Homegrown star Simu Liu reveals his dancing dream

Feb 4 2022, 6:42 pm

Known for their acting as lead characters in West Side Story and Shang-Chi, Ariana DeBose and Simu Liu found something unexpected in common on an episode of Variety’s Actors on Actors.

The series brings actors together to talk about their lives, passions, careers, and best stories. 

In the February 4 episode, Liu opened up the conversation, eager to talk about one thing in particular: a competitive dance show from the early 2000s.

“You achieved a life dream of mine,” he said to DeBose, as she raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

“Quite a few years ago, you were on a little show called So You Think You Can Dance. It’s like, all I’ve ever wanted. It’s been my dream.” 

It turns out Liu was on a competitive hip-hop dance team in his sophomore year of college, during the heyday of shows like So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew. He was obsessed and spent all his time watching it, dancing, and dreaming.

“I was like, in it. I was all about it,” laughed Liu.

“I literally would rehearse like, four or five nights a week. I literally didn’t study for any of my classes because of it.” 

Instead, he would fantasize about earning a spot on the stage — just like DuBois did when she was 18.

“Gosh, that show was like, the craziest whirlwind of life for an 18-year-old. Oh my god,” she said. 

“But I think the greatest thing I learned is that it is a television show. You know — So You Think You Can Dance — you think it’s just about dance, right? No, it’s actually like, casting, and they are looking for storylines.” 

To her, it makes sense Liu has a dance background because of how graceful and physical he is as Shang-Chi.

“When I got that part, they asked me about my martial arts background and experience, which of course I exaggerated because I really badly wanted to be the best possible candidate,” he said through laughter. 

“But if we’re honest, I think I was more of a dancer than I ever was a martial artist. I think it comes with body awareness, so I had that kind of going for me.”

Training to play Shang-Chi was exhaustive, and Liu had to work with trainers to learn how to stretch, fight, and understand different forms of martial arts for the first time.

And for DeBose, learning how to physically play Anita was equally intense. 

“She is really a character that runs the gamut, so you have to be able to act and show an incredible, wide range of emotions, but the dancing was with Jerry Robbins. He’s iconic, and that was a very stylized piece of choreography,” she said. 

Who knew growing up on MTV would have brought these two together? Both SNL hosts and talented theatre actors, they have plenty more to bond over than just dancing — but maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to see them on a stage together.

Aly LaubeAly Laube

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