If anyone knows his or her way around the dance flick genre, it has to be actor Harry Shum Jr. Over the last six years, Shum Jr. has landed a role dancing in a number of feature films including “Stop the Yard,” “You Got Served,” and “Step Up 2: The Streets.” Now, Shum Jr., who is also known for his role on the popular TV show “Glee,” reprises his role as Cable in “Step Up 3D,” the third installment of the street-dance franchise.
During an interview with me, Shum Jr., 28, talked about how street dancing has changed over the last 10 years and whether he considers street dancing more of an art form or form of entertainment.
Did you always think your dancing career would lead you to acting on the big screen?
Yeah, that was always my intention. Actually, acting was my first love and dancing came second. I didn’t even know I was able to dance. It came into my life because someone dared me to audition for the dance team when I was in high school. I always wanted to do feature films and television as well.
Since you started dancing only about a decade ago, how would you say street dancing has evolved during that time?
Street dancing has become more relevant in the mainstream. I do like things that come from underground and start of as niches with small groups of people really involved in it. It’s a giant step for street dancing. People are starting to take notice and starting to separate the different styles.
Other than street and hip-hop, what other types of dancing are you most interested in doing?
In my career I’ve taken a lot of different classes. I’ve always had respect for different styles of dance. They all have something to offer the dance community. For me, personally, I associate myself as a street dancer, but I say my dance style is just dance. I try to incorporate everything into my freestyle or something I’m putting together choreography wise. Looking back to Michael Jackson and Gene Kelly and even [Mikhail] Baryshnikov, those are the masters of dance and I love every single one of them.
Since you do choreography as well, is it more gratifying to teach someone a new dance move or mastering one yourself?
They’re two different accomplishments. When you teach someone to do a dance or a move it’s a great feeling to be a part of that process. I don’t feel like you ever really master anything. If you master something then there’s no place to go from there. I don’t ever feel like I’m a master at anything. I feel you can work hard and try to get to a certain level where you feel confident to perform in front of other people. Once you think you’ve mastered something, someone else is going to come along and do it better.
Do you consider street dancing an art form or is it more about entertaining an audience?
It is an art form, but it is also a form of entertainment. I think that’s what keeps people engaged. Without watering it down, I think you need to have the balance of both. It should have the integrity of the art, and also keep the entertainment factor alive. There are people that do dance for the art and just for themselves, which is cool, but once you get into the industry you’re an entertainer.
You have a lot of experience in the dance movie. What do you think it is about the genre that keeps it popular?
There’s a different type of excitement. You have excitement in action and thrillers. One of your choreographers said it best. He said, “Movement is one of the best natural special effects you can use.” You don’t need CGI. You just need the human body to create what you want.
On that note, there are 3-D special effects in this new film. Do you think this technique can really enhance the experience of watching someone dance?
I think it’s just another form to heighten the experience for the audience. It lets you be inside the movie. To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of 3-D movies. Some of them are cool and others are gimmicky and don’t really pull you into the experience. But after watching “Step Up 3-D” a couple of times it’s really simulates that feeling of being alive in front of these dancers that are doing these amazing things.
Have you ever stepped on a girl’s feet doing a slow dance?
(Laughs) Too many times. I apologized and tried to charm them as best as I could with the rest of my dancing. They forgave me.