Take the Lead (2006)

Lesley Trites

There's something disturbing about the recent proliferation of films with this 'save the inner city kids' motif.

Take the Lead

Director: Liz Friedlander
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Alfre Woodard, Yaya DaCosta, Dante Basco, Lauren Collins
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: New Line
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-04-07

Part Breakfast Club, part Dangerous Minds, and a lot Save the Last Dance, Take the Lead fictionalizes the same events that inspired last year's Mad Hot Ballroom. In the shift from documentary to "inspired by," the kids are moved from elementary to high school, where there's more fodder for screen-friendly interpersonal drama to drown out the dancing. Something about Take the Lead rings as false as its version of New York, which is actually Toronto, with a few NYC street scenes for "color." Though surely entertaining, Take the Lead perpetuates stereotypes in a cumbersome celebration of multiculturalism.

Antonio Banderas stars as Pierre Dulaine, a professional dancer who teaches ballroom dancing to a group of detention-hall kids at a New York City high school. Banderas is convincing as a dancer, effectively reserved and earnest. From the opening scene, Pierre's clean-cut, upper-class world, fluidly shot and brightly lit, contrasts immediately with the lower class students' environment, where shakier camerawork and green-tinged lighting suggest a kind of chaos. Cue an incident intersecting the two worlds -- Pierre sees one of the students bashing the principal's (Alfre Woodard) car -- and he embarks on his new mission to "change their lives."

We've seen this before: Pierre's patronizing attitude is masked as "good intentions." There's something disturbing about the recent proliferation of films with this "save the inner city kids" motif. The insinuation, of course, is that they need saving, and that unlike their hip-hop dancing, Pierre's "high culture" ballroom style will teach them about "respect." Though the students fuse their dancing with Pierre's, in the end the kids become "civilized," donning gowns and ties to enter the ballroom competition.

Mad Hot Ballroom had the same presumption of "civilizing," but that film showed kids from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and classes and didn't focus on particular individuals, and so avoided condescension. Take the Lead tries to portray racial and class harmony by having everyone -- black, brown, white, upper or lower class -- dance to hip-hop at the end of the competition, but it leaves the violence underneath this harmony unproblematized. Once everyone has taken off their formal wear, how will the deplorable conditions of the students' lives have changed?

When the protégés-to-be initially resist his hoity-toity (or "punk ass," as one boy calls it) manner, Pierre is not above cheap gimmicks to grab their attention. He brings in a stunning (and snobby) female dancer from his academy, Morgan (professional dancer Katya Virshilas), and the camera objectifies her (approximating the impressed kids' perspectives) as she performs an eroticized dance with Pierre. The boys want her, and the girls want to be her: they're duly hooked. Though supposedly around their age, Morgan serves as a role model. Yet why would any of the kids want to be like her? She's portrayed as nothing short of despicable throughout the film, except for a final moment when she turns very briefly generous.

True to the genre's form, Pierre takes a particular interest in one student, Rock (Rob Brown), the boy he saw smashing up the principal's car. Peering through a chain-link fence, Pierre literally speaks down to Rock. The boy challenges this strict teacher/student relationship when he asks, "You can know about me, but I can't know anything about you?" The teacher's transformation follows, as he must also learn from his students.

For instance, sometimes survival is difficult on a basic material level. Rock is the "good" son forced into a "bad" life in order to support his mother and alcoholic father. As he slowly warms up to Pierre, Rock doesn't want to follow in the path of his older brother, who was killed in a gang fight. Caught between lucrative crime (and his boys) and ballroom dancing (and a girl), Rock makes a tough but predictable decision at film's end. But the film goes for reductive answers rather than complex questions: why does he have to forsake his friends and family in order to realize his "potential"?

Another character at odds with her family, Caitlin (Lauren Collins), is a debutante whose mother pressures her into lessons at Pierre's uptown dance academy. She decides to join the kids in the detention class instead. They accuse her of "slumming," but she explains, "I feel better up here than I do where I live." They accept this answer, somewhat unbelievably, and Caitlin develops a friendship with her dance partner, a large black boy significantly called "Monster" (Brandon Andrews).

Their relationship culminates in a scene reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. With Caitlin's encouragement, Monster is transformed into a graceful dancer, dashing in a suit and ready to offer her a steadying arm as she descends the ballroom staircase in a white gown for her cotillion. While Caitlin's challenge to family tradition by dancing with Monster instead of her cousin might initially seem progressive, the scene is more about the backwardsness of her mother's social set, an easy target at best. Take the Lead celebrates Caitlin's openness to change and Pierre's transformative powers without asking why his other students are in detention in the first place.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.