Dancers & Companies

Who's the Better Dancer: Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone? Mandy Moore Spills.

Photo by Lee Cherry

If you've seen the smash sensation La La Land, then you've seen the work of choreographer Mandy Moore. She is the brains behind the dance scenes in the Oscar-nominated film, as well as a choreographer on TV and film sets like "Dancing with the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," Silver Linings Playbook and more.


When asked how she first got involved with the romantic movie musical, Moore said, “Funnily enough, it was not very romantic." She went in for an interview with director Damien Chazelle, and it lasted two hours. “I did my homework, came in with ideas and my references, and I got the job." Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, she shared what she looks for in a dancer, advice on making a career as a choreographer and her thoughts on whether Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone is the better dancer.

Was the response to the film a surprise?

When we were filming, I thought it was something special, but you never know. It's this thing of, well, I hope people like what we just put our heart and soul into. Then I went to the Venice Film Festival, and after the film people stood up and were clapping for twenty minutes. At that point, I thought: Oh my god, people like this. And the Oscars morning was pretty crazy.

Still from La La Land featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. PC Dale Robinette.

How much time did you have to choreograph, and what was the process like?

I was brought on very early. I started initial prep work long before pre-production. Once Ryan and Emma signed on, it was about 4-6 weeks that I trained them privately, working out vocabulary and creating the skeleton of the numbers. Once the official pre-production started, there were another 4-6 weeks when Ryan and Emma were learning the choreography.

Who's the better dancer, Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling?

They are very different dancers. Emma picks up choreography very quickly, and there's a quirky and charming feel to her movements. Ryan didn't pick it up as quickly, but he always had so much style, swag and texture when he moved. So they were a funny little complement. Neither is a perfect dancer; they weren't supposed to be. I liked the way they took on the challenge.

What was the rehearsal process like for that epic opening scene?

Still from the opening scene of La La Land. PC Dale Robinette.

For the traffic scene, it was a very complex number with lots of layers. There was tons of work that went into that prior to me seeing any dancers. Just in terms of logistics of cars, there was a whole science to that.

In pre-production, I was able to get a skeleton crew. I had ten dancers come in and we parked some of our cars out in the parking lot and I started to create the phrases of movement that ultimately became that number. And it wasn't the kind of number you could just have 30 dancers dancing around—it had to be particular for the shot. I only had 30 dancers, but had to make it look like it was hundreds. Once we cast those 30, we had 3 days of rehearsal off-site.

What are the top three qualities you look for in dancers?

Number one: Be a smart dancer. Someone who can pick up choreography and make changes quickly, and can understand the big picture. Two: a great personality. You want someone who's fun to be around, because you end up spending a lot of time with people. I always look for a sense of humor, and a kind personality. Three: someone who has worked really hard at their craft. They don't necessarily need to be the best dancer in the room because I know they will work hard and stop at nothing to get it right.

What advice would you give to an aspiring choreographer?

Never get too invested in the steps. So much of choreography is collaboration. If I got upset about every step that got changed, I probably would've never made it past my first job. You need to have the ability to create quickly, enjoy the process and then let it go.

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Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Dancers & Companies
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Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

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"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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