Dance Dance Evolution

The choreographers behind ‘Hairspray’ explain how movement makes a musical magical

December 8, 2011

Using our chart, you can dance along with the cast of “Hairspray.” This is one of the easy moves.

There’s a reason there’s no hit TV show called “So You Think You Can Choreograph.” Choreographers are the unsung heroes of the musical stage. They work largely behind the scenes, getting actors — often with varying degrees of dance ability ­— to move in sync both with the music and with one another.

Beyond that, they’re charged with coming up with sequences that reflect the director’s vision for a play while also conveying emotional meaning to the audience. This goes for serious shows, such as “Billy Elliot,” opening next week at the Kennedy Center, and silly ones, like “Hairspray,” now on at the Signature Theatre.

Karma and Brianne Camp are the mother-daughter choreography team behind the dance-intensive “Hairspray,” a musical based on John Waters’ 1988 film that centers on the integration of a ’60s TV dance show in Baltimore.

The dissolving racial boundaries in the story are reflected in the dancing, with the cast using distinct styles that blend together as the show moves on. “With the African-American cast members, it was always get low, get into the floor, have fun and groove,” says Brianne Camp. “With the Caucasians, it was stay high and be sharp.” By the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the entire cast performs a step (number 12 below) that in an earlier number was done only by the black cast members.

Should you wish to join in on the last nine bars, the footprints below will teach you how. Some parting words of advice: “The show is fun; it’s a farce,” Karma Camp says. “Once you embrace that, you can really take the dance to a whole new level.”


Click to learn "Hairspray's" finale dance.
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; through Jan. 29, $62-$86; 703-820-9771.
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