Whoa .… JLO’s pole performance at the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show was so extra we needed a second article acknowledging all the effort, training and teamwork required to “Get Right” in time for gameday. Last time, we spoke to all of JLO’s amazing pole dancers about their high-flying performance. For this installment, we’ll get some behind the scene insights into this exciting performance from co-creative director Tabitha Dumo and pole choreographer Johanna Sapakie who discussed with us the details on how everyone came together to create halftime history at the Super Bowl.
Tabitha Dumo is part (with her husband Napoleon) of the Emmy award winning choreography duo known as NAPPTABS. These celebrated creative directors have been credited with developing the lyrical hip hop dance style and have worked on numerous hit productions including So You Think You Can Dance and Cirque du Soleil. They were the instrumental creative force in bringing JLO’s Super Bowl performance to life and have certainly made their mark in the dance industry.
How long have you and Napoleon been working together?
Tabitha: Oh my God since college. We’ve been married over 20 years. I had danced my whole life, but I was going to college for something else. He was pre-med but danced in high school. It was just something we had in common. We started taking classes together recreationally. It was something we enjoyed. Flash forward to now and we turned our hobby into our career.
When did you first team up with JLO?
Tabitha: We were judges and choreographers on So You Think You Can Dance and Jennifer was a fan of the show. She just had the twins and she was coming back with a new single called “Louboutins”. She just wanted to meet with us to work with her on that. That’s kinda how it all started and we’ve been working with her for over ten years now. Off and on.
How did you prepare for the halftime performance?
Tabitha: We were the creative directors for Jennifer’s portion, and we consulted with the needs of Shakira. It started back in October with preliminary ideas of what we could do. There’s a lot of steps that go into the final result. We dream big and then our reality came in front of us. We were in an open-air football field. Technically, certain things couldn’t happen in that venue compared to others. You go through ideas and figure out what’s going to make the most sense and logistically be able to happen in that space.
In November, we had a small workshop for two weeks before Thanksgiving in New York, with Jennifer and Parris Goebel, for some of the choreography and the ideas that we had. Then we worked in November, December, and January.
There were many moments big and small dedicated to empowering women of all ages. From the sky-high shot of the female symbol, to JLO’s 11-year-old daughter belting out “Let’s Get Loud” and “Born In The U.S.A.” with her mommy. How important was it to the team to showcase female strength at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show?
Tabitha: Inclusion drove everything we did. We were trying to figure out what the setlist was with her & Shakira sharing the headlining bill. Normally, we have about twelve minutes for one artist. We had about four minutes each plus the finale didn’t allow for a ton of time… about six minutes. So we had to figure out which of her amazing songs was going to make the cut. Having two Latina females for the first time at the Super Bowl was my inspiration for the stage design as the female symbol. There was so much pride from Jennifer and Shakira to have this opportunity to make this statement together and it was really exciting. We knew what we wanted to do for Jennifer’s finale, so the two went hand in hand.
Some people have criticized the inclusion of pole dancing in this year’s performance by saying it was too sexy for such a large audience. What do you think of the recent pushback against pole at the Super Bowl?
Tabitha: I think it all goes back to when Jennifer got the film HUSTLERS. She came to me and she said she’d really like to bring this character to life and do her justice. She said she wanted to train and,
“See if I can handle doing some pole choreography in the film”.
So I connected her with Johanna who I knew when I was choreographing for a Cirque [du Soliel] production in Las Vegas for Viva Elvis and I’ve known her since then. I said, “This girl will be perfect for you”. She’s an ex-dancer, so she understands how to speak dance terms and help you have an awareness of body to do this. Johanna’s like a gymnast… talk about female strength. When Jennifer began training, I don’t think she realized how physically demanding it was. She just grew to love it and respect it. Female dancers and dance choreography can also be extremely sexy if you choose it to be.
I think, for Jennifer, where she was in her life, getting so many nominations for the film. It was timely for us. It was an opportunity to do something that had never been done before and I felt like what we did with Jennifer was artistic. She was floating there and defying gravity and then she held herself up and planked sideways! We hit poses that we felt showed strength and “Waiting For Tonight” was metaphoric for having this opportunity. She was on top of the world, on a mound of bodies. All of that was meant to be inspiring and celebrating something that she had worked so hard on and she was recognized for and so incorporating that into the show for her made sense.
Now this is not your first trip to the Super Bowl. You’ve also choreographed Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Performance. What was your favorite part of that experience?
Tabitha: We worked on a team and I was a supervising choreographer. It was amazing…. I mean it’s Madonna! Do I say anymore. It was my first time working with her at such a big event and I had just found out I was pregnant. I said, “I think I can handle this”. I had no morning sickness. I was fine and it was exciting. It definitely prepared me for what to expect with Jennifer as far as her performance. It’s like a math puzzle, when you’re putting together the Super Bowl, because the amount of time it takes to set up your stage determines the amount of time you have to perform.
You know there’s an army of people who move every piece of the stage through an 8-foot tunnel as soon as halftime starts and set it up in less than 7 minutes, so you can perform. If one thing goes wrong with that stage, you might not get your video floor. If one cable doesn’t get plugged in, you might not get the sound you want. That team choreographs the stage setup in order to be executed to precision.
Your Super Bowl Halftime show put pole dancing on the BIGGEST stage on Earth! Do you think the world is finally starting to appreciate the skills required, the beautiful diversity and limitless potential of pole?
Tabitha: I certainly hope so. I hope that they can see it and the strength and beauty of that style. Of course, you’re going to have people who don’t understand it because they’re not a part of that culture. For us, we took advantage of this idea in the show and spread the love. We had inclusion for male and female dancers…everyone. We had a great story. Jennifer just loves to have the best people around her that rise to the occasion. At every level, from the lighting to the dancers, she wants the best around her. She’s really supportive of us.
Johanna Sapakie is the renown pole coach and choreographer who trained Jennifer Lopez for her steamy stripper scenes in the new film HUSTERS. Her marvelous pole moves made us want to take our “Medicine” watching JLO’s magnificent music video. Most recently, Jenny from the block “won the Super Bowl” with her gravity defying pole performance for the first time in halftime show history.
Everyone is sharing footage of JLO’s outstretched arms while spinning on her pole. How early in the creative process did you consider this now iconic pose?
Johanna: This first pose of JLO’s was something that was developed very early on, when we first began working on “Waiting for Tonight”. It was a simple variation on a climbing position, so she was quite comfortable in it. The more she worked on it, the higher up the pole she would get and the better it would look. She needed to look super dominant in that first moment and she certainly nailed it!
How did JLO make the adjustment from the chrome pole for HUSTERS to the silicone pole for Sunday’s performance?
Johanna: I gave the suggestion to get the silicone pole by the second day we were working on this project. I decided to get her the silicone pole for Super Bowl because her wardrobe was fully covered. This would not have worked with a chrome pole. We also needed to plan ahead in case of any rain, as the Hard Rock Stadium is open-roofed. A silicone pole gave her a much more secure hold given these circumstances. I also knew there would not be any need to be able to slide (as we sometimes need to do to execute moves on a chrome pole) given her pole choreo and how high up we wanted her to stay throughout the solo.
We all know some of those moves are downright painful to execute. Did JLO ever give you feedback about her preference of poses during the initial creation of any of her pole dances?
Johanna: Jennifer is very involved in the movement she executes; be it pole or dance or otherwise. As many artists prefer, the movement is created on a stand in (me) so that JLO can see what the visuals are going to look like with her in the picture. Once she likes what she sees, she is inserted into it. Much like any creation process though, things are always in flux and new suggestions for more visual moves are being suggested all the way until the last minute. In fact, we changed one of her moves literally the day before game day, just to keep improving on the pictures until we had what we all thought was the best version of what we could produce!
What was your most memorable moment from being on the stage with JLO?
Johanna: The most memorable moment of this experience for me is actually the pride I felt watching her perform her solo pole with such ease and confidence in front of the whole world! I remember very clearly her first day with me during the prep for HUSTLERS and her very first time trying anything on the pole. She has come such a long way with a lot of hard work and dedication. Not many people can hold a mic in one hand, SING, and do pole at the same time so effortlessly. There were moves that she struggled with at the beginning that she was now doing without a thought. I felt like a such proud mama!
For the film HUSTLERS, you and JLO pay homage to pole’s legendary legacy in the strip clubs. At the Super Bowl, pole was part of a family friendly performance that showcased feminine strength. Is respect for the diversity of pole dance something that you and JLO ever discussed?
Johanna: Absolutely! There was a lot of talk throughout the preparation for the film about how much pole takes out of you, from bruises to burns to muscle soreness, etc. I am always very proud to hear how many times Jennifer has mentioned in interviews how hard a discipline pole work is. In fact, she stated in her ‘Making of HUSTLERS’ YouTube episode that pole is the hardest thing she has ever had to learn for a role. She definitely has a strong appreciation for people who do what we do, whether in or out of the clubs, in any incarnation of the artform.