If you’re a fan of Disney Channel’s High School Musical and Teen Beach Movie, then make sure to add Zombies to your list. The movie musical debuted on the cable channel in mid-February with over 10.3 million viewers enjoying its initial airings. More: How Mari Takahashi Took The Leap From Ballet To Smosh Games The story focuses on a town split into two groups after a power plant explosion turns half of the population into zombies. Once the zombies transfer to the human high school, everyone gets a lesson in respect, acceptance and love. Emilia McCarthy plays Lacey, one-third of the “Acey” cheerleaders — Lacey, Tracey and Stacey. The trio is often in charge of carrying out the dirty work of the head cheerleader, Bucky. Emilia talked with Dance Dish about her dance training, the rehearsal process and her favorite moment in Zombies. Dance Dish: How old were you when you began dancing? Emilia McCarthy: I started dancing when I was two years old. My mom is from Mexico and she owned a dance studio when she lived there. Because of her influence, she put me into dance and I loved it. It just came naturally. She always says that I danced before I walked. I danced with the Cuban National Ballet for a little bit and it was always a part of my life. Since I’m also an actor, I was at a crossroads where I had to put my full focus on dance or acting. With Disney, I am able to bring that dance background into Zombies and Zapped, which I did with Zendaya five years ago. DD: Did you solely focus on ballet or were you cross-trained in other styles? Emilia: I did everything — hip-hop, jazz and acro. I did gymnastics for a little bit, so I had that background. For the Disney movies, which have more hip-hop and jazz, it's good to have a diverse dance background. More: Jennifer Weber Finds Her Groove Choreographing 'Zombies 2' DD: What was it like working with Zombies choreographers Jeffrey Hornaday and Christopher Scott? Emilia: Jeffrey was there from the very beginning, so he helped form the mood and the vibe for the dance numbers. It was cool to have him there because he's a legend. Chris is so personable and he takes time for people to have their little moment on-screen. Chris also does this warm-up where we all go in a massive circle with all the dancers and the cast. We put on the song of the day and everyone has to do a dance move and then everyone else copies it as we go around the entire circle. DD: How long was the dance and singing rehearsal period for Zombies? Emilia: Before we started shooting in Toronto, we did a month of dance rehearsals and then a week of the recording in the studio for the songs. It was a dance camp — it was eight-hour days for the rehearsals. The shooting period moved really fast and we also had rehearsals on weekends. We would shoot five days a week for 16 hours some days and then have rehearsals on Saturdays. More: There Are a Ton of Changes to Season 4 on 'World of Dance'— Plus a Full Cast List!
DD: There are some big production numbers in Zombies. How many dancers were on set? Emilia: We had the cheerleaders and we had the zombies — it was a very busy set. It's a big cast because most of the scenes are on the football field or at the dance rally. We had around 200 extras, 50 dancers and then 10 lead actors in the cast.
DD: How many of the cheerleading stunts did you participate in or did they have stand-ins? Emilia: They hired a cheer squad and they were the ones doing the cheerleading stunts. They hired stunt doubles for us as well. It's so funny — we look identical! I don't know where they found these people, but they're literally our doppelgänger and they can do stunts.
DD: Do you have a favorite dance moment in the movie?
Emilia: Yes, so in “Fired Up” — and you can't even really see it — but we spent so long on this. There's a part where Jasmine does a backhand spring, Mickey does something and I do a toe touch. Then Trevor does a flip over us, and we would duck. We practiced that for so long and we did it like 50 times. We felt so good about it. We watched the movie and we were not even sure if it’s even there. But it was fun doing it. I know that's all that matters. [She laughs.] DD: Do you watch any of the dance competition shows on TV? Emilia: I watched So You Think You Can Dance religiously when I was growing up. I liked Kent Boyd and Lauren Froderman — she was my idol. I remember her audition and I would go into my basement and I would move the furniture. I would pause her audition every eight seconds, learn it and then do it. DD: Do you have any Broadway or live TV musical dreams? Emilia: I'm definitely curious about it. I've always been more into being on-screen, but I did community theater musicals growing up. It's a whole new world that I haven't really looked into yet. But I'm so excited about the Mean Girls musical, I would love to do that!
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