Home & + | Search
Featured Categories: Special Focus | Performance Reviews | Previews | DanceSpots | Arts and Education | Press Releases
Join ExploreDance.com's email list | Mission Statement | Copyright notice | The Store | Calendar | User survey | Advertise
Click here to take the ExploreDance.com user survey.
Your anonymous feedback will help us continue to bring you coverage of more dance.
ExploreDance.com (Magazine)
Other Search Options
Rachel Levin
L.A. Pulse
Movie Reviews
Hip hop
Step Dance
Toronto, ON (Canada)

How She Move

by Rachel Levin
February 5, 2008
Toronto, ON (Canada)
On the heels of 2007's Stomp the Yard, How She Move chronicles the passionate, competitive world of step dancing, a high-energy, African-derived form popular in Southern black colleges that has echoes of tap, breakdancing, military drills, and, more recently, krumping. While the protagonist of Stomp the Yard was male, How She Move brings a female (though not necessarily feminine) focus to the genre with the story of high school student Raya Green (Rutina Wesley).

In both films, the death of a sibling is the catalyst that thrusts the main character into the step dance milieu. In Raya's case, the death of her drug-addicted older sister means her parents, immigrants from Jamaica, can no longer afford her private boarding school tuition (though it's unclear how they ever afforded it in the first place). She must return to her working-class Toronto neighborhood, where her dreams of attending college and medical school dim. In order to get back to the college prep academy, she's got to find a way to pay – and the top prize at the annual Step Monster competition in Detroit becomes her solution. Her obstacles: being taken seriously in a male-dominated art and winning over the tough neighborhood girls who at first think she's a boarding school brat.

The story line follows the formula of so many popular dance films, using the device of dance talent as both a way out of the 'hood and a way to find out who you really are. In Raya's case, it's a little hard to believe she can come off months of boarding school studying and be able to step right into the fray; step dancing demands an almost acrobatic muscularity, flexibility, and endurance. We have to suspend disbelief that Raya's "serious" step flows out of her naturally—an expression of her desperation—while others must train and practice diligently to maintain their level of athleticism and ferocity.

And though Raya can certainly move, we never really see her or anyone else falter, so we have nothing to compare her performance to. What would "bad" stepping look like? Everyone ends up being so good that it's hard to fully appreciate how, if at all, Raya grows as a dancer during the film. Her biggest liability is not her step, but rather her struggle to find the right crew and submerge her individuality to the group identity.

She dances exclusively with all-male crews throughout, so we see that she can step as well or better than men to masculine choreography. This is an empowering statement, but truthfully I think the all-female step crew, Fem Phatal, steals the show. At one competition, they jack steps from the male crew JSJ, and frankly they look much better doing them. These female steppers are by no means dainty, but they do lend a vampy edge that we never get to see in Raya.

Thankfully, the film keeps romantic clichés to a minimum; the love interest between Raya and crew leader Bishop is secondary to the business of stepping. Unfortunately, however, we never fall in love with Raya's step, even though we cheer her final triumphs.
Search for articles by
Performance Reviews, Places to Dance, Fashion, Photography, Auditions, Politics, Health