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Schooling The Dancers
Director Barber knew that if he were going to direct this musical, he needed one of the world's top choreographers to design the dance sequences. Triple Tony Award winner Hinton Battle—who has received the theatrical industry's top award for Best Featured Actor for Sophisticated Ladies, The Tap Dance Kid and Miss Saigon—signed on to choreograph Idlewild.

Notes the director, "In the '30s, people carried themselves with a sense of pride. I wanted to take hip-hop and put it in that setting. I thought it would be mind-blowing to take rap and put it in that era, watching people do the lindy-hop and jitterbug to it. If you listen to Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington, it has that feel to it.”

He continues, "I met with Hinton in New York and discussed my idea for the film. His experience with hip-hop and swing numbers let me know he could marry the two. He's just a genius.”

Barber and Battle assembled dancers from across the country who were specialists in swing dancing, hip-hop, break dance and freestyle…and who had been trained in one form or another of classical dance training, gymnastics or tumbling. Battle had six weeks to teach them his signature "swop,” a hybrid of swing and hip-hop the choreographer designed for the film.

"The vision I'd had of putting swing and hip-hop together was always there, but what I wanted to create didn't exist,” he shares. "Swing and lindy is one community, and hip-hop another…and the hip-hop community is an entirely different group. In bringing them together for the film, Bryan gave me license to go berserk with the numbers.”

Rehearsal began for Idlewild six weeks before the beginning of principal photography in September 2004. The dancers, brought from Los Angeles, New York and road shows, came to live and work in Wilmington, North Carolina. Used to rigorous training, they would work with Battle six days a week, eight hours a day, to get their signature moves as tight as possible. The choreographer wanted his dancers to get to the point, where they could "do it with their eyes closed.”

"My dancers stood there with their mouths open on the first day, realizing they had to learn all these things,” laughs Battle. Dancer/actress/circus performer Karen Dyer, who worked with OutKast in the "The Whole World” video, and accomplished swing dancer and actress Erika Johnson were two of the LA-based dancers who participated in Battle's swop school, living and breathing the '30s for two months in sultry Wilmington. "Hinton asked us all to think, ‘What do you bring?'” recalls Dyer, who plays Eva the Fire Diva in the film. "Whatever skill set you brought to the table, he wanted to see. The swingers had to learn to breakdance and vice versa.”

Battle felt each number should be self-sufficient, and he inserted tap dancing, modern dance and jazz steps into each of the seven dance numbers he created for Idlewild, based on the music OutKast was adapting for the film.

Barber knew as he saw Battle at work that he and his cinematographer would occasionally need to slow Battle's steps down to capture the flair and excitement of the dancers. Even Patton often felt that Rooster was, at times, "Cab Calloway with a lot of hand movements.”

Guralnick notes, "The big numbers are easier for Bryan than some of the small pieces; he's had so much experience with them as a music-video director. He uses techno-crane, multiple cameras, steadicam, and is just very adept at it.”

For the dancers, it was all about rehearsal and evolving choreography. Multiple weeks of training were necessary to get Battle's team ready for the intricate sequences. Swing dancers worked closely with hip-hop dancers to teach them partnering and lifts. Hip-hoppers returned the favor by providing the swingers with the moves necessary to master their skills. Battle and Barber expose

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