Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance

By now most aficionados of dancing have seen the new movie, Shall We Dance.  The background of the story, becoming involved in dancing, now matter how, and then becoming more and more involved to the point of competition, etc. is familiar to many of us involved in dancesport in one way or another.  This story line is one that so many dancers can appreciate.  How awkward did you feel when you went to your first group class?  Weren’t you desperately concerned with whom you would be partnered?  OK, so few of you have seen a class with only men, but there is only so much time to develop characters so grant them some artistic license.

In comparison to the original Japanese version, this one shares the vitality derived from dancing, the new acquaintances that meet each other and all from different lifestyles, as well as the bashful eccentric, and the practice, class and competition experience to make the story work.  Whereas, in Japan it may be customary for businessmen to travel by train, here most businessmen as successful as Gere’s character apparently is, would travel by car and have a reserved parking space.  Of course, spotting Jennifer Lopez in a window is much harder by car, where stops are not as defined as on a Metro or El, thus the necessity of keeping the train.  Richard Gere, no matter how hard the makeup department tried, would never have the nerdy appearance of his Japanese counterpart.  Thus he is allowed to remain and look successful and the story does not suffer.  In fact, for studio operators, having an obvious successful client can only help business, as the beautiful people might see themselves as part of the scene.  Studios around the country are hoping this film will bring the men back in to studios just as Travolta did in the 70’s.

However, even the most ardent fans have to be impressed with the genre’s ability to attract such major stars such as Richard Gere, Susan Saranden, or Jennifer Lopez.  True critics may discuss how dancing is but a metaphor for escape.  Others may look to the serious nature portrayed by Jennifer’s character and how the movie does not unduly exploit her sexiness.  The director did a great job in portraying the developmental stages in learning and the reaction and actions between the characters makes this one a dance movie with its own formula.  Dancers will always admire the moves of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or even John Travolta, but the formula didn’t change much.  Two people who would never normally meet are thrust or brought together.  Generally one part’s circumstances, family or friends will object to this unlikely union but dancing will draw them together anyway and with a few trips and falls along the way they live happily ever after.

It is nice to see this movie use dancing as a normal life experience.  Though unrecognized by the participants in the plot line, the producers and hopefully the audience accept it as normal part of life.  This may well be the most important part of the story as in impacts dancesport, studios and clubs.  No longer is dance relegated to a fringe group or even worse.  Dancing as an activity that doesn’t require sex immediately before or after should allow it respectability even among the puritans in this country.  Having an American version, yes I know it was filmed in Canada, which is also part of America, provides fun entertainment for active dancesport participants.  Checking the faces of dancers in competition to see whom we recognize, and which parts are in fact danced by the stars or by doubles.  Maybe Gary and the others will write their own tell all book, but in the meantime we can guess, enjoy and admire.

All in all, there is little to complain about.  People who know nothing about dancing have remarked that the movie was uplifting, fun and truly enjoyable to watch.  It has been said that the producers held off distributing the movie to offer it at time where it might get more recognition from Awards committees and festivals.  Let us hope it works, but regardless they have brought an enjoyable film, which shows much about what is good about dancing and for that we should congratulate each and every person who had any part in it.

Michael S. Reichenbach


Dance Week

December 17, 2004

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