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Exclusive: Step Up: All In Star Mari Koda Discusses Love of Dance

Mari Koda has made a name for herself as one of the biggest international dance stars with her role in the “Step Up” films. Koda will be making a return to the franchise to reprise her role as Jenny Kido in the upcoming installment to the franchise, “Step Up: All In.” ShockYa was happy to speak with Koda and discuss her acting career, her love of dance, and reuniting with her some of the “Step Up”alums. “Step Up: All In” will be in theaters Aug. 8.

“Step Up: All In” is almost out. I’m sure your fans are excited.

Mari Koda: Yeah…they’re already excited.

What can they expect from this installment in the “Step Up” series?

Mari Koda: It’s like the [title] says; it’s going to be all in–comedy, all the best dances in it, so it’s all in.

What will happen to your character this time around?

Mari Koda: Jenny still doesn’t have any love interest! [laughs]. She has no boyfriend in the movie. But she’s…a little sexier, I’ll say. She’s always been more of a tomboy type, but this time, she’s trying to be sexy. [laughs]

What inspired you to take up dance?

Mari Koda: Music…great music inspired me to dance. I love Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and Prince, the Isley Brothers…that music makes me want to dance.

I read that you are the first person from Japan to be granted a performing arts visa from the US as a hip hop dancer.

Mari Koda: Yeah, yeah, I am.

So how does it feel to have made history in that way?

Mari Koda: I’m really proud that I can work with amazing artists like Jamie Foxx and Missy Elliot and Timbaland and 50 Cent and [other] hip hop and R&B artists…Just appreciating those artists the really respect my performance. That’s the part that’s really amazing, to be in the United States as an artist. I’m really proud of myself[.]

As I said before, there are tons of fans of yours, either from watching you in the movies or taking some of your dancing workshops. How does it feel to be able to teach dance and inspire other people through your work?

Mari Koda: It’s very exciting. It’s almost like–they see the movie and they’re like, “Oh, I want to dance.” When I meet them, they come tell me that “You changed my life. You opened the door to get into dance.” It helps them to stay positive and they start having more excitement for their life. That’s what I really love because dance is all over the country. It’s the best, positive tool to communicate [with] the whole world, and that’s the best part of teaching and doing the workshops in different countries and meeting people. In my class, even the people who never have any experience to dance, they just want to see me and do something with me and that’s really great, you know?

Speaking of excitement, one of the things about the movie that’s really exciting to me is that cast members from past “Step Up” movies and new characters as well are going to be in “Step Up: All In.” What was it like to work with actors from past films and new actors coming to the series?

Mari Koda: During the rehearsal, we’d all dance together. We’d just make a circle and have fun between the breaks. That really helped up communicate [together], exchanging the energy. So that really helped. Even the actors, they know how to have fun with music, so it’s not really about skill; it’s about the energy…I’ve been doing this since “Step Up 2” and personally, I was really excited to work with Briana Evigan who plays Andie from “Step Up 2.” I was so happy to work with her again because we had such a great time when we did ["Step Up 2: The Streets”]. It was, to us, like the first time to do dance movies together. Everything was brand new. But now…to work together again for “Step Up: All In” is really exciting and happy. And Moose–Adam G. Sevani–he’s also from “Step Up 2.” It’s like we were in high school…but now we’re all grown up…It was a really exciting moment to spend time together with the new people and the past [c[characters]

If anyone is watching you on screen and they want to start dancing, what would be your advice to them?

Mari Koda: Buy the DVD, for sure [l[laughs]I would say to make sure you’re having fun when you dance. You don’t have to compare [y[yourself]ith any other people. I just think it’s going to be fun for [t[them]o be in [t[their]wn room and just dance with music [t[they]ove to listen to, music that moves them instead of trying to move with the music. Just find good music that makes you want to move.

Mari Koda-Step Up All In

(Photo credit: James Dittger/Summit Entertainment)

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Monique Jones blogs about race and culture in entertainment, particularly movies and television. You can read her articles at Racialicious, and her new site, COLOR . You can also listen to her new podcast, What would Monique Say.

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