Lady of the dance

Actress opted for method approach

When Franco-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch was looking for the lead in Oriental dance romance "Whatever Lola Wants," he auditioned about 300 dancers, plus Laura Ramsey, an actress with no previous dance experience. Ramsey landed the job.

Lola is a Brooklyn postal worker who follows a boyfriend to Cairo before deciding to train as a belly dancer and going on to become a star. The role meant an intense training period for the L.A.-based actress to master jazz and Oriental dance.

The filmmakers sent Ramsey to train in Casablanca, Mo-rocco's biggest city, where the film was mainly going to shoot. "I went by myself. Essentially I became Lola. I lived (in an) Arabic world and I learned their culture, and I love it," Ramsey says.

Ramsey moved into an apartment in Casablanca and put herself under the tutelage of belly dance teacher Melinda Jillet. "I lived with 1,000 cockroaches, and I danced six days a week for six or seven hours a day," she recalls. "In the beginning (of the film), it's jazz, and jazz is so technical. Oriental dance is exactly the opposite," Ramsey says.

"Your knees are bent, your hands are flowing, everything is moving. What makes it difficult is to differentiate between the bottom half and the top half, so the bottom half you can be shimmying while the top half is flowing. It's the hardest workout you'll ever have in your life!"

"I will never forget the blood on her feet," says Ayouch, confirming Ramsey's total commitment to mastering the Oriental gyrations.

The actress also traveled to Cairo to meet with celebrated Egyptian belly dancer Aida Noor and visit cabarets on the Nile.

Once it all clicks into place, instinct takes over, Ramsey says. "It's like an out-of-body experience. You loose all inhibitions. When you dance, there's no right or wrong. People get fascinated by it. It's the most beautiful, sensuous dance in the world."

Given the curvaceous figure required to perform the dance, there was one definite advantage to the role. "I showed up to the film so skinny and they said to me, 'Welcome to Morocco. Now we're going to have to fatten you up.' It's more beautiful to have something to shake," says Ramsey, who stars in the thriller "The Ruins," now in theaters, and just completed the indie film "Street," in which she plays a homeless girl.

Ramsey traveled to the Dubai International Film Festival in December to premiere "Lola." Pathe is releasing the film in France next week, when the paying public can find out exactly what Lola wants.