Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Strictly Ballroom came out in 1992 and was instantly one of my favourite films. Not only did it feature fantastic dance scenes, but it also described my experience of the ballroom dance competitive world exactly as I had experienced it. I laughed at the tongue-in-cheek scenes because the reaction expressed in the film was exactly what I had seen played out at dance rehearsals and at competitions.

This Australian film has been described as a romantic comedy. It is a far cry from the Hollywood romantic comedies, though, because of the setting and the environment in which the romance is played out. The story centres on Scott Hastings (played by Paul Mercurio), an Australian ballroom dancer who wishes to develop his own sense of style in dancing – which leads him to dance steps that are not “strictly ballroom”. After losing a competition, his partner leaves him for another dancer leaving Scott to search for a new dance partner only weeks before the next Pan-Pacific competition. During his search, Scott begins to practice with Fran (played by Tara Morice): a beginner dancer learning at his parents’ studio . And so begins the journey in Scott’s development in dance, and in romance.

The trailer is a perfect synopsis for the story of this film:

In his journey towards his individual identity as a ballroom dancer, Scott needs to learn that dance it not merely a series of steps; but that good dancing comes from the heart. He first learns this when he visits Fran’s family and sees how the Paso Doble is danced with authenticity:

The final dance scene of the film takes place at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. In this dance, Scott is dancing from the heart with an authenticity he had not previously shown:

Strictly Ballroom is also a romance. We are shown the blossoming of love between Scott and Fran in this tender dance scene:

One would not expect a film about ballroom dancing to do well. This film, directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann, was however a huge success in Australia (grossing at AU$21 million)  and did well in the United States too (grossing at US$11 million). The film was accepted for the Cannes Film Festival; and was nominated for many awards. The awards received were:

  • The AFI Award for  Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Editing, Best Achievement in Production Design, Best Actor in Supporting Role (Barry Otto), Best Actress in Supporting Role (Pat Thomson), Best Director, Best Film, and Best Screenplay.
  • The Award of Youth from the Cannes Film Festival for Foreign Film.
  • The BAFTA Film Award for Best Costume Design, Best Original Film Score, and Best Production Design.
  • And the London Critics Circle Film Award for Newcomer of the Year (Baz Luhrmann).

Years later I still enjoy watching this film. I think the time has come for me to pull it out again and enjoy not only the numerous dance scenes, but also the romance and comedy. 

Did you see Strictly Ballroom? What were your thoughts?

(Join Jake every week for a theme for creative inspiration. This week’s prompt is Famous Movies.)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

From Gumboots to Stepping

A couple of years ago I got a DVD out of the library (I cannot remember the title) and I saw, for the first time, the dance style called Stepping. In this dance, the whole body is used by the dancer as percussion instrument to produce rhythms and sounds using a combination of steps, words and hand claps. The final dance scene from the film Stomp the Yard shows the intricacy of some of the choreography the groups come up with when stepping. Enjoy this snippet from the film featuring the final dance scene:

When I first saw stepping, I was reminded of an African dance that I have always enjoyed: Gumboot Dancing. This movement was first danced by the black miners in South African gold mines as an alternative way to the drumming that had been prohibited by the authorities. The gumboots (Wellington boots) were decorated with bottle caps so that they could make a ringing sound as the boots were stamped on the ground. As they move, the dancers call out words or phrases. Watch this video and listen to the percussion sounds that they make:

The gumboot dance finds its origins in the Zulu tribal dances which were adapted for the new surroundings. Stepping stems from African tribal dancing and has echoes of gumboot dancing. Not surprising then that the first time I saw stepping it reminded me of the dances I used to enjoy watching as a child.

What are your thoughts on Gumboot Dancing and Stepping?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

A Dance of Grace

I remember the first time I learned the Foxtrot. Not the simple, social dance one learns in order to move around the floor. But the elegant, graceful version that allows you to float across the floor as if in a dream. Learning the combination of steps was easier than the rise and fall of the dance – even though learning the steps took a long while. Once I had made the connection between the rise and fall, the heel turns and using the power of my thigh muscles, I was better able to imitate the steps of the professional dancers. I enjoyed practising the movements for the competitions as they helped me feel that I was gliding on the floor. Below is a stunning example of what is danced in Ballroom Dance competitions:

The Foxtrot has been around for a long time and has been danced by many greats. The first pair that spring to mind are the iconic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. How beautifully they danced during an age in which dance was a popular social event:

I have not danced the Foxtrot for many years, but I still enjoy watching it – and listening to the music that encourages graceful movement to music.

What are your thoughts on the Foxtrot?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The Argentine Tango

Argentinian tango in the streets of San Telmo,...
Argentinian tango in the streets of San Telmo, Buenos Aires (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love watching the Argentine Tango: I enjoy the sultriness of the dance, the strong movements, and the intensity of emotion that surrounds the dancers. It is an athletic dance that  is more varied than the Ballroom Tango that is danced in many competitions.

The first Argentine Tango was danced in the suburbs of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century.  A variety of styles have developed since then within different areas and time periods: some tango styles have even been recorded in Cuba and in Spain. It is a style of dance that continues to evolve even today.

There is no “basic step” in the Argentine Tango and this provocative dance relies on the improvisation of the dancers. There are, however, certain patterns of movement which can be learnt.

Watch how the professionals dance this sultry dance:

Watch my favourite movie scene featuring the Argentine Tango from the film Shall We Dance? The dancers are Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere:

And I could not resist sharing this evocative video clip with you. Watch it, the dancing will encapture and astound you:

Having mastered the Ballroom Tango that is required for competing, it has always been my intention to one learn this style of Tango. All I need to do now is convince my husband to join me!

What do you think of the Argentine Tango?