Swan, a London-based professional ballerina and the co-founder of barre workout Sleek Technique, is actress Lily James’ body double—er, dancing double?—in the ballroom scene in Disney’s new live-action Cinderella, out today.
And kind of like how the princess had to put up with her evil stepmother and do a lot of sweeping before meeting Prince Charming, Swan had to endure tons of physically challenging training in order to pull off dancing in a corset and the huge, heavy costume dress.
“You need some serious core strength and dance experience to do that take after take,” Swan says. “You’re turning your back and your core, but you have to turn the material with you. Layers and layers of heavy material. I had sores around my middle [from] where the material had rubber afterwards!” (Makes you thankful you get to wear Spandex while you work out, right?)
Even with a gown that felt heavy as a kettlebell (the underskirts weighed at least 20 pounds alone), Swan managed to transform into a twirling Cinderella. Here she explains how. Spoiler: she didn’t actually dance in the glass slippers.
So how heavy was the actual dress? I wouldn’t know exactly the weight, but I can tell you it was heavy. I had to be corseted, and that already restricts some of your breathing as a dancer. I’m a fitness person, so I knew how to hold my body while dancing in that dress. Getting out of the costume, I was so achy. But I’m a dancer, so I’m used to sore feet and hard work. When they offered me the role I was already in good shape, but I had to be in peak shape.
What did you have to do to train for it? I had to focus on strengthening the abs at the front and the back. Also, my back and arms were showing, so I had to make sure they were as slim as Lily’s. Fortunately I managed! I did our Sleek Technique barre workouts for it all.
What is the actual ballroom dancing scene like? It’s beautiful. It’s so fairytale and so romantic. You can see glimpses of it in the trailer. You can only hope to be working with Rob Ashford and dancing his choreography and pretending to be a Disney princess. I’ve been a ballerina and a Disney princess now, so I’ve definitely ticked some boxes that little girls dream of.
What was the hardest part of the whole thing for you? Definitely dancing in the weight of the dress. And also trying to think about how I’m playing a character. As a professional dancer you’re always trying to be your best. I had to be me but being someone else, and make sure I wasn’t being selfish but dancing exactly as Lily as Cinderella. I watched myself carefully and trained my body to be like her body.
And no glass slippers? I danced in proper dance shoes—in dancer’s heels. It wasn’t too much for me, because I’m used to being en pointe. And my legs are strong.
Did you get to see the final cut? Yes, and it looked exactly as I had hoped. On the set, there’s the crew, and people running around, and it’s busy. But when I saw the movie on screen, it really took my breath away. I really think it’s the most beautiful nod to the original. —Jamie McKillop
(Photos: IMDB.com, Swan outside of the film studio via Flik Swan)
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