February 19, 2004

Viewer Discretion Advised

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Enjoyable dance movies are hard to come by. Too often do they become lengthy montages or degenerate into angst-filled melodrama. Or they become Save the Last Dance. However, fear not, because the presence of dancing in movies is not always an instant guarantee of doom. When the ingredients are just right, dance movies can incite the need to move in even the stiffest of cynics. Here are four rhythmically inclined films that prove dance movies can be good movies.

The Full Monty

With a title that explains it all, this English comedy is the story of six unemployed steel mill workers trying their hand at the lucrative art of stripping. Their secret edge over the competition is a plan to “go all the way.” There’s just one problem: they can’t dance. An unconventional tale of dance, The Full Monty is really a story of overcoming obstacles and triumph in the face of hardship. What does fate have in store for our six unlikely heroes? Nothing short of a highly anticipated and dance-filled finale where all is revealed.

Top Hat

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. No compilation of dance movies would be complete without them and Top Hat, one of the duo’s better collaborations, shows us exactly why. Young, charming, and characteristically light on their feet, the pair is brilliant in this Depression-era musical. A case of mistaken identity in a London hotel keeps our leads apart, but through impressive dance numbers and elegant scenery, their fated love eventually proves true. A score written by Irving Berlin completes the musical fantasy, including classics like “Cheek to Cheek” and “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free).”

Center Stage

Follow underdog Jody Sawyer through her year at the American Ballet Academy, where she is forced to endure bitchy ballerinas, bitchy instructors, and Peter Gallagher’s always-menacing eyebrows. Despite essentially chronicling attractive people overcoming obstacles, Center Stage did actually cast real ballet dancers as characters in a fit of authenticity. An uplifting tale of perseverance, the movie culminates in an “end of the year” performance that showcases, besides traditional ballet, modern choreography to an upbeat score. This is far from your mother’s ballet movie. Besides, that Charlie guy is like a younger, shaven version of Michael Vartan.

Strictly Ballroom

Think love between dancing partners is predictably pedestrian? Baz Luhrmann’s tale of competitive Australian ballroom dancing is daringly original. Scott and Fran are both misfits in the world of ballroom dancing. While Scott insists on defying convention with new dance steps, ugly-duckling Fran is inexperienced and merely starting out her dancing career. Framed by spectacular ballroom sequences and Luhrmann’s signature touch of bright visuals, Strictly Ballroom is a love story that proves opposites do attract.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang