Celebrities

Meet the trainer behind Jennifer Lopez’s moves in ‘Hustlers’




Jennifer Lopez may look like a natural in “Hustlers,” but the pop star required months of training to play a seasoned stripper.

“She definitely said that this is the hardest thing she’s had to learn,” her pole dancing trainer Johanna Sapakie told Page Six recently. “This takes a lot of training and it’s not something you can BS your way through.”

Lopez, whose dance training and skills kicked off her showbiz career in 1991 on “In Living Color,” had to learn a whole new set of moves for her “Hustlers” role.

“People think, ‘Oh she’s a good dancer so no problem’ but it’s definitely new for anyone that tries it for the first time and she’s no exception,” Sapakie said. “There’s a learning curve with everybody, her body awareness, and her athleticism made her a very quick study, but that doesn’t mean she was brilliant the first try.”

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in "Hustlers"
Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” Getty Images

“Hustlers” — which is based on a true story — hits theaters Friday and also stars Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, and Keke Palmer who play strippers that scam their Wall Street clients.

Not only did Lopez have pole dancing skills to master, but in playing the ringleader of the ladies, Ramona, she needed prowess and attitude to look like a pro.

“Her character has been dominant in that environment for years, she knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s kind of the queen bee of that club scene so it really did need to look like she was a level or two, or three, or ten above everyone else around her.”

Sapakie also trained with Wu, Reinhart, and Palmer, but given that their characters were not as seasoned as Ramona, their training was less intense.

Based in Las Vegas, the pole guru has a background in dance and aerial acrobatics and previously worked with J.Lo on her music video for “Medicine.”

The pair worked together for two and a half months in Lopez’s Los Angeles, Miami, and New York homes while the “I’m Real” singer also worked with an additional fitness expert to work the muscles required for pole dancing — and those abs.

“She had a personal trainer that she was working with her from a fitness standpoint to make sure her upper body was strong [and] her core was strong,” Sapakie explained. “What we worked on was actually loosening up the spine, a lot of spine movement for her and getting more rotational rather than reps or sets of things to build muscle.”

Describing J.Lo as “such a perfectionist,” she recalled the entertainer embracing the moves and having fun with her new set of skills.

“She was in great spirits,” Sapakie recalled. “As she saw progress, that kind of gave her the bug to want to work even harder.”

Not to mention, Lopez’s boyfriend, Alex Rodriguez, proposed just as Sapakie began working with the star.

“He’d poke his head in now and then,” she recalled of Rodriguez. “The two of them have such a comfortable rapport with each other … he was around but for the most part when we were like really focused on training it was just the two of us.”

As Oscar buzz swirls around “Hustlers,” Sapakie thinks once. viewers see the hard work Lopez put into perfecting her moves, they might change their minds about pole dancing.

“I think that the stigma that surrounds where pole dancing generated where it started is unfortunate because like any art form — and pole is an art form —  it morphs and it changes,” she said.  “As pole is exposed to more people and more people expose it in new ways, I think where [it] started shouldn’t be the only way people see it.”

Noting that popularity of pole dancing classes in the fitness world has taken off around the country, Sapakie said, “Pole can and should be embraced by anybody and everybody, there’s no body type, no gender, there’s no ethnicity, anyone can do it if they want to.”

“It’s so outside the box for people that you can’t even take yourself seriously about it,” she added. “You’re just there to unleash and be yourself and there are no expectations, no end game, except to be physical, be emotional and enjoy.”




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