Mandy Moore, 45, is a choreographer, dancer, producer and instructor. She choreographed the 2016 film “La La Land” and has won an Emmy Award three times for her work on “Dancing With the Stars” (2017), “So You Think You Can Dance” (2018) and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (2020), which began its second season this month.
Q: What do you think people tend to misunderstand about musicals and dance?
A: That it’s just a bunch of people dancing around, you know, kicking and turning: Oh, that looks like fun. That’s cute. And I think, “Oh my God! That took me, like, 30 hours just to make it easy on the eye.” So something that is perceived as simple has taken a lot of care in making it not awkward to look at. (Laughs.) Or if it is awkward, I wanted it to be awkward. There is a storytelling element to choreography and dance that people tend to minimize.
Q: What did it feel like when you choreographed your first successful (routine)?
A: First of all, the process is terrifying. I mean, you think, “Oh, I got this.” And then you get in there and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I got this.” It was my third routine on (“So You Think You Can Dance”) — this number I did to “Sweet Dreams.” And that feeling, I remember watching it when we went live, and people freaking out after. I actually got an Emmy nomination from it. It was like an out-of-body experience, honestly, for it to all come together and for people to really respond to it. And then it was a very strange dichotomy, I guess, like: Well, that’s awesome, but next week I’m going to go back to teaching 4-year-olds how to tap dance.
But looking back, I’m also like, “Thank God,” because I was just ignorant. I was just doing what I felt was right because I loved it. And that’s a really big lesson as a creator because sometimes you can go in and out of, “Well, I think this is right because I think this is what everybody wants (vs.) this is what’s right for me because I want to create.” And obviously when you do it the most authentically, that’s when it turns out the best.
Q: You’ve called choreographing the movie “La La Land” your Super Bowl. Is that still the case?
A: Yeah. And then I got (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”) — holy smokes! I mean, I feel like on “Zoey’s” I’m really firing on all cylinders. I’m taking things that I’ve learned in “La La Land,” that I learned in “Silver Linings Playbook,” that I learned at “Dancing With the Stars,” learned at “So You Think You Can Dance,” and then crashing that all together with Austin (Winsberg) and his vision for the show. I get to create five to six musical numbers every episode. So maybe this is the Pro Bowl of my career, I don’t know! Or Super Bowl number two?
Q: What do you think dance expresses that other arts can’t?
A: I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before: If you can’t say it, you sing it, and if you can’t sing it, you dance it. I think that’s really true. Dance has the ability to give you a feeling that maybe you can’t express in words. It has a way of turning on deeper emotions in people.
Q: Do you think that there’s an emotion that it expresses particularly well?
A: I definitely think dance expresses joy well. And happiness. Because I think dance is inherently — usually, not all the time — exuberant. Wow, we’re going to get deep. I think, in life as humans, we walk. We sit. We maybe run. We raise our arms in the air when we yawn, and dance is really just a magnification, a higher level of that. Because we don’t really dance around in life. But our foundation of our general movement is dance: the weight change. I think everything is dance. So even someone sitting hunching their back to me is dance, right? And that, maybe is a feeling of sadness or you’re tired or you’re sinking, you know? I love how the simple shape of something can turn into a whole fantasy of movement.
Q; You’ve worked with novices, professionals — do you think everybody has it in them to be a dancer?
A: (Laughs.) This might be the Pollyanna part of me, but I do think everyone has dance in them. It may not be the dance that everybody thinks is dance. But I believe that if you can move your body through space, you are dancing. I think that people should learn how to express themselves through movement — however simple or complex it may be. It’s very rewarding to move your body through space and to feel something as you’re doing it.
Q: Advice to live by?
A: Don’t be afraid to say yes. (Laughs.) Like: “Yeah, I can do it. Sure, let’s try.” And trust that you can. I think sometimes people say no ’cause they’re like, “Oh, I could never. …” Well, why not? Why can’t you? People do amazing things every day.