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Robert Abrams
Movie Reviews

A Review of "Strictly Ballroom"

by Robert Abrams
April 16, 2001

A Review of "Strictly Ballroom"

Robert Abrams


"Strictly Ballroom" was the first of the recent wave of ballroom cult movies. This Australian film is principally a contest between the rigid prescriptions of International style ballroom dance and the creativity of new steps. That's the obvious part, but it is the not so obvious conflict that presents a more complex picture.

Scott Hastings, played by Paul Mercurio, gets into trouble with the Australian Dance Federation by using a few lifts and some overly showy side by side moves in a Samba. The ADF officials never actually specify what was wrong with his steps, other than condemning them with a holier than thou you wouldn't understand tone. Lifts are clearly illegal, except in Cabaret and Theatre Arts routines, but showiness? Especially in International Samba, where the costumes make up in sparkles what they lack in fabric, practically by definition there is no way to be overly showy.

Scott is criticised for not grounding his energy into the floor. If you are looking carefully, this is where the irony begins. Scott meets Fran, ostensibly a beginner with only two years of experience, and slowly finds the validation for and the perfection of his creativity in the authentic Paso Doble practised by Fran's grandparents and parents. Why is this ironic? First, authentic Paso Doble teaches Scott to focus his energy into the floor (known in the trade as "floor pressure"), which is exactly what the ADF people tried to tell him. Second, using authentic dance as a source of strength for an incursion of creativity into International Ballroom is ironic because authentic dance is often presented in forms which demand the exact preservation of steps from the past.

Dance is an art that must be lived. By finding the essence of multiple traditions, and then letting the dance come from your heart, you too can go from a two year beginner with moderate acne to the ultra-beautiful beloved of the Pan-Pacific Open Amateur Latin Finals in only three weeks. So it was only a movie. It is possible, right? Get out there and dance! As Fran would say, "A life lived in fear is a life half lived."

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