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Kyle Hanagami

On connecting past and present through movement


Talent: Kyle Hanagami @kylehanagami

Photos: Jesse Volk @jessevolk

Fashion: Jess Mori @jessmademewearit

Makeup: Christopher Miles @christophermilesmakeup

Kyle Hanagami’s decorated career and passion for choreography and creative directing are like no other. From being YouTube’s most-viewed choreography video to choreographing dances for the Korean girl group BLACKPINK, Hanagami’s recent role as the lead choreographer for the Paramount Pictures Mean Girls film is just another forward step in his career. The 2024 film is an adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the 2004 film of the same name. In a conversation with Timid, Hanagami discusses his work on the recent film, highlighting its unique challenges and his artistic vision for connecting with a new generation of viewers, while also paying homage to its iconic legacy.

“A lot of the time, when people hear the word ‘choreography,’ they think about dance steps,” Hanagami says. “Choreography involves so many other things. The goal of being the choreographer on Mean Girls is to bring the visual aspect to the music. I wanted to bring the music to life in a way that feels narratively driven. It needs to feel funny for this movie, in particular, and it needs to feel like the pace and the character is true to whoever is singing.” While his previous work focused on helping artists and dancers complement their music, his choreography for the film aimed to go beyond that to become a narrative force in itself.

The pace of the new Mean Girls choreography indeed matched the youthful energy of the original film. Hanagami recalled that this decision was intentional given the new audience the film aimed to reach. “When we were creating this movie, one of the things we wanted to take into account was the generational shift that has happened over the past 20 years since the original, and the way that social media has infiltrated the lives of high school students,” Hanagami shares. “The references [then] were Britney Spears [and] NSYNC. Now I feel like there's been a huge shift and there are artists like BLACKPINK that are now headlining Coachella and top of the charts. I wanted there to be an influence of these [artists] on students [who] probably watched them growing up.”

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Hanagami’s choices in each specific move came with the pressure of expectation that the new film would live up to its name. “[My choreography] always changes, and even within this film, the way that I approached each number was very different.” He continues, “I would say the Christmas dance is probably one of the most iconic because I knew it would be compared. [It] is the only choreography that exists in the original film, so I knew that there was going to be a one-to-one comparison of what I was doing. I needed to make sure that there were still comedy beats, and that it felt like it could be choreographed by 12-year-old girls who were kind of trying to be a little bit sexy, but still make it good choreography and catchy. So it's kind of like choreography-inception. There were certain things within the original Christmas dance that were so iconic, like the thigh slap. That's why we came up with the heel clack. There was definitely a lot of pressure.”

Beyond specific scenes of the film, Hanagami expresses his gratitude in having the opportunity to work with a tight-knit and supportive cast and crew. “We were all in the middle of a very small town in New Jersey when we shot this, and we all worked together a lot,” Hanagami says. “The entire cast is so down-to-earth and funny. The casting for the film was so great that I still text the majority of them today. I think that the vibe of the movie also helped foster friendships because it takes place in a high school, and the movie is a comedy, [so] everybody was always smiling on set. Everybody was always in a great mood, which just made Mean Girls a pleasure to work on.”


Outside of his work in choreographing dances for artists and films, Hanagami serves as the Vice President of the Choreographer’s Guild, where he looks to alleviate the same stress that was once placed on him as a developing choreographer. “Choreographers are one of the last people on sets that are not represented by a union,” Hanagami says. “Choreographers often have no minimum rates, no health and pension, and no residuals. These are all things that dancers have on set, but the choreographer who often is in charge of the dancers doesn't have these kinds of benefits. I wish there were more leading figures in [this union], because people work so hard, and they [reach success], but they forget about that struggle. For me, it's so important to make sure that future generations don't have to struggle the way that I did.”

Beyond the professional realm, Hanagami has also faced personal challenges that have shaped his perspective, including a cancer diagnosis at a young age. “[It] helps put things into perspective, and it makes me conscious of the kinds of jobs that I want to do,” he says. “I wanted to do things that are both in the zeitgeist but also with good people that I enjoy being around. It makes you realize that you only get one shot at this. It has made me bolder in the types of moves that I've made in my career. Whereas most choreographers stay in one medium, as in, they only work with music artists or they only work in film, I realized that was not for me, [and that] I wanted to branch out.”

Hanagami's work on Mean Girls demonstrates his ability to translate music into captivating movement that resonates with audiences. His thoughtful approach, considering the film's legacy and target demographic, resulted in choreography that feels both fresh and nostalgic, creating a bridge between generations through the power of movement. Beyond his artistic contributions, Hanagami actively advocates for fair treatment of choreographers, paving the way for a brighter future in the profession.

Mean Girls was released in theaters on January 12, 2024.

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