WILL STUDENTS dance to their professor’s tune?

Music video director Liz Friedlander crafts a feel-good, dance sport movie with a dash of social realism in New Line Cinema’s Take the Lead, a story about how a dogged ballroom dancer tames deviant school kids and transforms them into danseurs.

The movie revolves around the struggle of ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine to pass his dancing and maneuver stunts to a group of troubled youth in New York. After witnessing Rock (Rob Brown) ransacking a four-wheel drive, Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) confronts Rock’s headstrong school principal, Augustine James (Alfre Woodward), and offers his help to reform students like Rock. James takes Dulaine’s playful dare by drafting him to teach ballroom dancing to students on detention, an assignment dreaded by most public school teachers.

Transforming the “dungeon” into a dance floor is a sure sweat, since Dulaine’s students include Rock’s street-hardened buddies such as Hispanic tough guy Ramos (Dante Basco), drama queen LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta), curbside punk Eddie (Marcus Paulk) and braided white boy Kurd (Jonathan Malen). But Dulaine’s patience and footwork are undaunted. He even confronts his students on issues like racism and sexism. He wins them over, and they defy the odds to dance straight into one of New York’s premier ballroom dance competitions.

Take the Lead’s plot is very predictable, working on the familiar storyline of a catalyst overhauling a bunch of kid-rejects through a sport or an art. The film’s story follows the same theme exploited by Sister Act 2, The Little Giants, and Coach Carter.

But the character portrayals are convincing despite the absence of a stellar cast, except for Banderas, of course. The Spanish actor exudes charisma and chivalry, magnified in scenes as when he genially dances the tango with a lady. As for Woodard, her strong feistiness fits her role as a schoolmarmish principal.

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The actors’ dancing prowess is the movie’s chief asset. Top model DaCosta dances modern jazz and ballet, while US-based Filipino actor Dante Basco was a dancer before turning into an actor. Their experiences and personal training with the real Dulaine gave the characters the edge to sail through the movie’s dance sequences.

To suit the plot of troubled teenagers transforming into winning danseurs, cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy uses cool, harsh, grimy-like shades in the beginning to warmer tones toward the end. The series of changes juxtaposes the serene ballroom dancing world of the privileged against the noisy hip-hop, freestyle arena of the hoi polloi.

Institute of Physical Education and Athletics department secretary Gilda Ma. Paz Kamus, a social dance instructor, said the movie and its choreography follow standard ballroom dancing, but the performances look innovative.

“The movie presents the dances cleanly and artistically. What made the dance sequences look good is the proper articulation of ballroom dancing basics: proper timing, correct footwork, and passion on to the floor,” Kamus told the Varsitarian. “Viewers would readily see these elements in the dancers, most especially with Banderas. The actors did not only move, but actually performed.”

Music also plays an integral role in Take the Lead. Music mogul Bonnie Greenberg’s eclectic soundtrack of classic standards and contemporary rhythms are adapted into tango raps. The film features numbers by American hip-hop artists LL Cool J, Freeway, DMX, the Youngbloodz, Akon, and Swizz Beatz, along with classics from Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, and Keely Smith. Black Eyed Peas’ Filipino member Allan Pineda also contributes to the soundtrack with the song, “Can You Feel It?”

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True to its title, the film shows how leadership ensures a team’s success.

“The students in the film are much like our PE students: diverse, since they come from different colleges; and skeptical, since many of them think social dance is old school,” Kamus said. “When we enter our classes, like what Dulaine does, we don’t just teach but we also perform, so we can show how relevant social or ballroom dancing is, as this art can teach them discipline, boost their confidence, and make them learn respect.”

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