Lauren Collins rules the school as head cheerleader Paige on The N’s Degrassi: The Next Generation, but things are different in her new movie, Take the Lead. “She feels like the ugly duckling,” Collins says of her character, Caitlin, a preppy student who takes up ballroom dancing in an inner-city class led by Antonio Banderas (who plays real-life New York City dance teacher Pierre Dulaine). But by the end of filming, Collins was hitting the salsa clubs with her castmates. The Toronto native, 20, talked with PEOPLE.com about her “white girl” moves, working with Banderas and the latest season of Degrassi.
Tell us about your role in the movie.
I play one of Antonio’s students from the nice area, but I completely don’t fit in there so I decide to join the inner-city kids and see how that works out. She’s really insecure and her mother wants her to be this beautiful swan and she feels like the ugly duckling.
Did you have any experience as a dancer?
(Laughs) When I was like 6, taking ballet classes then. Luckily I play the bad dancer in the movie, so I think I was one of the only characters that didn’t have to go through a dance audition. But we took four weeks of training with the real Pierre, which was so cool.
What moves can you show off now?
I can do a pretty mean waltz, I must say. It was really the hip-hop that was challenging for me because so much of hip-hop is letting yourself go and not being self-conscious, and I just feel like a little white girl with no rhythm.
What was it like dancing with Antonio?
That was a little intimidating. I guess I was scared going into it. It was pretty impressive – he can do everything. He would just walk around singing all the time, taking videos and he would play every instrument you could possibly imagine.
Did you swoon?
Me? (Laughs) No, no nothing like that.
Degrassi is back for a new season. What’s happening with Paige?
Quite a lot. Paige goes on a bit of a personal discovery this year. She’s trying to find out who she is and she ends up in a place that she probably wasn’t expecting.
And there’s a lesbian storyline.
When I first found out about the story I was mostly shocked, just trying to figure out how it would make sense for the character. But as the story concludes and as you see the season come to an end, it all makes sense.
Was it difficult for you to film?
I don’t know if scary is the right word, or a little intimidating, but everyone made us feel so comfortable because they knew it was going to be awkward. Probably the most annoying part of it was the stupid jokes that the guys were making on the set.
Do you and the cast hang out a lot?
Stacey Farber (who plays Ellie) is my best friend. It’s weird. With such a large cast, sometimes I feel like I’m not even on the same show with some of the younger (cast), like I was talking with Sarah (Barrable-Tishauer, who plays Liberty), and we were just thinking, “Wow, when was the last time we had a scene together? Like, I haven’t seen you in months.”
Since Paige has graduated high school, what’s next for you?
It’s pretty up in the air – just waiting to find out what’s happening with Degrassi. I’m thinking probably in September I might want to get a place of my own. I might even be going to school at University of Toronto, just a general program to just keep the mind active.