Dancing With the Stars has become an American phenomenon. Everyone now seems intrigued with ballroom dancing. So it is no surprise that recent Hollywood movies addressing the issue of dance have proven to be quite popular as well. “Take the Lead,” starring Antonio Banderas is no exception.
The movie is based on a true story; an inspiring tale of transformation. It centers on the life of Pierre Dulaine (Banderas), an idealistic ballroom dancer who comes up with a unique idea after witnessing the desperate and violent actions of a young, angry high school boy. He wants to use his talent to help inner city youth channel their energy, anger, and attitude into ballroom dance. To that end, he approaches the principal of a New York school, played with appropriate spirit and skepticism by Alfre Woodward, volunteering to teach ballroom dance to detention students. Woodward, of course, thinks he is insane but when she loses her latest detention teacher, she decides that she has nothing to lose.
At first, the school’s street wise students want nothing to do with this dancing “geek” with the strange music and every stranger dance moves. But slowly they begin to understand the wisdom that their teacher is trying to impart about life. When Dulaine brings in one of the city’s top female dancers to show the kids some moves, a spark of interest ignites among the girls who want to be able to display that kind of confidence and style and the boys see the benefits of treating a lady with respect.
As Dulaine shows genuine interest in the kids and their unique brand of hip-hop dance, they begin to respond to him. Eventually, what results is a new form of dance, which combines ballroom with the more street dance technique. Dulaine is so pleased with the growth and initiative that the students show, that he encourages them to enter a citywide dance competition. He event helps them raise money for the entry fee and finds them costumes for the event. The result is a wonderful dance off event that everyone enjoys from beginning to end.
If the story weren’t based on fact, it would seem almost to good to be true. The earnest dance teacher wins over a classroom of juvenile delinquents, a hardened principal, and even a crowd of parents that appear to want his head on a platter. However, the screenplay is charming in every aspect and the students seem true to life in every way. Former music-video director Liz Friedlander brings a kinetic energy to the film, and the pulsating hip-hop soundtrack is designed to attract youthful viewers.
Banderas is sheer perfection in this role. He is charming without seeming smarmy and he is witty without being condescending in any way. Woodward, as is true in every role she undertakes, lights up the screen with her presence. But the real stars of this film are the dancers who make us all wish that we could do just a fraction of what they can do. The film is visually stunning!
“Take the Lead” comes from New Line Cinema and Tiara Blue Productions. It carries a PG-13 rating.