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DANCE AND THE CITY
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Dance and the City - Shall We Dance?

by Rachel Levin
October 26, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Dance the City - Shall We Dance?

Rachel Levin
October 26, 2004

Autumn came to Southern California this week. Granted, it's not like fall in the east, which brings leaves of multicolored splendor. But a chill in the wind and a quench of rain got Los Angelenos to finally put on a turtleneck with those flip-flops.

I often think that fall is the season when people are most ripe for romance. The turn of the weather nudges people to cozy up and watch a movie on the couch. It seems as if people begin to pair off so they can hibernate together for the winter ahead.

Feeling doubtful that I'll find my hibernation mate before winter sets in this year, I decided to escape into a romantic movie to distract me from my seasonal longing. On a cool, rainy afternoon, I indulged in a matinee of "Shall We Dance?" the Richard Gere/Jennifer Lopez/Susan Sarandon re-make of the Japanese film of the same name.

Gere plays John Clark, an estate lawyer who has the picture-perfect home with wife Beverly (Sarandon) and two kids. But, as he takes Chicago's El-train day in and day out and ponders the meaning of life while drawing up clients' wills, he is in an obvious rut. When he sees Lopez's melancholy Paulina peering out of Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio above the train platform, he ventures to detour from his commute home and seek out this mysterious, lovely woman. In the process, he gets sucked into signing up for a beginning ballroom dance class with Miss Mitzi and discovers that dance — not Paulina — is his ultimate passion.

It's supposed to be a feel-good tale: man finds passion and reignites his marriage; dance teacher is inspired by her students to venture back into the world of professional competition. But something about the story and its obvious sympathy for John Clark as a slightly misdirected but ultimately heroic character unsettled me.

John's deception of living a secret dancing life and hiding it from his wife brings up a troubling issue: can we have dance partners who are not our romantic partners and still remain "faithful"? In all romantic partnerships, there are needs and interests that cannot be fulfilled by the other person. The man needs a Monday night football buddy; the woman needs a shopping companion. But what if the need that your partner can't satisfy is dance?

The film seems to want to have it both ways on the answer to this question. On the one hand, John's desire to dance with Paulina is sanctioned as innocent compared to having an affair. When Beverly hires a private investigator to quell her suspicions of her husband's infidelity, the P.I.'s conclusion is that no hanky-panky is going on. "Your husband is just dancing," the P.I. concludes. Innocence confirmed.

Yet, the film also seems preoccupied with the notion that when we crave dance, not just anyone will do. Bobbie, the voluptuous loudmouth of the motley crew at Miss Mitzi's, is the most outspoken about this issue. She refuses to participate in the amateur competition with anyone but John, and has to be practically bribed into accepting the crazy Link (Stanley Tucci) as her Latin partner. At the end of the film, when Paulina gets to choose her partner for the final dance before she heads off to England, her yearning for John is plain. And even though John comes clean about his dance adventures and seems to embrace a new spirit of full disclosure with his wife, it is doubtful that he ever shared the details of his breathless tango in the dark with Paulina. Is he really so innocent after all?

I realized that if I choose a partner to hibernate with for the winter that isn't a dancer (or who I don't yearn to dance with), come spring I'll be prowling outside the relationship for someone to thaw the dance urges that I've frozen. If you can't dance with your lover, inevitably there's rough weather ahead.


Dance instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) teaches John Clark (Richard Gere) how to dance the tango in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films



Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films



Lisa Ann Walter and Jennifer Lopez in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films



Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films



Jennifer Lopez and dance partner (Gary McDonald) in competition in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films



Peter Chelsom and Jennifer Lopez in Peter Chelsom's SHALL WE DANCE?
Photo courtesy of David James / Miramax Films

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