Yesterday we went to see Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas. It was based on a true story — just as well, because it had quite a few rather cliched notions, including the storyline about the gifted teacher who turns around the group of disadvantaged schoolkids.
I need to say at this point that I really enjoyed the movie, even though there was a lot in it to create anxiety.
The main character, Pierre Dulaine, took it on himself to work with a bunch of kids in detention in an inner city school in New York. These were tough kids living amongst the realities of unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, and hard lives. His aim was to teach them ballroom dancing.
To my way of thinking there’s a lot to criticise about ballroom dancing — it’s heavily stereotyped: men in suits take the lead while women in frilly dresses follow. It seemed that Dulaine was imposing this expression of a dominant culture on the minority kids in the class, overlooking their own cultural expressions along the way.
I’m glad to say it didn’t quite work out like that, though that did hold somewhat true.
What I found particularly enjoyable in the movie was the hiphop music and the kids own dancing. [At least, I think it was hiphop — it’s certainly a style of music I really enjoy, but I’m not well versed in music styles.] When the kids were dancing in one scene before the teacher arrived we heard complex, rhythmically powerful music and saw magnificent ‘street dancing’ from the kids, who went on to explain to the teacher about choosing to dance to the underlying beat or the sounds on top. This was the beating heart of life expressed with vigour, sophistication and subtlety.
Then, of course, the kids moved into their lesson, with the thin, measly sounds of ballroom-suitable music and the structured, elegant styles of the forms. How magnificent it would have been to see the teacher learn to dance as the kids did, in exchange for the dance he was teaching them!
As the kids learned these stylised forms though the music was often coloured with sounds from their world. Heck, I don’t have the vocabulary or the musical knowledge for this, but the standard waltz tracks, for example, included scratching and other elements of hiphop.
The final dance competition brought us some wonderful surprises, which really did break convention and stereotype, while the scenes shown during the credits were beautiful examples of expression through dance.
As I gain exposure to the music I find myself fascinated by rap, hiphop, and current contemporary complex music. I’m not into the sexist, violent nature of some of it, but then I also love various masses and requiems and am able to ignore the religious content in favour of the beautiful sounds. And, as for the kids ‘native’ dance styles: more of this, please!