Shall We Dance?

Recommended with discernment. A wonderful movie that affirms marriage while being honest with the dryness or unhappiness that can settle over a boring mundane life. This film, about a guy who works with people’s wills and lives a normal, average, everyday mundane existence. He’s got a good marriage with a loving wife and a good kid. But he doesn’t really his own unhappiness creeping in until he sees a haunting beauty peering out the window of a dancing school, as he rides home on the El train in Chicago. He finds himself drawn to the mysterious woman and signs up for class just to be near her. Gere is man, Susan Sarandon, wife, Jennifer Lopez, Mystery girl. So it sets up for a great mid-life crisis examination. When Lopez challenges him to leave if he is just another seeker after her love and not dancing, he finally wakes up from his little fantasy. But here is the great twist: He discovers he really does love to dance! It brings beauty, harmony and happiness he has not known in a long while. Lopez becomes a muse, but not an adulterer. Out of shame, he hides his love of dancing even from his wife, because in our modern world, men aren’t supposed to enjoy such things. Stanley Tucci does a primo job of the funny sidekick, the heterosexual man who wished he was gay because it would be easier to deal with the way the world would look at him for knowing he loves to dance so much. So he hides his secret love and pretends to love football and sports. In fact, everyone at the studio has something to hide. Everyone is being someone they are not, and must learn to accept who they are and embrace their uniqueness and free themselves from their self-imposed repression. The owner of the school is an alcoholic and lost the one true dance partner and husband she ever had. Lopez is one of the best pros who is hiding out at this cheapy no-name school because of her shame over losing the big dance competition the year before over a mishap. Big black student is pretending he is engaged, but he’s really learning to dance in order to impress his dancing girlfriend enough to ask her for marriage. And Bobby Canavale, coming from his excellent stint on The Station Agent, plays the hard edged Italian womanizer, who is actually homosexual. So dancing becomes the sacrament that frees people up to be themselves. Whether or not all these “selves” are in themselves morally legitimate is quite another question. But dancing is a powerful metaphor of redemption — finding the dance of life. The fact that Gere looks to a younger woman at first in the hopes of finding his happiness, is entirely fair and honest to the human condition. What makes it redemptive is that this close call with infidelity turns him back to his wife. At the key moment of the film, when we wonder if he is going to go to the big party to dance with Lopez, and his wife has let him make the choice for himself, he chooses to go to his wife and dance with her in the middle of a store. Why? Well, “because you see, I need a partner to dance. And you’re my partner.” I was crying when he came up the escalator in a tux with a red rose for his wife. It was all rather beautiful and affirming of marriage. An especially poignant and profound insight into marriage occurs when Susan Sarandon is asked by the Private Eye why people marry. She replies that it’s not for love, but rather “we get married to have a witness to our lives. Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice.” This is truly wisdom. Anyone happily married will understand the notion that our experiences apart from our spouse are not as “real” as those shared with them. Why? Because it’s not real until they know about it. I can’t explain that one, it’s just true and beautiful. I think it has to do with the fact that we are created by a God of diversity (Trinity) who creates us to exist in community with others as he does. So there is an aspect to our “reality” that can only be validated through interpersonal relationship. We exist in relationship, and marriage is the ultimate earthly expression of that unity within diversity. One gripe I have about the story that contradicts this otherwise strong moral is that the night before Gere is to dance in the big competition, Lopez dances with him to help him find the “life” in his dancing. To help him “come alive.” And well, the dance, while it does not lead to sex, is actually a sensuous sex alternative, shall we say. Erotic tension and artful cinematography and acting make it clearly a sensual encounter between the two of them that surely equals sex, or at least adultery of the heart. This is the kind of intimacy that should be reserved for one’s spouse. So, in a sense, I would argue he WAS unfaithful spiritually. But then at the end when Gere dances with his wife, it is a loving dance, but not sensual, thus encouraging the poor and immoral stereotype that love is for marriage, but passionate eroticism is only found outside matrimony. You know, love with the wife, (isn’t that sweet) but hot sex with the girlfriend. I call this a “Bridges of Madison County Moment.” He does the right thing, but he hides the real passion with someone else. Oh well, no movie’s perfect. It still drew me to my wife and made me want to take up dancing as a hobby. This movie was ballroom dancing, but I think I want SAAALLLSAAA!!! p.s. A couple of great moments in the movie, were when Gere has very poetic voiceovers describing what it is like to work with people’s wills which are their last attempts to control their lives – which they can’t. Another great integrated metaphor of losing control or letting go of our vain attempts to control our lives. Also, a moment when Lopez is trying to describe for Gere how to dance through a narrative of passionate feelings as she demonstrates on a fellow dancer. And it’s really a lucid parable of her own story of being emotionally ripped apart from dance. It’s all quite poetic. Loved it. Rang with truth and heart.

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