Tip your hat for Hi-Hat!

By Deborah Searle. 

Choreographer Nadine “Hi-Hat” Ruffin hails from New York. Focusing on hip hop and street styles, Hi-Hat has made a name for herself working in film, television, and commercials and for musical artists across pop, country and rock. Working with names such as Missy Elliott, P.Diddy, Shakira and Mary J Blige, to name a few, Hi-Hat recently choreographed for Step Up 3D, out on DVD and Blu-ray on this December. In anticipation of the DVD release, Dance Informa spoke with Hi-Hat about the movie and her successful career to date.

Step Up 3 is a 3D movie. How did this change your choreographic process?
This is the first time dance has been in 3D, of this magnitude, because the movie has done so well. It’s different because it’s now in 3D as opposed to 2D. So when you’re thinking of a routine you have to think dimensions, chain reactions, and big movements. Because it’s B-Boys you have flares, headstands etc. You want to use all those great tricks so it feels like the viewers are in the film while watching the move, or have a foot, arm or body part that is coming at you.

What were the rehearsals like?
I had a week to prep without the dancers, to think of how we were going to approach it, and then I went in for maybe two weeks. I had three scenes. It was not only myself. We had Dave Scott, Rich & Tone, and Jamal Sims and each of us had a crew, and the crew was named ‘House’. Everybody had ‘House of Pirates’, and another house. I had the water scene. My scene was all about water, speed and energy.

We had all these magnificent choreographers coming together, and everybody was assigned different things. So the competition was on! It’s like making a secret project in a science lab and you just want to out-shine everybody. That’s the approach everyone took. So when you see the one project you’re like ‘wow, that’s magnificent’. Everybody did their job.

Was all the music chosen for you, or did you get a creative licence?
We’re all masterminds and we worked in collaboration with the director. We said ‘this is the music we want to use and this is how I see it’. That’s the only way it’s going to work, because our minds all work differently. It of course has to be a collaboration of effort with the director giving suggestions and getting with the music director and seeing the line of music that they have. There’s also the clearance issue as well, and that costs money. You just narrow down the massive amount of music that they give you to choose from and select the best one that fits your scene.

What was the inspiration behind your choreography?
I knew the scene involved a fountain eruption. That inspired me. So, I thought ‘what can I do to make this visual come to life?’ Knowing the concept and knowing what it’s all about motivates you to make the visual come to life.

Were you happy with the outcome?
Oh yeah, very happy because I knew about all the obstacles we had to go through. B-Boys with water just doesn’t work! They were slipping, falling and bumping about, but they were all troopers. They knew we had a great project and minus the falls and the bumps we were able to work through it for the outcome. To me, knowing behind the scenes of what went down, it’s a phenomenal outcome.

You have worked with everyone in the industry, in film, television and commercials. Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with yet, that you would love to work with?
The person that I haven’t worked with, that I would have loved to work with, is now not with us – Michael Jackson. I’d like to work with a lot of old school people from the past that are no longer with us; artists that inspired me to dance, like the Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astair and Michael Jackson – all the legends. We have our inspirations and unfortunately a lot of mine are from the past.

There are so many dancers in the Step Up movies, what do you look for when choosing dancers?
For both Step Up movies for me, (Step Up 2 & 3), we had to get spectacular dancers, unique dancers, original dancers – the ones with the unique moves. I look for unique talent and how quickly a dancer can pick up choreography because the time process is really, really short. Of course you know that the directors are looking for faces, but I’m all about skill. If the face passes with the director then we’re good.

What’s one thing you would like dancers to leave with after working with you?
That the job they’re doing is a passion and that everyone is treated with respect. I aim to stay innovative and be a trend setter so that the kids look up to me and look up my history of work and are inspired. Like how I did my research with Fred Astaire and Nicholas Brothers footage. I’m hoping to leave that impact, so that they can use this as their reference to keep dance going.

What is your background and training? Did you have a lot of formal training?
Mine is natural talent, teaching myself, and being inspired when I was young by cartoons and anything that moved, like karate movies. I just wanted to create a big picture from that. I’ve always been a creative mind. I’d come home and do my homework, and after homework I’d start dancing and making moves, that was my thing.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn is all about flavour, and rhythm. When it comes to street dance and hip-hop it’s all about a rhythm, a groove and a flavour, and I found it at a very young age.

What advice would you give to young dancers who would like to star in dance films?
You can’t hop on the band wagon. You have to be passionate and you have to love what you’re doing. You can’t just say you want to do this because it’s the thing and you’ll be in the limelight. You have to have the passion, and once you have the passion for it, you’re not going to give up. For me, my passion is dance, choreography and creative directing. If I don’t dream about my job, then it’s not worth having.

And what would Hi-Hat say to those who haven’t seen the movie yet?
You must see the movie! 

See Hi-Hat’s work in action:

Photos: Scenes from Step Up 3D. Photos by K.C. Bailey, 2009 Copyright Summit Entertainment LLC

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