Stephen Kogon talks the idea of Dance Baby Dance and learning to tap dance

Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR
Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR /

Stephen Kogon shared his favorite and least favorite moments working on Dance Baby Dance and just how difficult it was to learn to tap dance.

When Stephen Kogon set out to make a movie about an aspiring tap dancer, he didn’t realize just how hard it would be. Well, okay, the making of the movie he did. He prepared as much as possible. He didn’t just star in the movie, but also wrote the script and directed the movie. Most actors and directors will just do two of the three and definitely not attempt the hat-trick.

On top of that, he had to learn to tap dance. Many people will learn how to do this from a young age, but the inspiration to tap came during a walk on the beach. And boy was it harder than he expected!

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During this interview with Kogon, we discussed learning how to tap dance, casting the perfect actress for Kit, and how the idea for the movie came about.

Hidden Remote: How did the idea for Dance Baby Dance come about?

Stephen Kogon: I’ve always been a fan of underdog kind of movies, like Rocky, 8-Mile with Eminem, and Flash Dance. All those have resonated with me, but this one came out of left field. I was out in LA and from time to time I like to take walks on the beach, it clears my head and helps me with story ideas. And at the time of the writing of this story I was listening to a lot of old school soul, like Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight and for whatever reason I saw myself tap dancing to these songs, even though I’d never tap danced before in my life. I just saw myself tap dancing and it made me really happy, so I put that idea along with the underdog theme idea in a pot, stirred it up and came out with a story.

HR: My daughter loves it. She’s into ballet and tap at the moment and keeps saying tapping is her favorite.

SK: Aw that’s awesome. I love to hear that. I genuinely love tap dancing, since I started it. It’s great cardio, a lot of fun to do. I highly recommend it for everybody.

HR: And it looks amazing, as well.

SK: Oh, thank you!

Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR
Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR /

HR: So, I loved the tap dance scene with Kit, where there’s sort of like a dance off between you. It was so adorable. What was the auditioning process like to find this perfect child who could act and dance?

SK: Yeah, I knew that would take a while, so we actually cast her really really early. Her mom I knew, the woman who played her mom, Lisa Brenner, and she sat in on the auditions with us. It was maybe two years before we started filming. I knew how important that role was, like you said, she needed to be able to act and tap dance. So we found Hayle [Shukiar] and it gave me a lot of time to work with her and we were able to rehearse a lot and get our chemistry down.

The only worrying thing was she was growing. I didn’t know when we’d film. I didn’t want her to be my height or taller than me when we started filming. It’d be weird for a nine-year-old to be taller than me. So, yeah, thankfully she was still at a tiny, good little height when we started filming and that’s how we found her. Just an audition.

HR: She’s brilliant.

SK: She’s a really sweet kid too. She was so much fun to work with.

HR: She has so much sass in the movie for someone so small.

SK: Yeah, that was one of my favorite parts to write. Maybe my favorite in the film to write. I enjoyed the sassiness and teasing back and forth.

HR: So you’ve written it, directed it, starred in it, how did you manage to all of it?

SK: It was difficult! I’m not going to lie about that. But I knew going in that it was going to be challenging, so I tried to prepare myself mentally and even physically as much as possible. That’s all I could ask of myself. I knew every day would be a new challenge and if I was as prepared as possible I’d get through it. And I got through it, so it was a good thing.

Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR
Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR /

HR: Do you have any tips at all for anyone who wants to attempt the hat-trick?

SK: Yeah, I’m just finishing up a book about the making of the film, because it was such a wild ride. So from A to Z, I talk about writing the script, writing the business plan, raising all the money (we did a crowdfunding and then went to private investors) and then pre-production and post-production and distribution. And I talked to a lot of my crew members, so there’s a lot of advice in there.

But the general advice I would give, again goes back to be as prepared as possible before you step on set. The more you are ready, the less you have to kind of deal with when you’re on set. That would be my key.

And hire well, especially if you’re doing this for the first time or you’re not too experienced. You really need to hire really good people and hope they can help guide you.

HR: And expect the unexpected, I’m guessing?

SK: Yeah!

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HR: Is there anything else you learned about yourself through this whole process.

SK: Maybe I little more relearning. People told me almost every single day that I’m a very calm person and they said it almost disbelievingly like ‘how can you stay calm?’ There’s a lot of things that can go wrong on a film set every single day and you just have to ride the storm. For me, thankfully I am a calm person. I’m not someone who throws tantrums and storms off set. I stay calm and try to problem solve it and get through it. So I relearned that about myself the most. That helped me throughout the whole making of the film.

HR: Anything bad about yourself that you sort of learned that you know now you need to change?

SK: Yeah, sometimes I can be too nice. At times on film sets when people aren’t doing things, or even beforehand, and then you see red flags and you just say ‘okay, my own work ethic will outwork a problem’ or you rationalize it in another way. Sometimes you just have to say ‘I need to get rid of that person…it’s only going to get worse.’

It’s a hard thing to change about yourself. I’ve been like this my whole life, so it’s hard to force yourself to be the way you are. But in future projects I have to do that, otherwise I and the project will suffer.

Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR
Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR /

HR: What was your favorite part and least favorite part of the project?

SK: My favorite was working with Hayley. All of our scenes were fun. Again, she’s such a nice sweet kid that it was easy and not stressful at all. Our ice cream scene I was dreading going into it, because I thought I’d get tired of eating the ice cream, but where we ate this ice cream (at a place called Scoops in West Los Angeles), it was so good that we actually kept eating more after we’d done filming. So all my scenes with Hayley, especially that ice cream one, was my favorite.

Least favorite…the very first day on every project is going to be the toughest. That was probably our toughest, because everyone was meeting each other and we were running out of time and I wanted to get so much done because there were important scenes that day. So, it’s hard to pin-point a least favorite.

There were a lot of things that happened that you didn’t want to happen. Lots of things coming out of the blue that I just couldn’t control and fix in the moment. But you always have to remind yourself that you still get to make a film and when you are done with it, it’s very rewarding.

HR: So you said you learned to tap dance for the movie. How long did that take?

Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR
Photo credit: Dance Baby Dance via October Coast PR /

SK: Well we took about, from when I started writing it to filming it, about two years, so in those two years I worked maybe five, six days a week practicing. I’d take online tutorials and the occasional private class. Id’ work in my own apartment five, maybe four days a week, and then rent a studio once a week and just keep at it and get as good as I could be.

Thankfully I was only playing a struggling tap dancer. There’s only so much you can do in two years to get to where you need to be, so I worked hard at it and I was happy with where I was at.

HR: Was it as difficult as you expected it to be? More difficult? What was it like picking up tap dancing?

SK: Yeah, I think it was far more difficult. I thought it was going to be a case of you turn on the music and let your feet have fun. It’s a lot more precise than that. Each move is precise and if you don’t do them exactly as they’re supposed to be done, they’re not considered tap moves; they’re not considered correct. At least for tap professionals. Now a general audience might look at a move and not know one way or another and just enjoy it, but if you want to get certain things done specifically correct then you want to try to do the correct technique.

Yeah, it was definitely tougher than I thought it would be.

HR: Okay, so last question for you. What would your dream role be?

SK: That’s a hard one to answer. I have so many stories that I want to tell and I don’t want to act in all of them. They all mean so much to me that it’s hard to pinpoint the one that would be my ideal. Yeah, I’d say all of them. Every opportunity I get to play a different character, especially if I get to write it, they would all be my favorite.

Next: Dance Baby Dance review

Dance Baby Dance is now available on Video on Demand through Prime Video.