Fans of The Umbrella Academy know that with each new season, the quirky Netflix superhero drama will find new ways to raise the bar when it comes to musical weirdness. But while Season 3 certainly delivered its share of unconventional needle drops and wild karaoke, perhaps the standout moment of the season soundtrack-wise happens in the first episode, as the Umbrella gang finds themselves face-to-face with an alternate universe version of their own superhero squad, and the ensuing confrontation… devolves into a dance battle.
Not just any dance battle, but a dance battle set to the iconic Kenny Loggins song “Footloose” — a two-and-a-half-minute dance extravaganza featuring both the new cast of Sparrows (Justin Cornwell, Justin H. Min, Britne Oldford, Jake Epstein, Genesis Rodriguez, Cazzie David, and Christopher the Cube) as well as core cast members Viktor (Elliot Page), Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Five (Aidan Gallagher).
It might technically be a fight but the hallucinatory sequence quickly turns joyous, and in talking to Hopper, Castañeda, Raver-Lampman, Sheehan, Min, and showrunner Steve Blackman, it becomes clear that this was very much a labor of love. (And a lot of labor.)
Blackman says that the train of thought that led to Kenny Loggins began with the opening confrontation between the Umbrellas and the Sparrows, specifically Sparrow Jayme’s (David) spitting attack, which causes hallucinations. “It was Diego who got hit,” he says. “So I just tried to think, what would Diego hallucinate? And then I found it very amusing that maybe he would go to ‘Footloose.'”
“There was a lot of thought as to like, why is Diego having this specific dream? You know, what obsession does he have with Kevin Bacon or the Footloose films?” Castañeda says.
“Fantasies, really,” Min interjects.
“Fantasies, yeah. This dream of him maybe being a Broadway star,” Castañeda says.
According to Blackman, once that was in the script, “the actors were like, are we really doing this? I’m like, yes, we are really doing this. And to their credit, they did it during the lockdown.”
Hopper says that his first reaction to learning about the sequence was simply, “good song… Makes sense for Umbrella. Why would we be surprised? And then that quickly went to fear when we knew what the dance was going to be.”
Looming over everyone involved was the memory of a video sent out by choreographer John Heginbotham, a 2018 Guggenheim fellow whose New York-based dance company Dance Heginbotham demonstrated the full routine for the actors, “at full speed,” Hopper notes.
“Nimble lithe looking young dancers, doing it effortlessly,” Sheehan adds.
“They do yoga for sure,” Hopper agrees.
“When they sent us the video, I didn’t open it because I was so afraid. I’m like, ‘I’m never gonna learn these moves,'” Castañeda says. However, his terror lessened as he and the rest of the cast began working with Heginbotham via Zoom to get a handle on the choreography.
“It was pretty intense,” says Raver-Lampman. “We started conversations about the dance in December of 2020. And we didn’t start filming until mid-February of 2021. So, you know, it was about two and a half months of conversations with [Heginbotham] just to get everybody’s comfortability and special skills. And then, you know, once we all traveled to Toronto and were in quarantine, we were doing several rehearsals a week via Zoom.”
Hopper notes that there was a chance at one point that they’d have to shoot the sequence in smaller groups. “We had a situation in Ontario at the time where there was a rule due to COVID that we weren’t allowed to have many actors on set. I think we were limited to six at one point — it looked like we’d have to do six or seven at a time and then the other seven. Then they lifted it, so we were able to do the entire scene with everyone.”
Raver-Lampman says that once the cast was out of quarantine, there were about three weeks of in-person rehearsals, completely masked. “There were two dance studios across the hall from each other,” she says. “One was for stunts and fight training and then the other one was for dancing. And so we would just like go back and forth across the hall all day long, just learning and practicing and rehearsing and over and over and over again.”