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Behind the Suit: From the dance floor to the story board

Not everyone can say they've taught Elvis and Kermit the Frog to dance. But for professional dancer/choreographer Anita Mann - also CEO of L.A. studio LevyMann Entertainment - giving pointers to some of America's cultural icons on when to dip and shimmy is old hat.
September 1, 2003

Not everyone can say they’ve taught Elvis and Kermit the Frog to dance. But for professional dancer/choreographer Anita Mann – also CEO of L.A. studio LevyMann Entertainment – giving pointers to some of America’s cultural icons on when to dip and shimmy is old hat.

A child dance prodigy, Mann got her first break in the early ’60s when, still in her teens, she landed a part in the North American touring version of West Side Story. Stage work led to dancing gigs on music shows Shindig and Hullabaloo, before she landed the big fish – a spot on the Elvis film Spinout. Impressed with her work, Elvis asked her to assist with choreography on his films Clambake and Speedway, as well as various TV specials and stage shows. So did the King require much advice when it came to dancing?

‘He could do anything. He just had to walk,’ says Mann, adding that she maintained a very close, sister-like relationship with Elvis while they worked together.

At the same time, Mann was choreographing The Lucille Ball Show. The grande dame of comedy was a major influence on Mann, who honed her skills as a writer, producer and director of episodic TV on set.

With her dance-troupe-for-hire The Anita Mann Dancers, Mann continued to lend her many talents to projects in the ’70s and beyond. Among the productions Mann worked on were shows and specials for Bobby Darin, the Jackson family, Cher, The New Zoo Revue, Solid Gold, the film The Great Muppet Caper and live theatrical versions of children’s programs based on Sesame Street, Arthur, Snoopy, Bobby’s World and Power Rangers.

Though both involve dancing, choreographing kids TV shows differs significantly from choreographing adult-targeted programs. Kids TV is less cerebral, says Mann, adding that ‘the trick is to come up with movements that will get them excited on a gut level.’

Mann has tried to infuse that kind of immediacy and fun into her company LevyMann Entertainment, which she formed with partner Shuki Levy (co-founder of Saban Entertainment) in 2002. Next month, the company will release its first project itty bitty HeartBeats, a direct-to-video DVD about a group of loveable characters from planet Heartland who teach preschoolers problem-solving through song and story. The DVD, as well as a HeartBeats VHS, CD and plush character combo, will be available nationwide as part of a 30-day exclusive at Toys ‘R’ Us stores, after which it will move into other retail outlets.

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