Today marks the 10th anniversary of the other high school musical of the mid-2000s: the dance movie Step Up, starring then-unknowns Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan as a couple of Baltimore teens from two different backgrounds each looking to improve their lives through dance.
Step Up premiered in 2006, and looking back on the movie now, oh man it is deliciously 2006. Behold Mario of “Let Me Love You” fame as Channing’s ally in the fancy Baltimore School for the Arts.
Channing Tatum’s foster sister is played by Alyson Stoner circa her time as a guest in Missy Elliott music videos. Catch violin brothers Nuttin’ But Stringz intimidating streetwise Channing Tatum with their high-art excellence on his first day of community service. Listen to the dulcet tones of Channing Tatum’s blaccent as he saunters past the camera in baggy pants and multiple layers of oversize t-shirts. Jenna Dewan has a wardrobe filled with an unlimited supply of cowl necks, the official sweater of good rich girls, and Mario is rocking multicolored wool trilbys. To bookend this 2006 time capsule, the movie ends with the then-new Ciara single “Get Up” featuring Chamillionaire (!!! 2006!) — and don’t worry, Tatum and Dewan both make a cameo in the video.
When Step Up made the jump into franchise, its path mirrored that of the Fast and the Furious series. The first two Fast and the Furious films were already in the rearview by the time the first Step Up movie rolled around, and the third installment in the series was about to premiere with a cast of upstarts. Like the bigger chases in 2 Fast 2 Furious and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the dances were similarly showcased in the second Step Up movie, Step Up 2: The Streets. The original Step Up film has none of the bells and whistles of later movies in the series, and there’s no dance in the first Step Up movie that lives up to the flashiness of the dance battles that would come to dominate the franchise. But ultimately, what stopped Step Up from replicating the steady rise of the Furious franchise is that there’s no amount of dancing you can offer that replaces star power.
By now, Channing Tatum is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, while Dewan has made a more modest career in shows like Witches of East End. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw Dewan tie for a win with Tatum (and surprise guest Beyoncé) in the couple’s episode of Lip Sync Battle to find that the pair make a good match in their first film together.
When shooting for Step Up began, Tatum was on track for stardom with new roles in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and She’s the Man ahead, but he had yet to break out and came onto set without formal dance training. By contrast, Jenna Dewan came to the movie from a career as a backup dancer for Janet Jackson. The difference between Tatum’s club style and Dewan’s professional polish is a major plot point in the original movie, which at its heart is a cross-class romance, and that dynamic adds to the natural rapport that developed between Tatum and Dewan on set. Every time it seems like Tatum’s Tyler is going to slip into a hypermasculine hot-shot persona, he’s thwarted by the demands of performing out of his comfort zone with a partner who is more than ready to push him.
Dewan and Tatum met on the set of Step Up and began dating shortly after the movie wrapped. They were each in their mid-20s, and you can imagine no one entered the movie on the hunt for a spouse, but just three years later they were married, and in 2013 they had their first child. As far as couples who met as costars, Brad and Angie are too busy globetrotting to remember Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Blake and Ryan’s publicists probably have a ban on mentioning Green Lantern. But when it comes down to repeat watchability, Dewan and Tatum seem a little luckier.
Step Up was the first film directed by former choreographer Anne Fletcher, who went on to direct 27 Dresses and Hot Pursuit, and in comparison with later Step Up films, her involvement is a good example of what hiring a woman director can do for a movie. Dewan’s character Nora is on track to become a professional dancer, and the camera treats her as such, avoiding the kind of cheap crop-top leering that would become far too familiar in later movies. In fact, on the whole, it’s a surprisingly chaste movie, on the PG side of PG-13. As with Dewan, Tatum’s torso remains under wraps, and the peak of the movie’s central romance is a couple of tentative smooches. The courtship is more about behavior than it is about bodies. We’re won over with Dewan by Tatum’s goofy improvisations, by his off-balance pirouettes, by his willingness to try new moves even after failing the first, second, and third times. With its laid-back charm, Step Up is exactly the kind of movie worth keeping around for the kids.