The big leap

Choreographer Anne Fletcher directs her first film, Disney's Step Up.

WALK THIS WAY Fletcher shows Dewan some moves.

WALK THIS WAY Fletcher shows Dewan some moves. Photograph: Phillip Caruso; Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. All rights reserved

A new dance movie has come to town, and while it has a moderately bad title and a clich trailer, it isn’t a disaster—and that’s a cause for celebration. Step Up is set at a performing-arts high school in Baltimore, where Tyler (Channing Tatum) is sentenced to community service. Jenna Dewan plays Nora, a star student and aspiring choreographer; suddenly, she finds herself without a dance partner! You can guess what happens next. Predictability aside, Step Up, which uses no dance doubles, marks the directorial debut of Anne Fletcher, who has choreographed movies such as Bring It On, The 40 Year Old-Virgin and the forthcoming Hairspray. During a break from rehearsals for the latter, Fletcher, 40, discussed the trauma involved in making a decent dance film.

How much did you have to do with the dialogue in Step Up?

We pretty much rewrote dialogue everyday. [Laughs] I personally think that kids are really savvy and if they feel an ounce of cheese, they’re done. We worked our butts off on trying to make them authentic, and it was a struggle. There would be days when Channing would come in and go, “So these lines here...” and I was like, “Just make it work. I’m so sick of rewriting the dialogue.”

There are just so many bad dance movies.

That was one of my biggest fears. Save the Last Dance had a great story. You could take a journey with these people and buy every second of it. I think a lot of movies, as of late, have relied heavily on the dance—the dialogue and acting is secondary.

But I also think the dancing is weak and full of unoriginal quick cuts.

That’s the thing: I wanted to make a movie, not a music video. So with that comes real dance, and we get to see it for a little bit and then we get to punch in and be with the characters. You have to have a mixture—you can’t just have trained dancers’ attention. It’s got to be universal.

Clearly you were influenced by Fame. What was your reaction when you first saw it?

Okay, Fame is a masterpiece—of character development and of the reality of a dance studio. You can eat the dust that’s in the room. Who made that movie beautiful, outside of [director] Alan Parker? Michael Seresin, my director of photography. I’m so beyond grateful that he did this movie. He’s taken our $22 million movie and made it look like a $50 million movie.

Could you talk about the references to dance movies in Step Up?

What do you mean, honey? I’m sorry.

It’s just that I saw moments from Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Fame...

It’s interesting because that was never in my thinking, ever. I can’t respond! [Laughs] I never, on any level, tried to do any sort of tribute or hat tip to any of those movies. I’m dead serious: I’m not that clever.

What was the inspiration for Nora’s senior dance in Step Up?

My headache? [Laughs] I’ve been watching dance movies ever since I was born. You get to the final scene: You can’t wait to get there and it can’t be a disappointment. So that dance gave me the most stress because I needed it to be fulfilling. It didn’t need to be the greatest number on earth—these are teenage kids. Nora’s 17! I wanted to combine their worlds, and that’s the thing: Tyler didn’t learn to be a technical dancer, and Nora didn’t learn to be a hip-hopper. What is their common ground? That’s what the finale is for me.

I love how the film isn’t antiballet or modern dance—and that Tyler has to wear tights in the end.

I know! Now he’s gotta train. [Laughs] The little bastard.

Step Up opens Friday 11.