Introducing: Romina D’Ugo of MTV’s ‘Turn the Beat Around’

Former So You Think You Can Dance Canada contestant Romina D’Ugo been dancing for her life since she was a small girl. She does it yet again, this time as the aspiring dancer/choreographer Zoe in the new MTV, made-for-TV movie, Turn the Beat Around (premiering, Friday, February 26, 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific)

In Turn the Beat Around, Romina, as Zoe, partners with a wealthy nightclub owner to take disco from offstage to back on center stage.  For a review of the movie, click here.

Prior to the movie’s premiere, The Ride talked to Romina about dance and disco.  Here’s what she had to say.

So how has appearing on So You Think You Can Dance – Canada prepared her for the movie?

Romina knew many of the other actors in the movie, who also happened to be contestants on the show, thus making the environment more comfortable. Generally, says Romina, some people (we’re talking about non contestants) take being on the show as asset; others don’t. Although she was in the Top 20 and left the show after 2 weeks, it shocks her that she is still recognized. In the end, she says, the show got her name out there.

So was Romina like the character, working a day job all the while dreaming of dancing professionally?

The most regular, non performing job she’s ever had was a lifeguard at age 15. When no patrons were around, she and a fellow lifeguard used to turn on the stereo and salsa by the pool.

Did she ever want to be a choreographer like her character Zoe?

Yes, especially when she was a little girl. She also wanted to open her own dance studio then and become a veterinarian.  In high school, Romina was in a school sponsored choreographers’ workshop, where she and her fellow students got the chance to have their works performed on stage.  Romina, who considers herself a  “very visual person”, enjoyed the process of having to select the lighting, makeup and costumes for her dances.  “The teachers allowed us to put whatever we want on. They allowed us to explore the other side of dance. It helped a lot of my performing as a dancer. ”

How did she make the transition from dancing to acting?

Romina’s been dancing most of her life competitively and professionally. She was acting during the same period of time but not professionally. “I loved to do it for fun but I never really knew I could do it as as a career.”  After college, she decided to purse acting in earnest.

She sees acting as important key to being a great dancer. For Romina, when dancing doesn’t include a performance element, it becomes mechanical. “It becomes art when you add the acting component.It gets audiences to move, to feel an emotional connection.”

Romina (courtesy: MTV)
'Turn the Beat Around': Romina D'Ugo and dancers at Jason Derulo music video audition (courtesy: MTV)

‘Turn the Beat Around’ has a disco theme; so what is Romina’s favorite disco song?

She says, “It’s difficult to narrow it down to one. I don’t have a favorite…I love all of ABBA. I love the soundtrack from the movie Mamma Mia.”  And although she heard the song “Disco Inferno” numerous times while filming the movie and even afterward at a photo shot, she says she never tires of the song.

It’s no secret that some people aren’t fond of disco music (to say the least). So, I had to ask, why the hate?

Romina thinks that anything that has received such widespread popularity is going to receive some backlash. “It gets to a point where people say, ‘I don’t want to see it any more.'” Some of the hate, says Romina came from rock artists and DJs who she says “got bumped to the side” thus causing some “resentment” and “jealousy” and “started spreading the opposite sentiment towards [disco].”  Disco, she says, which celebrates the “eccentric,” makes no apologies.”You either love it or hate it”.

What is her favorite dance style?

Like her favorite disco song, she finds it difficult to choose one. “I love salsa but I need hip hop, jazz, and fox trot too.”  Romina loves it when a number of dance styles are blended in one performance. “I’m a medley kind of girl.”

Finale of 'Turn the Beat Around' (courtesy: MTV)

We know about the disco hate, what would she say to those people who don’t want to watch because it’s “disco”?

“It’s not a documentary on disco or a story about disco. It’s about human life,” says Romina. “Everyone has dreams. Everyone has issues.  Everyone has things to overcome. It’s a story about personal journey not really about disco itself…It’s a feel good story..And the dance sequences are great. Visually compelling.  There are so many elements to watch. It’s about whatever inspires you as an individual. For this character, it happens to be disco.”

Finally, what advice would she give young dancers?

Young girls and boys often approach her. They are afraid to be themselves, afraid to put themselves out there, their souls on display.  Romina tells them that they must do it for the audience. “When you are on stage, in movies, or in theater, people see you live full lives, lives that they can’t necessarily live because they have shielded themselves,” says Romina.

“You have to make [your work as a dancer] about personal growth [as well as developing your technique], ” says Romina. “If you don’t add that element, like I said before, it becomes mechanical. When people go to the theater, they want to see your soul; they want to live through you.”

She also tells them that it’s a difficult task that requires hard work and perseverance. “You keep chipping away at this art. Little steps are like huge steps. I tell them not to give up, as cliche as it sounds.”

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