interested in the work.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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