(From left) Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, and Lauren Graham in "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," courtesy NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Mandy Moore Puts Dance in the Spotlight in NBC's Newest Series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"

Imagine living in a real-life musical, where spontaneous song-and-dance breaks happen as often in the street as they do onstage. After a series of unusual events, every dancers' dream becomes an unexpected reality for computer coder Zoey Clarke (played by Jane Levy) in NBC's newest series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." Although at first her new powers catch Zoey off guard, when she learns to embrace them, she's able to connect with the world around her like never before.

And the best part? Every musical mashup puts incredible dancing front and center, thanks in large part to series choreographer and all around dance-for-the-screen extraordinaire, Mandy Moore. Dance Spirit chatted with Moore about choreographing for the dance-driven series, which returns to NBC with all-new episodes this Sunday, February 16 at 9/8c.


Dance Spirit: How did you first get on board with "Zoey"?

Mandy Moore: One of the show's executive producers, Austin Winsberg, sent me the script for the pilot and said that he'd love to have me on board. The script was so magical and fun, and as I was reading it I could really see in my head how dance would fit into the world of the show. I immediately called Austin back and said I was in. We started meeting about a month before shooting the pilot, where we would sit for hours and just talk about dance and watch dance videos. Dance is hard to talk about and dissect if you're not a dancer, so those meetings were really important in helping me shape in my mind what needed to happen in the show. From there, we just hit the ground running.

DS: After choreographing La La Land, you're probably one of the few people truly qualified to work on massive outdoor dance numbers! Has that experience helped you with your work on "Zoey"?

MM: Yes! I really like creating location-based numbers, moving big groups of people around, and thinking about what the camera shots will be. So much of that goes hand-in-hand—I can create a whole dance, but if it's not shot correctly then it may not translate on camera. "Zoey" is unique because dance isn't in the background with some cool moves here and there–it's really integrated into the storytelling language of the whole show. It's been interesting to figure out the timing and nuance of every scene, from the simplest routines to more than fifty people dancing through the streets. It's so cool to have all those different kinds of performances in one episode.

Mandy Moore at the "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" premiere (Chris Haston, courtesy NBC)

DS: What's your process like for creating the dance numbers in each episode?

MM: I get a lot of information early on in script development, which makes my job much easier. Next we'll have dance concept meetings, where we sit and talk about the initial thoughts and feelings Austin and the director have about each number. I then elaborate on that working with my skeleton crew, a group of dancers that I do pre-production work with. At that point, I'll also collaborate with Harvey Mason Jr., our executive music producer, as he's creating the tracks for the episode. Finally, I'll shoot a video of what we have and send it to the team. Luckily, they've been really happy with what I've done so far, so once that's signed off, I start rehearsing with the actors and talent. There's not much time by then, so we have to teach it really quickly and then shoot it.

DS: Speaking of talent, you've gotten to work with so many different dancers on the show!

MM: The scenes range so much, from one person to eight, to some numbers with over 70 dancers. When we last wrapped, we had something like 400-plus dancer contracts. I love that we were able to employ dancers like that–it's a great thing for our community.

The cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" dancing it out (Sergei Bachlakov, courtesy NBC)

DS: And what was it like working with the lead actors in the show–Jane Levy, Lauren Graham, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart–so much great talent!

MM: Luckily, the entire cast was very gung-ho about dance and enthusiastic about rehearsing, which I loved! They all have varying levels of dance experience, and each actor has their own little dance language, which was fun for me to discover. Creating dance scenes in "Zoey" was very different from what I've done with "So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With The Stars." Whereas as dancers, we're trained from the outside-in, and want to make sure everything looks "right" or has the right dynamic, actors bring a different mentality to movement that's all about feeling first. I didn't even have mirrors where we rehearsed for "Zoey," because I didn't want anyone to worry about what they looked like. I could fix their shapes as needed, but I cared more about working through the backstory of each number and creating the right tension with a tinge of dance in each moment, even with something as simple as someone walking through their house.

The cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" posing on the red carpet (Chris Haston, courtesy NBC/Universal

DS: What can our readers look forward to on February 16?

MM: Tons of dancing and music! The way dance lives in the show is unlike anything else I've seen on TV. The writing is brilliant and very funny, but also heartwarming and emotional–it's great storytelling. The characters are bold and fun, and very relatable. People will see a lot of the situations that we work through in the show paralleled in their own lives.

DS: And are you working on anything else at the moment that you can share?

MM: Always. The very next morning after we wrapped "Zoey," I flew home and did a commercial. And I just got back from Australia where I guest judged for "Dancing with the Stars." So, I don't really sleep, but that's okay.

DS: One more question: If you had musical powers like Zoey's in the show, what songs would make it onto your own Extraordinary Playlist?

MM: I really love "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang. That's how I feel every day when I wake up! And also, "All I Do Is Win," by DJ Khaled, which is in the first episode of the show. I think people should just strut around singing that song all the time–then we'd really be nailing it in life.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Hollywood Vibe

These Dance Comps and Conventions Are Coming to a Living Room Near You

While dancers all over the world are sharing the heartache of canceled classes, shows, and projects, our hearts hurt especially hard for a group of dancers we at Dance Spirit couldn't admire more: comp and convention kids. Determined to challenge your artistry and learn from cutting-edge faculty, you dancers normally brave crowded ballrooms and nonstop schedules all year long. But just because you might not be in one of those crowded ballrooms for a while doesn't mean that part of your dance life has to grind to a halt.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Picture This: How Visualization Can Up Your Dance Game

You're standing onstage at the opening of the Jennifer Lopez–Shakira Super Bowl halftime show, holding your opening pose, waiting for the music to start. You can see a smudge of dirt on your white sneakers. It's dark, but you know that intense colored lights are about to hit your face. Nervous sweat begins to form on the back of your neck.

Actually, no: You're standing in your living room, about to perform the J.Lo-inspired piece your instructor is teaching over Zoom. But that kind of visualization—imagining that you're in a high-stakes performance scenario, and focusing on super-fine details—can help take your dancing to the next level. In fact, visualization is a great skill to work while social distancing: It requires no space, no special equipment, and it'll be a great tool to have in your toolbox once you're back on an IRL stage. Here's more on why and how to do it.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.

Margaret

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search