Cindy and I were bored the other night so we rented the dance movie “Step Up” which came out a few months ago. I’m kind of a sucker for these formula dance movies which always seem to have the same basic plotline:
- Uncouth street dancer meets prissy “professional” dancer through some contrived scenario (community service, partner breaks ankle, trapped in elevator, etc)
- Comedic montage of them trying to perform together
- Disapproving authority figures warn them about the dangers of mixing their styles
- Slowly they realize that the other person is good at what they do, and begin to blend their styles
- Appreciation turns to romance
- Show-stopping dance performance shows the world how cool they are
- Kissing scene leads to credit roll.
See for reference: "Take the Lead," “Strictly Ballroom,” “Save the Last Dance,” “Breakin,” and “Dance with Me.” (Oh, and “Drumline” substituting drums for dancing.) I find them all wonderfully terrible.
So Cindy and I were ready to enjoy trashing this new dance movie. But I have to admit that we were both much more entertained by the flick than we anticipated.
The main challenge of doing these dance movies is that either the
director casts actors who can’t dance (i.e. “Save the Last Dance”) or
dancers who can’t act (“Breakin”). As if LA and New York aren’t filled
with fabulous dancer-actors.
“Step Up” director Anne Fletcher splits the difference by hiring great dancers who
can act. The male lead Channing Tatum is clearly a skilled b-boy and the female lead Jenna Dewan
knows her jeté from her plié. Their dancing together is exciting and
sexy, and its filmed to show off their respective skills.
As I’ve said before, I have a big problem with how most dancing is portrayed on film and television, mostly due to the frenetic influence of music video style cut-shots. The cinematographer of "Step Up" still moved around the camera too much for my liking, but you got to enjoy lots of great moments in the dancing that might have been lost in a lesser film. There’s a nice series of dance shots at the beginning of the film contrasting the hip-hop and ballet styles. And a wonderful club dance sequence later in the film.
And if you rent the DVD, you get to see how the producers used clever viral
marketing to get the word out on the movie, challenging people to
create dance movies to the title song and then upload them to
MySpace. Other MySpace users were asked to vote for their favorite
dance videos, the winners determined by the choreographer and cast
members of “Step Up.” The winning videos run in small windows besides
the closing credits, as well as appear in full-length amateur-y
goodness on the DVD extras.