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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Dirty Dancing in Havana

Posted February 22, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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By VALERIE GLADSTONE | New York Times

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Barry Wetcher/Lions Gate Films
Romola Garai and Diego Luna in “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” a remake of the hit 1987 movie.

KEEP up your energy,” the choreographer Joann Jansen called to the dancers swaying to the mambo in an opulent ballroom here last April. She was fine-tuning a scene in “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” a remake of the 1987 hit movie “Dirty Dancing,” which opens on Friday.

When the sequence ended, she took the dancers aside. “Listen,” she said, “you have to look like you’re loving it even if you’ve been doing this scene for hours.” Standing in front of them, elegant in black slacks and shirt, she rolled her hips and twisted her torso about as provocatively as Mary Poppins might have. They looked at her sheepishly. The next time she did the movements, she turned on all her sensuality. “Hey, come on,” she said. “This is about bodies communicating their desire for one another. It has to be hot.”

Ms. Jansen, whose choreographic credits include “Along Came Polly” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and who was the associate producer of “Fresh” and “White Man’s Burden,” has a lot invested in this film. She is not only its choreographer and co-producer; she also inspired the story. “It’s about my first love,” she said. “We got to know each other through dancing together. And that’s what this love story is also about.”

The plot closely follows Ms. Jansen’s teenage experience, which she chronicles in a book that she has nearly completed. In 1959, shortly before the Cuban Revolution she and her parents moved from St. Louis to Havana, where her father managed a plant for Reynolds Aluminum. Though initially unhappy about leaving her old high school, she soon fell for a Cuban boy who worked at the hotel where her family stayed. Like the lovers in the original “Dirty Dancing,” they hid their affection from her parents because of their class differences. But the Havana of that time was far more volatile than the Catskill resort in 1963 where the previous film was set, and Ms. Jansen’s romance was interrupted by a revolution, not just the end of a summer vacation.

The new film features Romola Garai, who starred in “I Captured the Castle,” and Diego Luna, who won acclaim for his performance in “Y Tu Mam� Tambien.” “Joann’s personal connection adds a tremendous amount of emotional resonance to the film,” said Sarah Green, its producer. “You feel she fully empathizes with the young couple. She understands that people reveal themselves in how they dance. As a result, if you watch nothing but the dancing, you’ll understand the story.”

Ms. Jansen paid close attention to Ms. Garai and Mr. Luna as they moved confidently on the dance floor during that day’s shoot. They looked glamorous in their evening clothes and very much in love. As the Latin band pumped out a spirited salsa, Mr. Luna swung Ms. Garai, her dress swirling around her hips, before pulling her close to his chest and dipping her backward. Moving in a tight embrace, they appeared to have been dancing together forever.

“I’m really proud of them,” Ms. Jansen said. “They hardly knew anything about dancing before this film.”

At Ms. Jansen’s request, relatively unknown actors were chosen for the major parts, as in the earlier film. But Patrick Swayze, whose career took off after he appeared in “Dirty Dancing,” does play a cameo role as a dance instructor, and he and Ms. Jansen briefly dance together, doing a side lift that was copied from the last film. “It’s a sweet little homage,” she said.

Ms. Garai and Mr. Luna had a good sense of rhythm, Ms. Jansen recalls, but even so she had to work with them daily for two months before beginning to choreograph. She started with physical training, and moved on to elaborate footwork and Afro Cuban movement. She also showed Mr. Luna how to lead a partner. Ms. Jansen also taught them dance phrases that combined Latin and ballroom styles.

“Sometimes it was very, very frustrating,” Ms. Garai said. “But we didn’t want doubles to dance in our places. It was a matter of pride.”

Ms. Jansen was particularly aware of the difference in their body types. “You accentuate a person’s characteristics,” she said. “Romola is tall and statuesque, and Diego has a funky way of holding himself. I wouldn’t try to make her look small or give her small steps. For Diego, who is cute and sexy with a flirty way about him, I incorporated his natural mannerisms into his arm gestures and how he turns his head and looks at her. By the time we started filming, they could even figure out what fit and what didn’t in a dance sequence.”

In the final dance, Ms. Jansen said, “I wanted to show Romola bringing her knowledge of ballroom and mambo to their relationship and Diego his experience in Afro-Cuban and salsa. As they share what they know, they fall in love.”

Though she had studied at the School of American Ballet and had run her own modern dance company in New York for several years, she said that creating choreography for film required her to think like a director. For starters, she broke down the story by shots. “I had to figure out for the cameras what movements best express the meaning of the story and illuminate the characters,” she said.

During the shooting that day, Ms. Jansen went up to the balcony above the ballroom floor and spoke to a cameraman. “I want viewers to feel like they are watching the dancers from tables around the ballroom floor,” she told him. “So these have to be long shots.”

In the nightclub scenes, where the dancing is sexier, she had the camera zoom in on the dancers’ bodies and faces. “The main camera gets the stars from all perspectives,” she explained, and the other camera mainly goes for close-ups of body parts � hips, feet, torsos � of the other dancers.”

When the day’s shoot came to an end, Mr. Luna, sweaty and tired, came over to review some moves with Ms. Jansen. “The only time I danced before this movie was when I was drunk or wanted to get close to a girl,” he said. “The hardest part was believing I could do it, that I could really move my hips, my shoulders and my feet all at the same time. Joann gave me the confidence to try. Now it’s good-bye to two-left-feet Diego.” 

Member Comments

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On February 28, 2004, rhee wrote:

hello, my name is rhianon and i was wondering if you can send me the directors email address from the movie, Dirty Dancning Havana Nights. I need to ask him a few questions about the setting and stuff about the movie. If someone can email me back about this information, i would greatly appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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On March 02, 2004, Aukele wrote:

I just seen the movie this past Saturday!! The movie was awesome. Sometimes when I watch movies I know that the couple isn’t a couple off screen, but you can tell someone made a great movie, when you wonder if they are together in life, and if they aren’t you ask yourself, “Why the heck aren’t they together, their chemistry is so perfect.” I think that Rosario and Diego really captured the chemistry in the movie, and in reality, it would be cute for them to be a couple!!! And, so Joann, what’ up with your Cuban love, do the two of you keep in contact? Is he your husband? You can’t make a movie like that and not let us know what happened to the couple!! Either let us all know, or make a sequel!! I think it would be great!!

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On March 07, 2004, Jessica wrote:

hey, I absolutely love this movie! Since it came out on the 27th, I’ve seen it three times. Diego and Romola have such a great on-screen connection which makes the movie awesome. I was wondering what actually happened to JoAnn in real life, did you guys ever have that last dance?
  someone email me if they know what happened!

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On March 16, 2004, Laura wrote:

I think that this movie was great.  The dancing was so incredible and it had a huge impact on me and how I feel about music.  In the movie, the characters express how they feel through the movements of their bodies and I think that’ the best and most relaxing way to release your emotions.  I also want to say “Hi” to JoAnn…your dance moves are incredible and I think that I saw you in a Walgreen’ in St.Louis, MO one time…I didn’t know who you were then but you were really nice.  ^_^ 

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On March 30, 2004, Sabrina wrote:

I just saw this movie for the first time last saturday but I have definite hopes of seeing it again sometime this week.  I absolutely loved it.  As a dancer, I was personally sucked into the movie.  It had me wishing I was there…  (I had to resist the urge to get up and dance in the theater…)  I want to learn to dance like that SO bad now…  The only problem I had with the movie was the ending, it made me want to know if she ever came back to him again (or vice versa).  JoAnn, if you’re reading this - I think you’re incredibly talented!  One question though, did you and your cuban love ever have a last dance?

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On June 10, 2004, KASIA wrote:

its a graet film.diego luna you a very great i very like you smile) real

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On August 07, 2004, Katey wrote:

I Totally loved the movie I watched it a Gizillion times and
It seemed so real.
JoAnn I know you never saw your lover again but did you ever try to find him?
Diego Luna and Romola Garai are very Good at Acting so Good Luck with that and Adios.

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On August 10, 2004, haley wrote:

i love this movie its my number one movie i think diego luna is so hot you guys should make a havana nights 2 i would so buy like 12 of them if i had too.i know this movie word buy word i watch it all the time i just hope you guys make a nuber 2 or i will be very disappointed and i dont think you would wanna disappoint a fan i dont care what any one says about diego luna or this move i love them both just please e-mail me back telling me wether or not your going to make a dirty dancing havana nights two my sister and i love this movie we love the part when he says ok “im the girl” my sister and i crack up laughing i just hope that javier and katey see each other and spend the rest of their lifs dancing with each other and having fun together just make sure javier always wears a muscle shirt oh my gosh he is so hot in a muscle shirti just wish i could dance with him the way they danced in the movie just remember please make a dirty dancing havana nights please please please please please please please please please please please please

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On August 10, 2004, haley wrote:

i love this movie its my number one movie i think diego luna is so hot you guys should make a havana nights 2 i would so buy like 12 of them if i had too.i know this movie word buy word i watch it all the time i just hope you guys make a nuber 2 or i will be very disappointed and i dont think you would wanna disappoint a fan i dont care what any one says about diego luna or this move i love them both just please e-mail me back telling me wether or not your going to make a dirty dancing havana nights two my sister and i love this movie we love the part when he says ok “im the girl” my sister and i crack up laughing i just hope that javier and katey see each other and spend the rest of their lifs dancing with each other and having fun together just make sure javier always wears a muscle shirt oh my gosh he is so hot in a muscle shirti just wish i could dance with him the way they danced in the movie just remember please make a dirty dancing havana nights please please please please please please please please please please please please

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On September 04, 2004, lexie wrote:

this is the best movie on earth !!! i love it !

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On September 06, 2004, Josée wrote:

I rented the movie and I loved it so much that I went and bought it!!!!  I learned salsa one year ago and love the rythme and the way my body moves… When I see the movie I just want to go on the dance floor and dance till I drop!!!!  I was a big fan of the first durty dancing and was a little worry about what you would do to the part II but I was not desapointed… It is very up to date… espacially about the fact that i live in MontrÈal in QuÈbec, Canada and that salsa is very popular here!!!  I hope this movies will make people want to dance salsa ... Since i am Canadian and that we can go to Cuba, it just want to go there as soon as possible… I will tell you about it!!!!!  Thanks

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On September 16, 2004, Nichole wrote:

All I have to say is this movie inspired me to get back into my dancing.  I finally found my passion again and it feels great.  Thank you Ms Jansen for showing me what I have been missing from my life.  Also The actors in this movie were out of this world.  And you gotta love Diego Luna what a hottie.

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On September 26, 2004, Lisa wrote:

I took have watched the movie several times over the last few weeks.  I also was wondering what happened to JoAnn in real life, did they get to dance again?  Maybe there needs to be another movie to let us know what happens next.  Maybe he came to America, or she went back to visit in Cuba.

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On November 09, 2004, Laura Parker wrote:

I love this film so much, it has inspired me to start dancing.  I have seen it about 5 times now, I just cant get enough of it.  Diego Luna is just the best, he really makes you believe that he is so in love with Romola in real life.  It also makes you believe that you can have that fairy tale romance that every girl dreams off.  I just have one question and I’m dyeing to know, did Joann Jansen ever see her Cuban lover again or even try to find him.  I need to know so much, so If anyone knows please tell me.

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On December 03, 2004, Michelle wrote:

they were the best dancers i ever seen in my whole life.

michelle 8 years

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On May 25, 2005, Juliana wrote:

I absolutely loooovvve this movie - it is one of my favorites. The way they dance makes me want to go out and learn salsa so i can fly down to cuba and dance my a** off! I also have a new respect for diego luna, because he looks so great when he dances in this movie and it only took him a few months! I hope that Joanne tried to find her guy after this movie, or maybe he saw it and came to find her. It would be so nice if they would meet again after so many years grin

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On July 05, 2005, sil wrote:

hy, would like to join me the group who adores the film dirtin dancing, and tambem to the actor (diego luna) it is very good. Since ja I am thankful. Mine msn is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Brazil

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On September 11, 2005, sammi wrote:

my name sammi and i love the movie. i love the dancing and the music.It would have been a honor to play that part not only because diego is so cute and because ilove him but because the dancing is so wonderful

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On January 08, 2006, Samantha wrote:

Wow I dont even know where to begin..this movie was just so amazing. I watched it for the first time yesterday and fell in love. I’m not sure what to write..everyone else has just about covered everyting I wanted to say. and yes, Diego Luna and Romola Garai..you guys did a great job. This movie made me want to go out and learn how to dance like you did in the movie and made me want to travel across the world to learn everything there is to know. I don’t know how JoAnn Jansen lived through something like this. I don’t know what I would have done in her situation, I couldnt even handle the movie, I was bawling in the end. And her never seeing him ever again?!?!?! oh my god I would be devestated. Well anyway, this movie was great and it made me realize what kind of great people are out there.

xoSamantha

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On February 22, 2006, Kateeee x wrote:

One of the best films I’ve ever seen. The fact that it’s a true story truly inspires me. The soundtrack was truly amazing and the dancing blew me away. The country is somewhere you wouldn’t expect a film to be set, however it did the film justice and has made me want to go there! Which is why I’m book for Havanna next summer x