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Yaya DaCosta Tackles Ballroom Dancing and Her First Role in Take the Lead

Based on the True, Inspirational Story of Acclaimed Dancer Pierre Dulaine


Yaya DaCosta Tackles Ballroom Dancing and Her First Role in Take the Lead

Yaya DaCosta and Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead.

© New Line Cinema
Yaya DaCosta on the Similarities Between the Real Pierre Dulaine and Actor Antonio Banderas: “They’re so different as people, but one of the things that I think Antonio captured the best about Pierre, which is one of the most important things, was the balance between grace and the demand for respect. Pierre is such a nice guy. He’s so jolly and so easy to be around and just makes you love him, just by his presence. But at the same time he demands respect, and it was not hard at all to see how these kids - there are so many kids whose lives he changed - really looked up to him.

He would do little things, like tap us with his tie. He always dressed professionally; it was always like ballroom dancing is something to be respected. He made you want to look good, he made you want to feel good, he made you want to dance well, and I think Antonio captured that really, really well. But, as people, of course they’re different. One has a French accent and the other has a Spanish accent. But on the most essential levels, yes, I think they’re similar.”

Take the Lead was Yaya DaCosta’s Introduction to Ballroom Dancing: “I’d never done ballroom dancing before, but I had done some other techniques, especially when I was younger. I did after-school programs: ballet and modern and jazz. But I’d never done ballroom before so that was really exciting and so different, dancing by yourself versus dancing with someone else, and having to do what he tells you to do with his hands. I was like, ‘Okay.’ It was great.”

Take the Lead was Also Yaya DaCosta’s First Film: “At that school that I was just talking about, the junior high school, they had electives and some kids did band and I did drama. This teacher really, really got me interested in acting. I’ve done plays in high school and a couple in college, and then once I was done with school I found [the teacher] again and started doing classes. She introduced me to my manager… and she sent me out on auditions. I did a couple of things, but this is the first feature film that I got.

You went to an audition, read two scenes, they pressed play on a boom box and said, ‘Dance.’ …I knew it was a dance movie, but [there were] no instructions. Just, ‘Go.’ It was some hip-hop song and I did what came naturally, some hip-hop moves, and then at the call back it was the same thing. I read the same two scenes, just you and Avy Kaufman the casting director and the camera. Then once again she pressed play, same song, but instead I did modern and slow movements and did everything that contradicted the song. I got called back again, and the last time talked to Liz Friedlander, the director, who came down from Toronto. Then learned within 15 minutes a bunch of different dance moves from Pierre Dulaine himself in his studio. I showed Liz and then the next day I got a call that I got it.”

Does It Take More Strength to Follow Than to Lead?: “It depends what kind of woman you are," said DaCosta. "I think it does, especially for a really head-strong woman. A girl like La Rhette [her character], who is used to doing things for herself… She takes care of the kids, her mom’s kids rather, and for me I was always taught by my parents, especially my father, my father is the ultimate feminist, that you should have your own [mind]. I was like, ‘Hey Dad, I’m going out on a date,’ ‘Well, do you have money for the cab and for dinner? He’s not paying for anything.’ There was always that. I was always brought up with that attitude and he was the only one who could ever tell me what to do…maybe my big brother sometimes.

It was just a whole other way to look at the relationship between a man and a woman, and it took a lot of strength to follow. It’s a different kind of strength, and it’s a different kind of abandon. You know that it’s coming from a place of respect. ‘No, he’s not trying to dominate you, he’s trying to dance with you,’ so it’s okay. And you do feel like a princess, being twirled around, and it was fun.”

Bonding with Her Onscreen Partner Rob Brown: “We met [before filming] because we had a month of rehearsal. Even though he was still in school for part of it, he would go back and forth and dance with us on the weekends and then go back. So we met but it was dance class, ‘Hi, how ya’ doin’? You ready? Go.’ Then when he finally got to Toronto permanently and everyone started hanging out together, and that’s when we all got to know each other a bit more. It was all about dance at first.”

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