From the trailers and commercials alone, you learn everything you need to know about Take the Lead. It’s Dangerous Minds meets Save the Last Dance. As a matter of fact, since the commercial pretty much shows every major plot point in the movie, you can save yourself the trouble of sitting through this case of going-through-the-motions film-making. Based on a true story, Take the Lead is meant to be part tale of inspiration and part fable. I suppose that what rubbed me the wrong way was the way that the movie seemed to treat social issues with a near cavalier lip service. But I digress.

The situation is familiar. A group of students that other’s have given up on come under the wing of an inspiring teacher who employs creative methods to garner their attention and interest. In the process of sharing their time and love, said teacher comes to win their respect and teaches the students a lot about life. Such is the case when Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) blows into the lives of some inner city youths – a motley bunch consigned to serve detention that the system doesn’t have the resources to better serve. “Nobody gives something for nothing,” Rock (Rob Brown) says and we’re never quite sure what Dulaine’s motivations are for doing what he does besides spreading his love of dance and manners.

To be honest, I almost called Take the Lead “Footloose with Negroes”. Actually, I am experiencing a bit of fatigue of the “Negroes for Dummies” sentiment that tend to accompany movies like this. The problem might be the fact that the movie simply tries to do too much: explore the tensions of race and class; provide social studies into the home lives of the students; and examine inner city street life. Unfortunately, it starts with a collection of caricatures, more stock characters than real people. There are simply a lot of disparate threads that don’t come together as a cohesive whole. The movie lacks the passion and the heart of the documentary Rize.

“Maybe I’m not made to dance.”
“Do you like dancing?”
“Yes.”
“Then you were made to dance.”
–a conversation between Caitlynn (Lauren Collins) and Mr. Dulaine

Like I said in my review of the movie Rize, I don’t have to make spiritual connections with this movie because it does it for me. There is a natural connectedness between worship and dance, worship and spirit. Perichoresis is one of those big theological words used to describe the concept of God as the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). It has the same root from which we also get the idea of choreography; except here it is used to describe the Trinity as a divine dance since each of the persons of the Trinity is always in movement together.

God created us to participate in this dance, to move in our lives in movement with His rhythm. “Sin” is moving out of that rhythm and trying to find our own rhythm and music such that our lives become all about our individual dance. We need to learn to hear His dance and learn to move with Him. In so doing, we honor each other, create space for Him, and follow His lead.

“Dance is like life.” –Pierre Dulaine

Leading by example, Dulaine was the Christ figure in this movie, carrying his Gospel message of dance from one group of people to another. Boiled down simply, his Gospel message was one of liberation: escape and freedom found in dance. He was about the mission, his calling and purpose. Beginning with his own people (the wealthy elite), he later moved on to another group (the students) when his own proved to be inadequate hearers or took his message for granted. These outcasts and the lowly – he adopted them as disciples and taught them his liberation message.

As he took his message to this other group, the inevitable clash of cultures occurred. Like any other conversation needing to start, he had to find a way to contextualize his Gospel message into their culture. Dulaine casts the vision and in so doing provides hope; the students have to decide whether or not to buy into the message. By accepting the Gospel, they learn about respect, dignity, and self-worth. That Gospel transcends cultures and in so doing, builds bridges between them until they are “like two songs working together.”

Dulaine’s students start from a place of broken rhythms. Each of them dancing to their own beat, moving ever further from the rhythm of life. They needed to learn how to truly dance, to meld their dance with a greater dance. They needed to find life’s rhythm and moving in accordance to it.

“All I see are choices. Choices waiting to be made.” –Dulaine

We were all made to dance.

In the discipline of dance, there is power, grace, elegance, and beauty. There is a sensuality, also. We were created with bodies, bodies meant to feel and enjoy creation. We have to discipline ourselves to learn to be comfortable in our bodies. Too often we buy into the idea that our bodies are bad or unimportant on one hand; havens of unbridled, uncontrollable lust or the total of our identity on the other. We’ve been made to feel uncomfortable in our own bodies, self-conscious or unable to live up to our culture’s ideas of beauty. Dance is one way that we can learn how to learn how to live in our bodies, in a physical and real way. To learn the discipline of movement, to learn to move in community with one another, to celebrate the vitality of our bodies, and that our bodies are indeed capable of much beauty.

From Dead Poet’s Society to Lean on Me to Mr. Holland’s Opus, heck, to Bring it On, the stories, themes and images covered in Take the Lead aren’t new. What separates these movies is what they do in this well-worn territory. Take the Lead manages to hit every cliched note and yet still do nothing new with the material. What lacks is the spark, that bit of magic that moves from earnestness to a good movie–eschewing heart for the easy laughs. For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with earnestness, though you can’t help but leave with a greater appreciation for dance.

And good manners.

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