Take the Lead

Social issue dramedy. Antonio Banderas plays a Ballroom Dance instructor who tries to help inner city delinquent students to learn self-respect by teaching them ballroom dancing. This was a very rich story, full of hope and redemption for wayward youth. On one level, it is refreshing to see the discipline, hard work and beauty of Ball Room Dancing invade the undisciplined ugly environment of modern high school culture. It has the predictable lead student struggling between choosing a criminal life on the streets and the good life of accomplishing something through the dance competition. But so what. It still worked.

I enjoyed seeing the clash of cultures with Antonio’s polite manners being quaint anachronisms in the “modern liberated” egalitarian tyranny of public schools. Yet his politeness is shown to be superior to the lack thereof and even desired. A young kid picks up from him the lost art of opening doors for women. This of course is sexist patriarchal condescension to a feminist or egalitarian. But in this story, it’s goodness. And the burnt out woman principle played by the always lovely Alfre Woodard, jumps at the chance to do a dance with Antonio, even though every one else is questioning his program of dance for the kids. Even the teachers think it’s all just play and fun and the kids, who are in this class for detention, should be learning their math and doing homework.

Yet, Antonio explains to them how dancing teaches respect and dignity between people. Although it’s interesting that never once does he use the word discipline. It was almost like the filmmakers were trying to make a movie about discipline, but were still carrying residue from a politically correct worldview that just won’t admit to certain concepts like discipline and punishment. So, rather than being the hard strong Coach Carter, Antonio woos his students and persuades them. Well, this works well in fiction, but I question its efficacy in real life, and wonder what the real Pierre Dulaine (That Antonio plays) really was like. The filmmakers personal agendas most likely revised that history. But just the same, Antonio does tell the parents who are blameshifting their troubles, “Assigning blame is easy. Parent, environment, but it doesn’t make a problem go away.” True enough, indeed.

There is also a moment when a girl complains about the man taking the lead as making him “the boss,” and Antonio tells her “no,” she is the one who chooses to accept, to follow and is therefore not really being “led.” Well, okay, there’s definitely some truth to that, but you can’t help but think they are yet again trying to avoid the obvious patriarchal essence of male leadership that the very name of the movie, TAKE THE LEAD, implies. But of course, actions speak louder than words.

One thing bothered me though and that is the sexuality of the Tango that was used to inspire the kids. We see that their street dancing is sensual and erotic and they think that ball room is for old foggies. But then Antonio shows them a Tango with a dance queen and they see that it can be just as erotic in a classy way. The problem is that teens should not be sexualized so young and yet youth culture is so heavily sexualized that teens are being spiritually and psychologically raped and they don’t even realize it until they grow up and their screwed up relationships illustrate that they “grew up” too fast. Of course, like Antonio’s character, this very thought of mine is so anachronistic and old fashioned as to be laughable by the deluded modern mind. But it nonetheless remains the answer to the problem, just as his dancing was the unlikely catalyst of redemption.

Also, some of the humanistic worldview of individualism kept trying to creep in and recast the meaning. For instance, Antonio explains to the parents about his leading of the principle in a dance, “If she allows me to lead, she’s more than trusting me, she’s trusting herself.” Boy does that make any sense? He tells another kid, “You need to dance for yourself, not anybody else.” And to another, “Having courage to follow your heart is what makes you human.” All very beautiful half-truths. Of course on one level, kids do need to learn that following their peers or living to please peer pressures etc. is not cool. But I would recommend “doing the right thing” is freedom, believing the truth is freedom, and both those things often do not reside in our “selfs” or our hearts, which tend toward selfishness.