×

‘Descendants 3’ Choreographer Mixed Dancing, Acting and Sword Fighting

For a generation of dancers, Jamal Sims is one of a handful of choreographers who’ve pushed the boundaries of dance in film, TV and onstage. With a career that’s included stints working alongside Madonna and Miley Cyrus, he brings his edgy pop style to the dance numbers in “Descendants 3,” which premiered Aug. 2 and wraps up Disney Channel’s hit musical trilogy.

“I was interested because [director] Kenny Ortega asked me, and I went to meet with him,” says Sims. “He started telling me what these movies mean to him and how they’ve inspired kids with their message, which is a message of inclusion. Whether you’re black or white or wherever you’re from, it doesn’t matter. We should all come together and inspire and include. I wanted to be part of that.”

Sims soon found himself working with dancers dressed as knights, wearing costumes that were just as heavy as that sounds.

“[The dancers] were actually sword fighting,” says Sims. “So a lot of dancers who had never worked with swords before had to learn how to use them in combat correctly, because we don’t want to just throw anything out there. We wanted to dance with that translated to the story as well.”

Sims believes in bringing character and story into his choreography, and that focus has earned him raves from colleagues. Helmer Guy Ritchie loved Sims’ work on Disney’s “Aladdin” and gave him a cameo in the movie. And Ortega cast Sims as Dr. Facilier, the father of one of the villains in “Descendants 3.”

The choreographer, who counts Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Michael Jackson as influences, won the grand jury prize at the 2018 Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival for directing the Logo documentary “When the Beat Drops.”  Sims’ work also can be seen in all the films of the “Step Up” franchise, the Microsoft “Surface/Surface Pro” tablet commercial, “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the Emmy-nominated 82nd Annual Academy Awards, among many other productions.

All of this is a long way from his beginnings in Rancho Cucamonga, a city less than 40 miles from L.A. but, with its location in the Inland Empire, one that might as well be a world apart. Sims knew when he was about 12 that he wanted to dance, and went with a cousin to check out some classes. When told he’d have to wear tights to take ballet, he decided to find his own path into the discipline by choreographing routines and competing in talent shows. He later moved to Los Angeles and landed a part in Michael Jackson’s video for “Remember the Time,” and found himself dancing with one of his idols.

“I came to L.A. many, many moons ago,” says Sims, 48. “It almost felt like coming to another country. And when I got here, I knew it was going to be something else. Being able to dance here has been a dream.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

  • The Righteous Gemstones Adam Devine, Danny

    How Televangelists, Elvis Inspired Costumes for HBO's 'The Righteous Gemstones'

    HBO’s new comedy series “The Righteous Gemstones,” about a famous family of televangelists whose dysfunction runs far deeper than its Christianity, seems to exist in its own time and place. Set in present-day Texas, the inspiration for the Gemstone family — played by John Goodman, series creator Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine — [...]

  • A Wrikle in Time

    New Zealand Offers Breathtaking Locations, Trained Crews, 20% Cash Grant

    With its heart-quickening vistas and magnificent views, New Zealand is a prime location for savvy investors seeking to maximize the incentive on their next project. Consider the production value of filming amid the daunting heights of the Southern Alps, or along the stunning shores of Lake Gunn. There’s also Auckland, with its magnificent Sky Tower [...]

  • DESCENDANTS 3 - DESCENDANTS 3 -

    'Descendants 3' Choreographer Mixed Dancing, Acting and Sword Fighting

    For a generation of dancers, Jamal Sims is one of a handful of choreographers who’ve pushed the boundaries of dance in film, TV and onstage. With a career that’s included stints working alongside Madonna and Miley Cyrus, he brings his edgy pop style to the dance numbers in “Descendants 3,” which premiered Aug. 2 and [...]

  • Avatar

    Manhattan Beach Studios, Home to 'Avatar' Sequels, Sold for $650 Million

    Hackman Capital Partners has acquired the Manhattan Beach Studios, home to James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels, as part of a $650 million deal. Hackman announced Wednesday that it had bought the MBS Group from global investment firm the Carlyle Group. The MBS Group operates the MBS Media Campus — a 22-acre, 587,000 square foot production facility [...]

  • The Kitchen Movie

    How 'The Kitchen' Production Team Cooked Up 1970s-Era Clothes, Cash and Guns

    Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss play women who take over their husbands’ criminal business in Warner Bros.’ “The Kitchen,” adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic book series by Andrea Berloff, who also directed. Costume designer Sarah Edwards and prop master David Schanker used their skills to create a supporting parallel story for the characters that evoked the look and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content