Back in the 1980s, during the days of moonwalking Michael, “Remember my name” Fame, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Flashdance’s sweatshirt-slashing “Maniac,” dance captured this nation’s imagination. Now, thanks to shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “America’s Best Dance Crew” and “Dancing with the Stars,” and films like the Step Up franchise currently on its third installment, dance is once again permeating American culture, making krumping, popping, locking and b-boying an integral part of everyday entertainment.

But making it look easy is the hard part. Just ask the cast of Step Up 3D.

Leaving behind Step Up’s previous setting, Baltimore’s elite Maryland School of the Arts (MSA), returning director Jon Chu relocated the third film to New York City’s underground dance scene, a world Moose (Adam Sevani from Step Up 2: The Streets) stumbles into when he arrives in Manhattan for orientation at NYU.

Knowing they needed to go bigger and badder for a third film in the surprisingly successful franchise, Chu knew he’d have to surpass his previous efforts. Choosing to shoot the film in 3-D was the first step, but the real challenge was choreography.

“Most people don’t understand what it takes,” Sevani says, explaining the cast of Step Up 2 had one month to learn one routine, while the cast of Step Up 3D had one month to learn nine numbers.

“But magic happens when you don’t know what’s [coming next],” he grins. “You just go, ‘I’ve got nothing prepared, so let’s see what happens.’”

Filling in Channing Tatum and Robert Hoffman’s studly shoes is former model Rick Malambri, who plays a videographer who chronicles the best Manhattan dancers and takes Moose under his wing.

“We went through a month and a half, 10 hours a day, six days a week, learning anything from parkour to capoeira to the tango,” Malambri says.

Despite battle wounds that ranged from the “multicolored, rainbow-style bruises” Alyson Stoner (Step Up) sustained while shooting a Gene Kelly-esque dance number that had to be performed over 20 times to get a single perfect take, to the five-foot drop “SYTYCD” alum tWitch took off the side of a stage, “I didn’t hear any complaints,” Chu laughs proudly.

Sharni Vinson, the female lead who follows in Jenna Dewan and Briana Evigan’s footsteps, admits the cast was warned by producer Adam Shankman before filming began that they’d be entering something on par with boot camp, but she says that was a vast understatement.

“Our [personal] trainer told us that athletes training for the Olympics don’t train this hard!” she says ardently. “It was insane! A typical day would involve getting up at quarter past six in the morning, being in either parkour or in a capoeira studio for two to three hours, from there we’d go to dance rehearsals at 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then we’d leave and go meet our personal trainers and work out from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.”

“And then I would take them after that to rehearse,” Chu interjects.

“Yeah!” Vinson laughs. “At 11 p.m. And we’d be exhausted. But when you’re running on adrenaline and excitement, which is how we got by, you don’t really notice the fatigue until the last day and they say, ‘That’s a wrap.’ Your body hears those words and just shuts down.”

All that work was to ensure that audiences would be able to experience a 3-D dance movie that was unlike anything they’d ever seen before.

Asked how he feels the technology enhances his film, Chu replies, “Dance and technology has always been a great pair, from Bye Bye Birdie when they do picture-in-picture to Fred Astaire [in Royal Wedding] walking on walls and the camera staying in place, technology has always been a great partner with dance. [But using 3-D] puts pressure on filmmakers to actually make it worth that $5 more. We talked about that a lot on set. Our audience has to go work an extra hour to see our movie, so we wanted to make it well worth that extra hour of work.”

At the end of the day, the cast and crew feel this film is part of a larger legacy, one that is all about making the impossible appear effortless.

“What Michael Jackson started 20 years ago, telling stories through dance as sort of the new musical; we want to continue that tradition and find where that next step may be,” Chu says. “Everyone’s pushing forward, whether it’s us, “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars” or stuff on the Web, we’re all pushing dance forward.”

Step Up 3D releases in theaters Aug. 6.