- Jennifer Lopez learned to pole dance for her role in the upcoming film “Hustlers” and called it “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do for a role.”
- Lopez trained with veteran Cirque du Soleil performer Johanna Sapakie for two months prior to filming.
- Lopez didn’t use a body double and performed all of the pole dancing herself.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Seeing Jennifer Lopez performing the role of a dancer in a movie may not seem that surprising. She’s known for her moves. But knowing how to dance, and knowing how to [pole dance] are two very different things. Turns out even J-Lo needed some help to get ready to assume her role as an experienced pole dancer in “Hustlers.” That’s where 10-year veteran of Cirque du Soleil Johanna Sapakie comes in.
Johanna: By the time we were done working together, even though it was just a short period of time, she’s throwing out these moves without even thinking about it anymore.
Narrator: So how did Sapakie get Lopez to the point where she was doing upside-down splits in just two months? Lopez took her training so seriously that she moved a portable pole into each one of her houses in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, so that she could continue to practice wherever she happened to be living at the time. And while Lopez was already in fantastic shape, pole dancing requires certain muscle groups to be extraordinarily strong. And because there are no body doubles in the film, she had to do everything herself.
So, to get her ready for the role, Sapakie first made sure that Lopez was exercising the muscle groups that she would need to pole dance like a pro. Lopez worked with her personal trainer to strengthen her core and upper body. She had to make sure that she was strong enough to perform certain moves, like the inverted splits, where she is supporting her entire body weight with just her arms and shoulders.
As Lopez continued to strengthen her body in the gym, she also began her pole-dancing training sessions with Sapakie. Sapakie says that each training session always started with stretching. It’s important to loosen the spine, shoulders, and hips in order to provide a wider range of motion for the undulating movements that are central to pole dancing.
After stretching, Sapakie slowly introduced Lopez to the principles of pole dancing, such as basic spins and climbing.
Johanna: When we started, you know, the trainings are slow. You do one movement at a time. You rest in between. If you’re not used to a lot of rotation, getting the feeling of spinning around the pole takes a little bit of practice. And there’s a lot of conversation about how to do the movement and what the movement is.
Narrator: Sapakie also emphasised improving Lopez’s pole-dancing endurance because she knew Lopez was going to have to do her pole-dancing scenes over, and over, and over again throughout the day when they were filming – especially because her main routine was a full four minutes long.
Johanna: You’re not just doing one trick at a time, you’re linking things together into. You know, two, three, four minutes worth of movement.
She’s doing takes from different angles over again and she has to nail it every single time.
Narrator: Because Sapakie also choreographed all of the pole-dancing scenes in “Hustlers,” she knew exactly what moves Jennifer was going to have to perform for the film.
There were several particularly difficult moves in the choreography, but Sapakie was confident in Lopez’s abilities.
Johanna: There’s one where she actually wraps her legs around the pole and just squeezes with her inner thighs and that’s all she’s using to hold on, and that definitely took some practice because you really have to engage those inner thigh muscles in order to hold yourself on the pole. So that’s not one that came on day one. We definitely had to work up to that in order to do that, in order to gain that feeling and that strength.
Narrator: Once Lopez started to get confident with her pole dancing, the last thing for her to master was flipping upside down.
Johanna: You want to make sure that physically you’re really capable before you’re inverting.
It takes a lot of core strength, it takes a lot of grip strength, and it takes a lot of upper-body strength to physically pull yourself up and then maintain that position safely.
Narrator: When Lopez was first learning the move, Sapakie provided a spot for her, making sure that she was safe as she tried to master the movement.
But it wasn’t too long before she was able to do it on her own.
Johanna: She really became comfortable with it quickly because of her work ethic and because she was so diligent and determined to get it right. She was able to achieve her goal by the end, which was turning upside down and ultimately looking like she’s been doing this her whole life. And that was really exciting to see and really satisfying.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2019.
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