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Indefensible crap we love: Street Battle Dance Edition

April 8, 2009
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Dears,

This is all very embarrassing.

It was back in 2000 when I first saw Center Stage and nine years later I have watched it so many times, I have actually lost count.  For the uninitiated, Center Stage follows the lives of several ballet students while they attend the prestigious and fictitious ABA for the course of the year.   There are a few recognizable, working actors in the film (a pre-O.C. Peter Gallagher is in the house!) though for the most part, the cast is largely made up of professional ballet dancers.

This is both problematic and unspeakably awesome.  The storyline isn’t bad and the dialogue isn’t as terrible as one may expect – but the delivery of said lines?  Wonderfully disastrous.  In this film, the viewer is treated to an inside peek at the highly competitive nature of Dance, as a profession, with a capital “D”.  This includes, but is not limited to, topics such as the eating disorders/smoking habits of a dancer who must conform to the perception of an ideal body type;  the relatively short career span of a dancer due to age, injury, and the fickle tastes of the public; technique vs. heart;  teachers who bang their students;  and a bunch of other stuff.  Also!  The viewer is treated to several dance performances – some of which are genuinely amazing at showcasing what the human body is capable of  – and others,  which proudly display the absurdities of the creative mind when challenged to choreograph a number that includes a motorcycle.

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Ethan Stiefel and Amanda Schull

Not surprisingly, given the topic of this missive, I am a huge fan of the “Street Battle Dance” film genre.  I have seen Save the Last Dance, Step It Up, Stomp the Yard, Bring It On (it counts – cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded) , Step It Up 2:  The Streets,  and recently  Center Stage 2:  Turn It Up! Perhaps seeking relevance in a cinematic climate that champions the validity of the Street Dance movie, Center Stage has undergone a bit of a “street” make-over.

The resulting product is hilarious and – if you are like me…though you probably aren’t – well worth viewing.  This storyline focuses primarily on the lives of two dancers.  The Guy, an ex hockey player who happens to be an exceptional ballet dancer attending our old friend the ABA; and The Girl, a “street”-wise, self-taught ballet dancer, who surprisingly,  (I truly didn’t see this twist coming)  does not get accepted into the ABA.  She spends the entirety of the film trying to prove herself worthy of the school.   The Girl and The Guy form a relationship in which they teach  each other about things they lack dance-wise, and (because dance as a metaphor for the romantic, physical nature of the human experience is too subtle)  they also bang.  A bunch of other stuff happens too, but none of that really matters because two principal characters from the first Center Stage make an appearance.

Namely, Peter Gallagher’s Eyebrows (post O.C.) and Ethan Stiefel  (who really, truly is a phenomenal ballet dancer )  who returns as Cooper Nielson, the hot-headed, fancy-pants-company-player-turned- instructor for the ABA.  I mention him specifically because neither movie would be worth watching without him.  Here is why:  in  the original Center Stage it is Cooper Nielson who is asked to choreograph a ballet (which in turn plays out as an auto-biography of his own love-triangle).  He must then perform when his lead dancer bows out after injuring his ankle on opening night.  It is during this ballet that  for no apparent reason Cooper Nielson rides a motorcycle on stage.

In the second movie, Cooper Nielson (and his motorcycle – because he is TOUGH, you see,  and not at all a sissy) makes fewer appearances but is no less formidable a presence. This is  because Cooper Nielson ( Principal Ballet Dancer for the ABA, Choreographer, Failed Ballet Company Founder and Owner and current ABA Instructor) shows up at the dance club where The Girl is employed to observe and evaluate her dance talents and finds himself engaged in an all-out Dance Battle!  There is much toe-pointing and tough-face-making and for that singular, perfect blend of cinematic magic -  I recommend viewing Center Stage 2:  Turn It Up!

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