Since its 2001 release date, Save The Last Dance has appealed to new audiences and is even considered by many as a cult classic. More than just a teen rom-com, the film touches on some heavy topics including systemic racism, interracial relationships, teen pregnancy, and grief.
If you've forgotten, the film follows teenage ballet dancer, Sara (played by Julia Stiles), after her mother dies in a car accident. She's forced to move into a tiny apartment with her father, a struggling musician living in Chicago. In addition to navigating life without her mother, she must start over at a new school where she stands out as one of the few white students.
In honor of its 20-year anniversary, here are some details about Save The Last Dance you probably didn't know:
1. There's A Huge Age Gap Between The Stars
Most people don't know there is more than a 10 year age gap between the film's stars. Sean Patrick Thomas, who played Sara's love interest, Derek, was 31-years-old during filming while Julia Stiles was only 19! While some might think this kind of age gap would cause friction on set, Stiles claimed it made the stars a better team. In a recent interview with Today she said:
I think, we're really a nice team. And I know he's older than I am, but it was more, I guess, noticeable back then when I was 19. And I think he was 30? I could rely on him. 'Cause he had a groundedness and a maturity and a life experience that was really nice.
2. The Chair Dance Was Borrowed From The Backstreet Boys
The final dance scene in the film has since become infamous, however, most people don't know that some of the moves weren't original. Choreographed by Fatima Robinson, the moves Stiles does with the chair were also featured in a Backstreet Boys music video.
Robinson was once a choreographer for the boy band and used some of the moves she created for their "As Long As You Love Me" video in the movie. Once you watch the videos side-by-side, you can't deny the similarities!
3. The Cast Often Partied Together Until Dawn
After long days of filming, the cast would often party together all night, often until dawn according to Stiles. In an interview with E! News, both Stiles and Thomas recalled these long nights. While Thomas admits he "burned the candle at both ends many nights," Stiles said she would usually skip these long nights.
Calling herself a "little do-gooder," Stiles admits she now regrets not going out on a "tour of all the clubs in Chicago" with her co-stars.
4. Dance Rehearsals Gave Stiles Bunions
Before filming, Stiles had to train rigorously for four hours a day for nearly two months. This had a nasty effect on her feet, which she revealed were in rough shape during a 2001 interview on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.
Oh my god, I had the nastiest feet ... They'd bleed, they'd get calluses, blisters, bunions, all that stuff.
5. Stiles Had A Similar Experience To Her Character
Just as Sara struggles to fit in at a predominantly black high school in Save The Last Dance, Stiles grew up having a similar experience. In junior high, she attended a predominantly black and Latino school in Manhattan. Also like Sara, Stiles had a tough time trying to fit in.
During a 2001 interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Stiles described her life at 12-year-old saying:
I was, like, the only white girl there. It was mostly black and Latino. I was so pathetic. I just really tried too hard to be a homegirl ... I even had a Puerto Rican accent for awhile.
6. Thomas Had No Dance Experience
While it's hard to tell from his moves in the film, Thomas had no professional dance training prior to filming. Despite this fact, he nailed the audition.
In an interview with Nitrate Online, he said:
I didn’t have dance experience, except for some aerobics dance classes, and I had to dance at the final audition. Usually, with any type of choreography, you have to learn it and practice it. I didn’t have that chance – they taught it to me that morning. I did the best I could.
7. Kerry Washington Did Heavy Research For Her Role
Before Kerry Washington became a household name, she played Derek's sister Chenille in Save The Last Dance. Playing a teen mom didn't come naturally to the actress, who was a 22-year-old recent college graduate during filming. Over the years Washington has often described her preparation for the role in interviews:
I did a lot of research and spent time with teen parents when I was preparing for the role. They helped me understand that when you have a child at that age, suddenly you really get that motherly, care-taking feeling toward a lot of people around you, which really helped me understand why she was willing to embrace Julia Stiles' character. So I think there's a part of that, you know, that having a child just makes you sort of rise to the occasion.
8. STEPPS Was A Goth Club
Several scenes in Save The Last Dance were filmed in a club they called STEPPS. In reality, this was a goth club in Chicago called The Crowbar. It needed quite a makeover before filming began. Stiles recalled the club's decor in an interview saying:
The Crowbar was actually like this weird gothic club that they redressed it to make it look hip-hop and reggae.
Stiles described filming the scenes in the club as exciting, as she couldn't believe she was being paid to party.
9. Some Dance Scenes Were Filmed During A Party On The Last Night
There's a good reason why Stiles may have felt shooting some of the club scenes was more of a party than a day at work. According to Washington, the last night on set actually was a party. They happened to be filming the final club scene that runs alongside the credits, and it turned into an all-nighter! She recalled the evening in an interview with Rolling Stone saying:
There was one point where we were shooting in the club and Julia and I turned to each other at three in the morning, and realized that we were getting paid to dance and have an incredible time in a club in Chicago. You know all the dancing when the credits are running at the end? That was during the last night of shooting at the club, and we just danced for hours—pulled the producers and the sound guys and the prop guys on the dance floor.
10. Thomas Was Under Pressure To Be Likable
When filming Save The Last Dance, Thomas struggled with making sure his character Derek was always likable. Filming a movie with a major motion film comes with a lot of expectations, and making sure viewers found his character appealing was just one of them. He offered this example in a 2001 interview with Nitrate Online:
There were many scenes in Save the Last Dance when they said, 'Well, that was good, but you're not likable enough.' There's a scene in the club, when [my ex-girlfriend] wants to dance, and I played the genuine indignation and hurt, and getting pleasure out of telling her to step off, with some venom.
And they said, 'That's realistic, but you're not appealing.' To me, it intrudes on playing the scene truthfully. [My character, Derek] had to be a guy who's noble beyond all human expectation. But I think every actor has to go through this.
While the cast of Save The Last Dance has discussed the possibility of a reunion in the past, we have yet to see one. Hopefully, we'll get one before the film's 30th anniversary comes around!