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Lynne Lubash
Movie Reviews
Hip hop
United States
Chicago, IL

Save the Last Dance

by Lynne Lubash
January 19, 2001
Chicago, IL

A Review of "Save the Last Dance"

Lynne B. Lubash



Julia Stiles- Sara

Sean Patrick Thomas- Derek

Terry Kinney- Roy

Kerry Washington- Chenille

Fedro Starr- Malakai

Director: Thomas Carter (Metro, Swing Kids)

Screenwriters: Duane Adler, Cheryl, Edwards, Toni Ann Johnson

How does life change when your parent suddenly dies? Should a friendship be maintained no matter what its effect on you? What does it feel like when a life-long dream dies? These are not questions you'd expect to see raised in a film backed by MTV, but "Save the Last Dance" pleasantly surprised me with its serious treatment of a range of issues.

I've always loved movies that feature music and dancing. When I was a child, I looked at the romances on the screen as an indication of what my future dating life would be. When I got older and actually acquired dating experience, I looked at the relationships on the screen as nothing more than fantasies that took every inch of my "willing suspension of disbelief" to accept. But the relationships in "Save the Last Dance" are all imperfect and fairly believable. Of course, sixteen-year-olds were never so wise and witty when I was in high school, but maybe that is a function of the twenty years of MTV in the interim, or perhaps kids just grow up a heck of a lot faster when raised by single parents and surrounded by drive-by shootings.

Julia Stiles ("10 Things I Hate About You") plays Sara, a white ballerina with Julliard dreams whose life is shattered when her mother unexpectedly dies. Forced to move to the South Side of Chicago to live with her father whom she hardly knows, Sara puts aside her dream of a ballet career and focuses on fitting in with the predominately African American students in her new high school. She and Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) start dating, and the questions become, can an interracial couple survive the external and internal pressures? And, can a ballet dancer find happiness with a hip-hop dancer?

The movie highlights a phenomena that I have noticed among dancers Those whose training is in ballet or ballroom or any form that focuses on specific steps and technique often have some level of discomfort with freestyle dancing. I liken it to the difference between delivering a written speech and speaking extemporaneously. Most people prefer one or the other and only the lucky few excel at both. In this movie, Derek has to teach Sara the attitude as well as the moves that are hip hop, so she can dance with him at "Steps", the neighborhood hangout.

Ultimately, Sara becomes a fine hip hop dancer and incorporates some of those moves into her "contemporary piece" audition for Julliard. Although this made for enjoyable movie dancing, I'm pretty sure that the real Julliard would look askance at this form of ballet.

I can't evaluate the quality of the ballet dancing featured in the film as my own ballet career was cut tragically short. This happened when I was in the single digits due to a conflict between the schedule of my religious instruction and ballet classes. However, anyone who has ever danced, be it ballroom, ballet, hip hop or any style, will relate to the joy and passion evoked by the dancing featured in "Save the Last Dance" and will enjoy the film.

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