Viva la Salsa!

Postcard from the Baltic Sea.

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LOS ANGELES — Boy meets girl. Boy teaches girl how to dance. Boy and girl tear up the town and start a dance craze. Anyone who saw Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze get down and dirty knows how riveting the age-old tale can be. And now might be the time to brush up on your rumba.

“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” a “Dirty Dancing” offspring starring Diego Luna and British newcomer Romola Garai, is due next Valentine’s Day and promises to do for ruffled dresses what the original did for Capri pants.

For costume designer Isis Mussenden, filming in her native Puerto Rico (which stood in for Havana during the four-month shoot) made it even easier to capture the spicy Latin vibe of pre-Revolution Havana. Of course, it all begins with a sweet Fifties-era look — pretty blouses, full skirts and iconic schoolgirl uniforms, which Garai later sheds for the slinkier threads. But all along the way, the costuming provides plenty of visual punch.

“The late Fifties was very romantic, before things got wild and crazy. That kind of sophisticated sexuality through clothes rather than skin is much more interesting to me,” Mussenden says.

Luckily, her leading lady was tailor-made for the clothes — with long limbs, ample curves and alabaster skin. “It would not have been so nice if she had been a twiggy actress,” Mussenden admits.

For her part, Garai says her 30 costume changes helped make the character. “I think Katey is a bit of a slouch in the beginning. I loved her geeky outfits because they represented her really well,” she says. “Then, of course, all the colorful dresses and getting to break into dance was really fun.”

Luna’s wardrobe certainly wasn’t lacking either, with 20 costume changes, mostly button-down shirts and pants. “We fought anyone who wanted him in a T-shirt and jeans because that is an American version of a Latin man. Latin men would never wear that. We tried him in a polo shirt once and he said, ‘Am I going golfing?’ It didn’t work,” Mussenden recalls. Sela Ward, playing Garai’s fashion-forward mom, works classic looks to perfection.
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