I have often thought dance movies are like Jane Austen novels, controversial I know; same plots, characters so similar they blend into one another, both involve a bit of a dance, a huge argument and a happy ending!
There are of course many films that involve dance, but here I refer to the very specific genre of ‘dance films’…and we all know the plot; our lead character is classically trained and as we are introduced to them they are often disillusioned, they will meet a hip hop dancer who teaches them to feel rhythm in a different way, working together they create a fusion dance style, often part of an audition or showcase and do so to great acclaim.
Our love for a specific story can come from when in our own lives or dance careers we encounter these films. It was ‘Centre Stage’ that opened my eyes. Following this ‘dance movie’ structure our lead character, struggling to compete with her classmates, teams up with choreographer Cooper who is hell bent on premiering his contemporary/ballet fusion at the American Ballet Academy’s end of year showcase, much to the dismay of his superiors. The final scene sees contemporary ballet routines to Michael Jackson and Jamiroquai, a motorbike onstage and the most unrealistic costume change ever!
Before this film I believed all dance genres were rivals of one another, that the current could not merge with the classical and above all that you worked along the traditional trajectory from student to corpse de ballet, then maybe to soloist, then if you were very lucky to prima. I didn’t think I could create! Terrible to think of that now, and I don’t doubt I would have come to these conclusions through other means, however, this film will always have a special place in my heart as it definitely corresponded with beginning to find my own style as a dancer.
I’m sure you will have spotted there are films that buck the trend, there is a lesser used plot which involves a central character with little-to-no previous dance experience, who against the odds teach themselves to dance, or somehow make contact with a committed and dedicated teacher to once again perform to enraptured audiences at audition or on stage. Films that follow this plot, include Dirty Dancing, Billy Elliot and Flashdance, all of which quickly become dance film classics. Songs and dance routines are synonymous with the film, here I refer you to ‘the dirty dancing lift’ and ‘the flashdance dance’ and all have been adapted to the stage. It is debatable whether films conforming to this plot are in fact part of the ‘dance movie’ genre. Of course the dance is key however all are framed by a much bigger picture. They all highlight wider issues prevalent in society and while our focus is directed towards the dance, the writing and directing all display truly phenomenal social observations.
For now I’m interested in the ‘b’ movies. Films like Centre Stage that enjoyed a short burst at the cinema or went straight to DVD. Films that are passed around dance schools, routines that are painstakingly copied and characters that motivate you. What film inspired you? What film blew your mind, opened your eyes and was your only topic of conversation for weeks on end?!
Over the next few weeks keep an eye on our twitter feed as we will be posting clips from these classic dance films. If there are any you think should be included tweet us or leave a comment!