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“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” is a story woven from choreographer JoAnn Jansen’s life: the tale of an American teenager’s year in Havana on the cusp of Castro’s revolution. For this follow-up to 1987’s “Dirty Dancing,” Jansen — whose work includes “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Along Came Polly” and the coming “Shall We Dance,” with Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere — conducted a 10-week dance boot camp for “Havana” stars Romola Garai (“I Capture the Castle”) and Diego Luna (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”). Teaching actors to dance “is relatively easy,” she says, “if they can hear music properly. Really hearing music, that’s the key.”

How did your story become wrapped up with “Dirty Dancing”?

About six years ago [producer] Lawrence Bender and I developed this story about my time in Havana because we thought it’s a great story in itself: A girl comes of age while a country comes of age. Miramax got a script to do “Dirty Dancing” and asked Lawrence to produce, but the contemporary script somehow didn’t work; the taboos are gone, and there’s not a whole lot that’s forbidden out there.

In “Havana” we took a lot from my own life: My parents were ballroom dancers; I was a bookworm until I got there, then pow! The Cuban experience changes your life. Cuba’s a place few people have been to but many people are fascinated with — definitely has that touch of forbidden fruit. And to be there just as the revolution occurred, well, that was timely.

Isn’t it risky casting a high-profile dance film without knowing the two leads can dance?

Boy, don’t I have a lot of faith [laughs]…. When we auditioned them as actors — because that was obviously our first concern — I’d stand up in the acting audition and dance with them, often without music, which is a great clue because if a person can keep a rhythm with just a sound in their head, you’re at a big advantage. I’d teach them about six moves in a matter of 20 minutes, and I was satisfied by what I saw in that 20 minutes that I could make them dance. You could call me an idiot [laughs], but I was right. They worked hard — about eight hours a day for 10 weeks — but they’re wonderful. It was a gamble, but somehow I just thought they could do it.

Why is it that dancing seems more fluid and sensual closer to the equator? Certainly sensuality is very present in this film.

First of all, the heat. You’re wearing less clothes, your body’s looser, your muscles are warmed up, you don’t feel stiff and cold. Also, a lot of those islands are settled by Africans who were brought in as slaves. They story-tell through dance. For instance, the flamingo step makes fun of slave owners; that’s one way to be free because basically, no one can tell you how to move.

You have a cameo in the film dancing with Patrick Swayze. What was that like?

Ah, heaven. He’s a great dancer. We’re both ballet babies, so it was instant connect. We’re good partners because we have a similar sense of rhythm.

You’ve also worked with Johnny Depp several times.

He’s like the dreamboat of the world. I guess I could use a better phrase than that. But he really is. When were we doing “Fear and Loathing [in Las Vegas]” we had all these people with these huge headpieces on, and instead of going back to his trailer, Johnny would stand there with a little hand fan so he could put the fan inside of their masks to help them cool down. How sweet is that?

What’s up next for you?

I’m working now on “Mrs. Harris” with Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening. And I’m attached to several films as a director, one with the producer of “Lost in Translation” and the other with Lawrence Bender. So that’s not bad.

And your hopes for the new film?

That everybody in the world will see it and loves it; that’d be wonderful.

By: Janet Kinosian

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