Rebecca Ferguson: Dance in ‘Dune’ and Diplomacy

Copyright: © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Chiabella James
Caption: (L-r) TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides and REBECCA FERGUSON as Lady Jessica Atreides in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

There’s a moment of movement irony in “Dune,” when the son, Paul Atreides, teaches his mother, Lady Jessica, how to move like the indigenous Fremen on the dangerous open wasteland of sand. Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Lady Jessica, used to teach Argentine tango in her native Sweden.

“Dune” is about how Paul comes to the desert planet of Arrakis with his father and mother. Betrayed by a trusted physician, Paul’s father dies, while Paul and his mother escape into the desert. The planet is mined for its valuable spice that is necessary for intergalactic travel, but survival on the desert isn’t easy and the miners are constantly at war with the indigenous people, the Fremen, and endangered by the gigantic sand worms. The Fremen have developed way of avoiding the sand worms by a type of walk and yet they also have a means of summoning the worms. Paul and his mother will find shelter amongst the Fremen.

Of her character, Ferguson said, “Her main motivation is her believe system which basically creates chaos in the universe.” Lady Jessica is part of a culture (Bene Gesserit) that grooms attractive women to be courtesans in a breeding program that maintains a sisterhood of powerful political players. Members have physical and mental training that with the aid of a drug (melange spice) gives them mental telepathy. The ultimate goal of the breeding program is the production of one great male figure. Lady Jessica was supposed to produce a daughter, but out of love for Duke Leto, she bore him a son, Paul.

While escaping into the dunes of Arrakis, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) quickly teaches his mother, the Fremen sand walk. Ferguson exclaimed, “I love the walk but because also I like moving, my character wasn’t supposed to know movement, so it was so hard not to dance. There are so many pictures of me on set when I’m holding an umbrella over my stillsuit where I’m dancing in the sun. “

When asked if she could describe the Fremen sand walk in terms of Argentine tango, Ferguson replied, “I would think the Fremen walk would lean a little bit toward salsa, wouldn’t you?”

Ferguson further explained, “One of the wonderful things I learned when I was teaching Argentine tango which I actually take into my heart when it comes to meeting people and working: There’s a magical moment between two people, the person who leads and the person who is to be led, right? There’s a a rhythm. You have a weight distribution that happens so subtly. It’s like an Alexander technique (, you basically pivot around your center point, but before you can move forward, you have to move back. Because when you move back, you activate your body and your partner, they know you’re in for a move. And then you can take someone.  It says so much about how companies should be run, how we should work in society. Instead of barging forward.”

“And in the sand technique, you need to be very coherent with the movement of the sand and the worm, right? ” Ferguson, who due to Zoom interview limitations couldn’t demonstrate physically, continued on, saying, “These are the things you have to work with as an actor. It’s one thing toward building a character, but then you’re put in or dropped into an environment that will not listen to you, you have to listen to it. So obviously character-wise, doing that sand walk up the hill! Oh my gosh! It was probably one of the most difficult things ever, because there’s no rhythm to it. It’s breaking rhythm, but when I was by myself, I would run up the sand dunes in the evening, and, in the nights, I would just sit on top of it by myself under the stars. It was magical.”

Smiling broadly, she advised finding a dune to try it on for fun, as a dancer. “There is definitely a way you have to run. It’s sort of a side step, following the rhythm of the sand when it break and falls, and tolerance.”

Dancers and Dune enthusiasts, see “Dune” on the big screen and then go out and do some Dune-inspired dune dancing.

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