Category Archives: Dance

Would You Keep Reading My Book?

Last month, I asked you all a really important question: would you read my book? Like, if you bought Misty Copeland’s biography on Amazon and saw my book in the “You might also like…” section, would you click on it?

The overwhelming majority of you said yes, which is encouraging. The rest of you kept your mouths shut, which I also appreciated, because only jerks would write in and be like “No, your book sucks. And you suck. And your book sucks.”

So since I got the encouragement I was looking for, I pressed forward. Now I need to know: would you keep reading my book? Here’s a little taste of the second chapter, which is an introduction to the competition dance scene. Enjoy!

dancingwendy

I’m standing backstage in a huddle of blue and sequins. Sixteen anxious girls smooth their buns and try to keep their twitchy feet still. Two more numbers until we’re up. I squeeze my eyes shut and go over the routine in my head. Shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change. Our teacher, Ann-Marie, gathers us together for one more pep talk before we take our positions behind the curtain.

“You guys will be great. Just keep doing everything you’ve been practicing. Stay sharp, lots of energy, and don’t forget to have fun and smile! I’ll be down in the audience cheering you on.”

We nod, we smile, some of us clap tiny silent claps, and then we break off into two groups. Eight of us stay stage right while the other eight make their way behind the backdrop to the other side of the stage. We stand, single file, waiting for our cue. As the MC begins to announce our number, “From the Charlotte Klein Dance Centers, competing in junior large group tap, this is…”

I peek out from the curtain to survey the crowd. The stage lights temporarily daze my eyes and the audience, a dark blur, politely cheer in the long pause between the end of the MC’s introduction and the start of our music.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. My chest thumping, my stomach tightening and releasing. Adrenaline rushing to my fingertips, to my toes, straight into my heart. Then the music. And out into the blazing light.

Before I know it, the dance is over. I hit all my positions, the audience claps in all the right places, and everything felt as though it clicked into place. We take our bow and flap ball change off the stage into the wings, where we cluster together into an ameba of giggles and high-pitched whispers. We nailed it.

And now the long wait. Hours go by as other studios and groups perform in different age groups and categories. I see soloists pirouetting over and over, and large groups of teenagers performing in production numbers with props. I see girls much younger than me in full makeup, dancing across the stage with the poise of a professional. I hear whispers in the audience. Dance moms with their own scorecards, ranking the numbers and gossiping openly about which studio owner is sucking up to which judge.

What world is this?

Finally, it’s time to announce the awards. All of the competition dancers cram onto the stage in tight circles amongst their own studio members. Each dancer holds some kind of good luck charm—some dancers, I can see, are already decorated with ribbons and medals from routines completed earlier in the day. Others clutch teddy bears in tutus, anxiously awaiting the results. The MC strolls onto the stage, mic in hand, and congratulates the participants on a job well done.

What I quickly learn about dance competitions is that there is no single winner. Each routine is judged independently of the others. Judges award points on a scale for choreography, technique and execution, performance quality, and even costuming. When you add the points up, you can receive anywhere from a bronze (for this, kids would cry, and not the good kind of tears) to a gold, with awards such as high bronze and high silver in between.

As the MC announces results, groups of dancers stand and cheer, and they send a representative from the team to wade through the tangles of competitors to receive their awards. Our little huddle of blue-sequined dancers grows quiet as the MC begins to bark out the results of our category. As he calls the name of our studio, we grab onto each other (a leg, an arm, whatever we can find) and squeeze our bodies into a tight wad. Our toes are curled, our fists clenched, our eyebrows are burrowing down into our noses. Finally, anxiety reaches a fever pitch until we hear:

“High silver!”

I open my eyes wide and release the tension in my body. High silver! I think I’m thrilled, but I look around to the other girls to confirm. Many are openly cheering and hugging. But a couple, the more seasoned competitors, only smile politely and clap. They’re happy, but a twinge of disappointment seeps out of the corners of their mouths. Once you’ve earned a gold, only another gold is good enough.  

After a fellow dancer returns to our circle with the medals, she passes them out to the group. A heavy silver pendant is etched with the name of the competition, Terpsichore, and the shape of a dancer goddess arched in a graceful back bend. I turn the medal over and over in my hand, studying the engravings, the shape, the weight. I vow that next time I compete, I will win a gold.

Would You Read My Book?

I’ve been “working on a book” for what feels like forever now. What that really means is that I’ve written an outline, a couple chapters, and then have sat wringing my hands and doubting myself for the last couple years.

It’s time to get to work.

I’m going to make myself culpable here, starting now. I’ve got a bit of an intro started and would love your feedback. Would you read this book? Would you walk by my book in a Barnes & Noble (what’s that?) and go, “Huh, looks interesting,” before seeing that it’s by your annoying friend The Olive Gal and buying it out of guilt? (I’m cool with that too, but still…looking for honesty here.)

Anyway, I’m not going to give you any kind of idea what it’s about. I’m just going to leave this here and let you figure it out. And if you like it, I might leave a few more bits of it, here and there. Now I can’t not write this thing. So here goes:

dancingwendy

Working Title: Below the Cut

Prelude: Dancing Nancy

…”could I have been Dancing Nancy? Could I have been anyone other than me?”

Other dancers got the jump on me, having been in a pair of ballet shoes before their memories were fully formed. Age three is the starting point for a serious dancer. At age three, you’re wearing tutus and tight curls and being ushered onto the stage into the lights and the awwwwws of the crowd.

There’s always at least one pee-pee accident during the show. One girl staring down at her shiny costume forgetting the steps she’s rehearsed all year long. One diva who’s gone completely off-book, freestyling for the audience whose attention she’s now taken away from the tyke who decided to sit down and examine the marley floor. By the time these girls are seven years old, they’re old pros.

Seven. That’s the ripe old age that I started dancing. 

**********************

The summer before I enrolled in dance, I went with my family to see my cousin’s aunt perform in her dance recital. She had just won the prestigious title of Miss Dance of New England, and would soon go on to win Miss Dance of America. The family was extremely proud.

My mom had asked me for several years if I wanted to dance, and I had always shrugged my shoulders in ambivalence. I was too busy digging up rocks in my yard and pretending they were dinosaur bones. Too busy mixing shampoos and shaving creams and baby powder into funky concoctions and make-believing that I was a mad scientist transforming stones into rare jewels. Too caught up in reading and riding bikes and making forts and collecting dues for the neighborhood club, and burying them in the woods and later forgetting where we buried them. But then I saw Nancy, and all my childhood pursuits fell away.

Dance became the only thing I saw.

***************************

The lights dim and a spotlight shifts across the stage to find its target. A muscular yet petite redhead stands with her head bowed and her hands to her sides. As the music begins to play, Nancy springs to life, moving with purpose and power. The verse crescendos, and she launches herself into a leap so high she nearly grazes the curtains.

She lunges, she spins, she executes each step with flawless precision. But it is her performance, the pure joy behind her movement that has me mesmerized. She hits her final pose and the crowd thunders its approval, whistling and standing from their seats. Time slows to nearly a standstill—flecks of dust flutter through the deep blue backlight, and Nancy takes her bow. I turn to my mom, eyes sparkling, and breathe, “I want to dance like Nancy.”

Or so that’s the narrative I’ve come to believe over the years.

I like to tell it that way. That I saw Nancy, and that was that. That I took my first tap class, and that was that. But I think, more than anything, it was inertia. I took dance classes because I liked how it made other people think about me. I liked to think that it could make people stand and clap for me, the way they stood and clapped for Nancy. And when it did make me feel special, I kept going. I took more classes. I strived and strived and strived for the director of the studio’s approval. I yearned for the attention and the praise of the teachers. And somewhere in there, I fell in love.

What I didn’t realize, and what I’ve only recently come to know deep in my heart, is that it wasn’t dance that made Nancy special. She was just special—and she brought that to her dancing. And I, despite loving dance with all my heart, despite being singularly obsessed with it, despite knowing that dance was what I wanted to do with my life by the time I was 10 years old, I was not special. I was better than many. But that doesn’t cut it in the dance world.

Of course, I didn’t know that way back then. If I did, maybe I wouldn’t have turned to my mom that day and asked her to sign me up for dance class. But I did, and she obliged, as any parent would when they see their child taking an interest in something healthy and creative.

What my mom didn’t know was that by signing me up, she was signing away her summer vacations. Signing away thousands of dollars in tuition and dance shoes and costumes and competition fees. Signing away my participation in any other extra curricular activity.

What she didn’t know was that she’d be starting me on a career path at age seven. That almost all my friends would be my dance friends. That I’d move to New York because of dance and continue to pursue it professionally. And that, finally, dance would leave me crippled at age 25. What she didn’t know was that on the day she signed me up to dance at Charlotte Klein Dance Centers, she changed my life.

White Christmas: Chicken Soup for the Soul

Normally I’m all about respecting each holiday’s dance space, but this year my psyche is all “fuck you, Thanksgiving, you killed the Indians” and has moved right from Halloween into Christmas. And with that move, I’ll gorge myself not on turkey and stuffing, but on classic holiday movies full of white people dancing.

And the best white people dancing holiday movie is, hands down, White Christmas.

White Christmas is my chicken soup for the soul. Each December, my cousin Jonelle and I would curl up on our Nonna’s plastic-covered couch and settle in to watch our favorite holiday movie. Then we’d spend the next few weeks pretending we were the Haynes sisters. (Poor Matt had to be freckled-faced Haynes the dog-faced boy.)

This movie stands the test of time because of extreme attachment vis-a-vie nostalgia (just like claymation Rudolph), but also because of its fantastic set construction (unlike claymation Rudolph). I mean, how many times have you walked into a train club car and been severely disappointed it didn’t look like this?

white christmas club car

The plot of White Christmas is as flimsy as a California “winter” coat in Massachusetts February. But the dancing. Oh, the dancing! There’s a minstrel number with a cast of 50,000 who are summoned to rehearse show material at a Vermont ski resort, even though the day before they were given time off to be with their families for the holidays. The show must go on! Families be damned! That’s the Christmas spirit.

Still, all this escaped me as a child because I was dazzled by Vera Ellen.

If you ask me, the star of this movie was not Bing Crosby. It was Vera Ellen. Vera Ellen should have been a bigger Hollywood name than Ginger Rodgers or even Fred Astaire, but her acting chops were not quite on par with her phenomenal dance skill. Watching her perform in this movie as a kid inspired me to 1. belt the shit out of my sweaters and 2. love dancing even more. I mean, take a look. This routine still holds up to today’s high standards of technique.

I will refrain from linking to all the rest of the dance numbers in this movie that I obsessed over as a kid (including the Martha Graham spoof, which again went right over my head). But you just don’t see dance highlighted in movies like this anymore. Yes, there are movie musicals, but they often feature dance doubles in weird cuts instead of the real thing. And yes, TV musical episodes are becoming a thing, but they usually feature the show’s stars with barely passable voices doing awkward jazz squares.

Quick, right now, name a big Hollywood star who is known for his or her dancing?

Okay, besides Channing Tatum.

None, right? There’s none. Even those who have a background in dance don’t usually get a chance to showcase it. It’s upsetting and it’s pulled me right off topic onto a totally different tangent.

Back to why White Christmas is the best! Did you know that Bob Fosse is the uncredited choreographer? Very apparent in the tilted pelvises and isolated shoulders of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” (If you ask me who Bob Fosse is, you’re dead to me.)

love

Now, I know I said I love this movie, but I wouldn’t be The Olive Gal if I didn’t point out a completely shitty plot hole that you could drive a Christmas tree through. George Clooney’s aunt Rosemary spends the second half the movie mad at Bing Crosby because she thinks he’s trying to exploit his old army General. But she forgives Bing when he goes on TV to sing about how the General is hard up for a job. I don’t know about you, but I’d be way more pissed about someone singing the following about me on national TV than if they brought a TV crew to my ski resort to film their show:

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who’s got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires

Awesome. Merry Christmas, General. Here’s so much pity from your famous army buds.

Anyway, one of the best things about White Christmas is the fact that it doesn’t crack out on Christmas, and yet still makes you feel all Christmasy. Of course, that might be because this scene happens at the end of the movie:

WC ending

Okay, maybe it cracks out just a little.

Despite the girls clearly too young for pointe shoes, this incredibly sappy scene, complete with audience sing-along, just puts everything right in the world. It’s that last sip of warm soup that coats your belly and leaves you satisfied but not bloated. Your ailments have been cured. Your Christmas will be white. And you just might show up to the next Christmas party dressed in that Mrs. Claus outfit.

La Douleur Exquise

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about lost potential.

I know that I have a long professional career ahead of me. I know that I’m extremely lucky to not only call myself a writer, but to do so for a living. Am I writing New York Times bestselling novels like some of my friends? No. But there’s no expiration date on writing. I can keep at it and keep working to get better. Someday I might even write something important. It’s not happening now, but it could happen. There’s an actual shot. So this isn’t about that.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve been able to say, “I’m a professional dancer.” I stepped right up to the line. I even stepped over it. I started with crap jobs, as any aspiring artist does, but I landed with a great company about to go on tour. (That company is now kicking ass all over the globe.)

performing at Jacob's Pillow with Deca
performing at Jacob’s Pillow with Deca

I don’t know how far I would have made it if I weren’t injured. It’s very possible I wouldn’t have. But I didn’t only pour my career aspirations into my dance dream. I became it. I’ve tried to bury the old me. I told myself that person was gone. The problem is, she’s not. She’s still there inside of me, itching to get out. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

How many times have you watched a superhero origin story where the antagonist says something like, “I always thought I was destined to do more. To be something. To make a difference. Now I can.” What would happen if that very ordinary person with extraordinary dreams never happened upon his super powers? Where would all of that energy go?

Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.
Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.

I can tell you.

It festers just under the surface, manifesting itself as a constant desire to jump out of your own skin. It makes you restless and then listless and then restless again. It forces you to keep searching for the next thing and the next and the next. It causes you to pace in your cube like a coyote in heat, fingers fluttering, lips twitching, shoulders rolling. You pace, you pace, you pace. Then you sit back down because there’s nothing you can do about it.

You’ve lost the ability to [insert great thing] but you still feel the pull, like a phantom leg. Or maybe you never really had the ability in the first place. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you had a dream and it was never realized, and it never can be. You have to reckon with that. There’s no amount of positive thinking and chutzpah that can change that fact. And it hurts. It really, really hurts.

La douleur exquise. It’s a French phrase made famous by Sex and the City that means “the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.” The literal translation: the exquisite pain.

I have loved dance since I knew what love was. Dance may have even loved me back. But I couldn’t have it.

Dance even took me to China.
Dance even took me to China.

Since my injury, I’ve tried to dance, even just for fun. I’ve puttered around in my house to some music. I’ve stood at the counter and attempted ballet barre exercises. I’ve put on my pointe shoes and tap shoes. I’ve busted out a clumsy six-step, just to see if I remembered how. I remember how. I just can’t get my body to obey. I’m slow and heavy and if I push, my injury pushes back. The pain puts me back in my place. But my brain…my brain remembers.

It reminds me that I stood in the shadow of dance giants, miming the graceful fluidity of Theresa Nguyen, the raw talent of Tony Bougiouris, or the power of Lauren Masiello, future professional dancers I trained with in my studio days.

That I took classes with masters like Gus Giordano and Desmond Richardson and Ray Leeper and Mia Michaels, who taught me how to harness emotion into movement, to understand how to make a performance dynamic.

That I interviewed dance legends Debbie Allen, Gregory Hines, and Patrick Swayze, hip-hop pioneers Rokafella and Popin’ Pete, prolific choreographers Wade Robson, Mandy Moore, Tabitha and Napoleon—getting inside the minds of greatness, learning what it takes to take it to the next level.

It reminds me of the competition dancers, the audition buddies,  the dance teams, the teachers, the dance moms, the dancewear makers, the studio owners, the dance photographers, the shoe fitters, the Broadway dancers, music video dancers, street dancers, reality TV dancers, dance writers and historians, choreographers, college dance majors, judges, entrepreneurs, agents, publishers, producers, artistic directors, dance therapists, folk dancers, swing dancers, jazz dancers, contemporary dancers, tappers, ballerinas, b-boys, stompers, krumpers, poppers, steppers.

Ask me about any of them and I can tell you. I knew them all.

Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.
Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.

I stood in the shadow of dance giants and felt I could someday measure up. I knew I had an uphill battle, but I couldn’t be stopped. Until I could. And now, 10 years later, that energy still bubbles under the surface, desperate to be released. I’m in a constant state of potential energy, building and building, but never transforming. I’m still climbing that hill, but there’s no crest in sight.

There comes a time in everyone’s life who has fallen short of their dreams to admit that they can’t achieve them. I know, and have known for a long time, that I will never dance (that way) again. It’s painful to admit that. It’s painful to fully realize. It’s painful to let go.

But at least it’s an exquisite pain.

I’m Your Private Dancer

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my dancing days. Maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching dance team competitions and wigging out over the new Starz ballet drama Flesh and Bone. (Okay, that’s EXACTLY why.) It doesn’t take much to whisk me back to pushing the coffee table to the corner of my NYC apartment so I could give myself a “dance class” because I couldn’t afford to take many real classes on my cocktail waitress and aerobics instructor salary.

After 15 years of training at a prestigious studio and a prestigious university, I had graduated to scraping the bottom of the barrel. My very first gigs were not paying and I was joining the ranks of gals who couldn’t pull a double pirouette if I stood behind them and actually whirled them around myself. I remember rehearsing in this run-down studio in Times Square called Fazel’s that was quite literally falling apart. I couldn’t hear the music for our routine over the sounds of 50-year-old has-beens shuffling off to buffalo in the studios above us.

I had never been happier in my life.

Every day was a risk. Every day was a chance to challenge my fortitude and resolve. Every day was a grind. And every day was a day for Tina Turner.

I packed this very orange head shot in my smelly dance bag for each audition.
I packed this very orange head shot in my smelly dance bag for each audition.

Before each audition (or round of auditions), I would pack my giant dance bag full of snacks, water, magazines (for the wait time between calls), dance shoes, sheet music, warm-ups, and changes of clothes and accessories, especially if I was auditioning for a Broadway show at 11am and running off to a second audition for a hip-hop artist at 3pm. Then I’d put on my prettiest leotard and tights, pull on street clothes over them, and turn up the Tina.

As I loaded on three times the amount of makeup I’d wear on an everyday basis and calmed my shaking hands to apply false lashes, I’d hear Tina’s raspy voice tell me:

“I’m your private dancer! Dancer for money! Do what you want me to do!”

Yes, I knew this was a song about stripping. It was my own private joke. When I was in high school and college and told people I was a dancer, they always assumed I was classically trained, probably in ballet and jazz. (And they were correct.) As soon as I graduated, the new assumption was that I was a stripper. I’d always have to add the qualifier: “No, not that kind of dancer.” It pissed me off so much that I did the only thing I know how to do when faced with adversity: laugh.

I listened to Tina’s cheesiest (and most awesomest) song, channeling my inner Flashdance and psyching myself up for another round of rejections. “Private Dancer” got me through a lot of hard times. Those first few months of auditioning were just a series of NO NO NO THANKS BUT NO THANKS NO NO NO over and over until my self-worth was in the toilet. But you get better at auditioning. People start to recognize you. You make audition friends, who soon become your dance gig friends. And, if you’re really lucky, you become a dancer for money, doing what you want to do.

Dancing With My Son

Ever since my four-year-old son laid eyes on the Chandelier video, he’s been improv dancing in our living room trying to recreate the steps. He stands up on the couch, throws his hands out wide, and launches backwards. He runs over to the curtains and gathers them in his arms. He’s imitating the choreography performed by the talented Maddie Ziegler, plus adding a few extra kicks and rolls on the ground for good measure.

Watching him move around the room with total abandon, looking at the joy in his eyes, I know exactly how he feels. Maybe he’s just being a kid dancing around, as kids do. Or maybe he’s got the fire and just HAS to move—which is how I feel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week STILL, even though my body won’t let me.

Sometimes I can’t help myself and I get up off the couch to join him. We hold hands and twirl around in a circle. I reach my arms up to the ceiling and out to him, and he instinctually follows, running into my arms or circling around my legs making movements of his own. We take each others cues, leading and following, gently guiding one another through the song. Sometimes we collapse into fits of laughter. Sometimes we end the dance emotionally, clinging to one another as if we’ll never experience this moment again.

And that’s my big fear. Because it’s been years since I’ve experienced the joy of dance at my peak, when my body would listen to my mind’s commands, when it gave way to the downbeat, when I felt comfortable enough to not only follow steps with precise accuracy but also add my own style, to flow through the movements, extend them out to the last drop of the last note.

Now I hear a powerful song and I’m practically crawling out of my skin to dance to it the way I imagine, the way I once could. Sometimes I try, but I inevitably end up laying down on the ground, stretching, stretching, breathing through the pain. I want to scream, “It’s not fair!” but how can I when I was blessed with the ability to dance in the first place? When so many people never experience that joy at all? Aren’t I lucky to have even had those moments?

When I was 16 years old, I was preparing to dance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the Jazz Dance World Congress. I was more nervous than I’d ever been at any dance competition—and this was just a performance. But the ornate ceiling and the rows and rows of red velour seats stretched out before me, and I felt my heart beating in my eardrums. As the music started and the lights came up, I rose up out of my body and moved. There were nine other dancers on stage, but we danced as one, and as we flew across the stage, we floated with a power that made everything easy. The effort was gone and only the dancing remained. That was the purest joy I’ve ever felt in my life.

Until my son came into this world.lucas

Now I watch him dance and part of me wants to warn him: “It’ll break your heart, Lucas.” But as I see him spin and throw his head back and giggle, I think to myself, “I can’t take that away from him, if that’s what he wants.” (Who knows what he wants, he’s only four. But I can’t discount the possibility.) So for now, I dance with him. I dance until the pain becomes too much and he yanks at my arm and asks me to dance some more. I lay down on the ground to stretch, smile up at him, and say:

“I’m sorry, Lucas. Mama can’t dance anymore. It’s your turn.”

Why Dirty Dancing is the Best Dance Movie Ever

Dirty-dancing 2This perfect movie starts out with the perfect soundtrack that perfectly meshes two seemingly disparate, but upon closer look, rather parallel generations. Something about the late 80s meeting the early 60s feels so right. Both were precursors to major cultural upheavals. Both featured peppy, upbeat music. But one’s fashion sense was waaaaay better than the other’s. And throughout this movie, 80s fashion sensibility can’t help but sneak its way in. Case in point: the film starts with a classic 1960s car driving down a winding rural road in upstate New York while credits roll in a hot pink pizzazz font.

“That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn’t occur to me to mind.”

Baby: not conventionally attractive by Hollywood standards, but still beautiful in her own right. She has a slightly larger nose, unruly hair, and a somewhat homely fashion sense…she’s me. Awkward, gangly, fond of the chunky mom sweater. You wouldn’t see Jennifer Grey (as she was in 1987, pre-nose job) in a lead role in a movie today.

The owner of Kellerman’s gives a really sleazy speech to the staff about showing the female guests a good time, “even the dogs.” He tells the waitstaff to romance the girls, but warns the dancers “no funny business and keep your hands off!” I’m curious, why the distinction? Like, why is it cool for the waitstaff to fuck the girls, but the entertainment has to stay away? Is it because you put the waiters in white tuxes, but the dancers wear muscle tees? Are all the waiters going to Yale medical school? As a side note, I’d also like to resurrect “put your pickle on everybody’s plate” as a euphemism for being slutty.

Let’s all take a moment to reflect on how ridiculously hot Patrick Swayze is in this movie. The first five times I saw Dirty Dancing, I didn’t even notice the fantastic dancing or interesting plot. I just saw Patrick Swayze, my husband.

Patrick Swayze

Baby takes a walk with a tiny penis of a man. “Are you going to major in English?” he asks. This is a dick 1960s assumption about chicks in college by the dick grandson of the dick Kellerman’s owner. “No, economics of underdeveloped countries,” she answers. BAM, BITCH.

All of a sudden, a gorgeous blonde does a backbend to end all backbends and starts dancing the mambo with Johnny (Patrick Swayze). “Oh them? They’re here to keep the guests happy,” says dickface, rolling his eyes. You kidding? (Penny, the blonde, high kicks behind her head.) Penny and Johnny are insanely good dancers. People would pay good money to watch people this talented perform. These are not your background dancers who pump up the crowd at batmitvahs. (Penny throws her leg over Johnny’s shoulder and he drags her across the room in a split.) Later on, when I was 16 years old in the local theater production of Guys and Dolls, the choreographer made all of us dancers do this move in the Havana scene, and I cursed Dirty Dancing a little for making this a thing.

Baby walks into a sweaty den of dance-grinding and her world is turned upside down. I’m really curious: did people actually dance-fuck each other in the 1960s? I know all the dudes in the 90s/2000s tried to press their junk against me in the clubs, and even then it felt pretty ick. Maybe I’m just underestimating how sexually repressed people were in the early 60s, but I’m thinking if everyone flipped out over the Beatles daring to have bangs in 1964, then dry humping each other on the dance floor in 1963 might be a bit much.

Johnny and Penny are still dancing together, but they’re all “we’re just friends” even though they’ve got more sexual energy between them than anyone in the room. Also, they used to be a couple. But God help anyone who assumes they are still an item in this movie.

Baby then sees Johnny and says what any female coming face-to-face with that much hotness would say: “I carried a watermelon.” Yup. IN MY PANTS.

Baby and Johnny dance. She has no idea what she’s doing, but he’s patient and a good teacher and she starts to semi get the hang of it by the end and you can just tell that MAN he would be amazing in bed.

Cut to Baby and her sister trying on wigs. Baby walks up to Penny to give her a compliment on her beautiful dancing. Penny responds with an attitude-infused backstory about her mom kicking her out when she was 16 because no one asked. Then she rudely walks away. Oooooookay.

Sir Dickface McDickerson hounds Johnny about Penny’s whereabouts, because he obviously knows where she is every second of every day. Then, when Johnny says she’s taking a break, dick replies, “As long as it’s not an all-night break.” You mean, like sleeping? The entertainment staff is not allowed to sleep at Kellerman’s? Oh, and then he delivers an unbelievably patronizing speech to Baby and I keep wondering why she hasn’t punched him in his dickhole yet.

So Baby sees Penny curled up on the floor crying and after being treated like shit by her, she runs off and finds Penny’s friends to help. Baby is a way better person than me. I would have been “sucks to be you” and left it alone. Once Baby informs Johnny and his random cousin about Penny, instead of being all, “thanks, we’ll take it from here,” Johnny’s cousin just casually lets slip that Penny is knocked up. Guess who’s never telling Johnny’s cousin any of her secrets? This gal.

When Baby asks “what’s [Johnny] gonna do about it?” Johnny gets super defensive because she assumed, after seeing them dance together like a couple and knowing they used to be a couple, that it was possible they were sleeping together. Dude…take it easy. I think it’s a pretty natural conclusion to draw.

This next scene is what elevates Dirty Dancing from great dance movie to great movie, period. It was, and frankly still is, revolutionary. Penny is pregnant and instead of completely avoiding abortion as an option like they would in any movie in 2014, they discuss trying to find the funds to obtain an illegal abortion while Penny drinks a glass of whiskey. I’d just like to bring that point home once more. In 1987, nearly 30 years ago, we could include a scene like this in a major motion picture. We could have a woman chose to have an abortion, even an illegal one, and not have her wrack herself with guilt and regret and not have the world heap mountains of judgment on her. It was the move that was right for her. Period. And since Fox News wasn’t around then, no one flipped out about it. It was just part of the backstory.

Unfortunately, revolutionary act aside, Penny is still a raging bitch to Baby for no reason. She tells her to go back to her playpen when Baby tries to offer encouragement. At this point, I would TOTALLY have written this woman off and let her deal with her problems herself. But instead, Baby confronts Robbie, the rich baby daddy who won’t pony up the cash for the abortion. “You make me sick. Stay away from me, stay away from my sister, or I’ll have you fired.” Then she pours water on his crotch. This is the move she should have pulled on King Dickwad the Third.

Then, because Baby is trying to solve the problems of the world one abortion at a time, she asks her dad for the money (but won’t tell him why she needs it). This dude thinks his daughter is so great that he just hands over $250 (a very large sum in 1963) no questions asked. I promise you, as much as I will love and trust my son in the future, I will never hand over a huge chunk of money without knowing what it’s for. That’s just irresponsible parenting right there.

Now we come to the least believable storyline of the movie, which is unfortunately the entire impetus for, basically, the rest of the plot. Penny now has the money but can’t make the appointment for her abortion. I guess they can only do it on a Thursday, which is the night they do their act at the Sheldrick hotel, and if they cancel, they’d lose the entire season’s salary and next season’s gig. So, say someone came down with the flu…that’s it, you’re fired? Not just fired, but you lose the whole season’s salary and any future gigs? Not to say that it’s completely unbelievable, because I’ve read some horror stories about the ways in which hotel staff are horribly abused, but that seems a bit much, especially considering what awesome dancers they are.

So okay fine, they can’t cancel, but Johnny can still dance. Johnny and Penny run down this laundry list about how the other staff is working and they don’t have time to learn the routine, and this is where they get the brilliant idea to teach the girl who has zero dance experience the number. I’m just going to lay this plothole out there and let you do with it what you will: If the rest of the staff—who are trained dancers and could probably learn and practice this routine in far less time than someone with zero training and very little natural talent could—don’t have the time to learn the routine, HOW DOES JOHNNY HAVE THE TIME TO TEACH IT? That’s all I’m going to say.

Still, I’m not complaining, because watching Baby learn to dance and grow ever more confident in herself and her womanhood is the best part of this movie. I will take any excuse to watch Patrick Swayze dance, even if it’s from the knees down and I have to stare at terrible white Keds. And then this line happens:

“The steps aren’t enough. You have to feeeeeel the music. It’s a feeling, a heartbeat. Gah-gong. Gah-gong.” This scene still gives me butterflies.

Dirty Dancing sceneNext we have more gratuitous dance montages featuring more unfortunate 80s dancewear. Sorry Penny, your leotard is too high cut and your thick leopard print belt is a fashion era fail. Johnny doesn’t care. He makes Penny and Baby sexy dance together while he watches. Then we all get to witness Patrick Swayze shirtless and twisting, his pecs and abs and delts and spine and ribs all flexing and bulging and shifting, and he runs his hand down Baby’s side boob and the ladies of the 80s all do a collective shudder.

This whole time Baby is busting her tail, Johnny is giving her shit. Finally, she serves him up a little realness and tells him she’s doing all this to save his ass, and they go dance in the rain. But not before Johnny discovers he’s locked his keys in the car, so instead of calling Triple A (was there roadside assistance in the 60s?) or using a hanger to jimmy the lock or any other less destructive method to get the keys, he takes a tree stump and busts a hole in his car window (because he can afford to fix that no problem). Then Baby goes “you’re wild…you’re WILD!” And they go do a little barefoot soft-shoeing and ankle-rolling on a log.

Now it’s the night of the big performance and Baby’s hair and makeup make her look middle-aged (though the dress and heels are fabulous). I sort of love that they don’t nail the number. She screws up a couple times and doesn’t do the lift, but it’s not a total disaster. This is pretty realistic. Even as hard as they’ve been practicing, she’s never performed before and she is not a dancer, and she learned a fairly difficult routine in what, a week? Which begs the question: Why wouldn’t Johnny just change the choreography to make it easier? Why include moves she clearly couldn’t pull off (at least not just yet)? It’s not like the Sheldrick could fire him for taking out the lift.

We return to Kellerman’s to discover that Penny’s abortion has gone wrong. My 7-year-old self had no idea what was happening in these scenes, only that some doctor screwed up. Baby gets her dad, even though she knows she’ll be in deep trouble. Also, when Baby’s dad goes “who is responsible for this girl?” I sort of want to say, what do you mean by responsible? And when Johnny answers that he is, I sort of want to go, why would you say that? You flipped out on Baby for assuming you were the father, but then you tell the doctor  dad you’re the sleaze who got her pregnant and sent her to a quack? Or are you just saying you’re her caretaker in general? Confusing moment for me still, as an adult.

And then the first time Baby and Johnny Do It happens. This was THE sex scene of the 80s. Moms everywhere were fast-forwarding this part (even though we just watched a doctor treat a patient after a botched abortion), and when we finally sneak-watched it in the basement when mom was out, it made us feel adult feelings. Now I watch it and I’m like…we don’t see boob, we don’t see ass, we don’t see sex-like movements or hear sex-like grunting. It’s so very tame but still so very hot. Take note, Hollywood. Sometimes less is more.

There are so many good scenes in this movie…this blog is getting LONG. I haven’t even talked about the “Sylvia? Yes, Mickey!” scene where Dickliest Dickfart comes in to tell Johnny that this year he will dance the pachanga OR ELSE. Baby tells Johnny to fight the man, but right in the middle of her argument, she sees her dad walking by and makes Johnny duck and hide. Oh yes, girl. You’re a hypocrite.

After tapping some of that virgin ass some more, Johnny decides he’s all set with old vagina and turns down rich lady Vivian with the side banana clip hairdo (another 80s slip up). This will come back to bite him in his sweet, sweet ass. Even though rich side-pony lady goes and bangs Robbie later than night, she sees Baby exiting Johnny’s room and gets super jealous. As she balls up her nylons and puts them in her purse, she plots her revenge by casually accusing Johnny of stealing wallets from the guests.

Baby then has to awkwardly provide alibi for Johnny when he is falsely accused by Vivian by admitting she was sleeping with him in front of her dad. Dad is more angry about this than he was about his daughter taking $250 of his money so she could pay for another woman’s illegal abortion.

After all this goes down, Baby and her dad’s relationship is severely damaged. They have a heartbreaking talk (or rather, Baby talks while her father pretends to ignore her).

I’m sorry I lied to you. But you lied, too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m in this family too, and you can’t keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that aren’t what you thought, but if you love me, you have to love all the things about me. And I love you. And I’m sorry I let you down. I’m so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down, too.

Then you see the dad crumble.

After all the drama, they find out it’s the old couple the Schumachers who are guilty of stealing wallets. But Johnny gets fired anyway for banging a rich girl. Baby gets a taste of adulthood by losing a bit of her idealism. “You can’t win no matter what you do.” This lesson helps her hop off her white savior horse. But what’s beautiful about this movie is that it’s not just working class hero teaches rich girl about reality. It’s also smart, caring woman teaches a hardened dancer “from the streets” to have a little faith in humanity. No one is saving anyone. They are just helping each other grow up.

Final dance scene: Dad finally realizes what a douche Robbie is, Johnny gets redemption and…

NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER.

nobody puts baby in the corner

Baby just happens to be wearing the perfect footwear and dress for an impromptu dance number. And now she and Johnny execute the routine perfectly because it’s not just the steps, it’s the feeling! And then my favorite thing happens that musicals and dance movies are infamous for: random people get up and join in on the intricate choreography, stepping into perfect formation and nailing the movements in perfect synchronization. Nevermind that NO ONE AT KELLERMAN’S HAD TIME TO LEARN THIS ROUTINE, REMEMBER?!?! I don’t care, because Patrick Swayze does this incredible tuck jump off the stage, slides on his knees, throws his hair around a little, and grinds his hips before totally nailing the lift with Baby. Now all the problems at Kellerman’s are fixed! People can dirty dance in public! Douchebags get their comeuppance! Dads accept that their college-bound daughters are in love with guys making minimum wage! The entertainment staff is finally allowed to bang the guests!

But shhhhhh…because we have to have one more swoon-worthy moment with Patrick Swayze. As the music slows, he adorably mouths the words to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and crinkles his nose as he emphasizes “I owe it all to you!” No, Patrick Swayze. It is us who owe it all to you.

Taylor Swift’s New Video Reminds Me Why I Hate Her

Through no real fault of her own, Taylor Swift has always been one of those people who I have hated HARD. This is not, I realize, a healthy sentiment for an adult human being to have for another less-than-adult human being. Lord knows she’s accomplished way more than I have in my life, so she can Hater’s Gonna Hate at me all day, and I can only Kanye shrug back. I acknowledge that I myself am a pretty shitty person for having such venom for a person because why…she seems obnoxious? All these people claim she’s got such crazy talent and I just don’t see it? That doesn’t really justify HATING someone, but I do. I’m sorry.

Taylor Swift Jimmy Fallon ewStill, in recent months my icy Taylor Swift hate had begun to thaw. She did a pretty funny EW skit with Jimmy Fallon. She does cross-stitching. She’s pals with Ed Sheeran, who’s one of my favorite favorite Brits right now, right behind Sam Smith. She took an awesome girls-only vacation to Big Sur and posted tons of pictures of them dancing around in the trees like wood nymphs. I started to wonder if my Taylor Swift hate was a bit misplaced. (Though, trust me, I still very much dislike all of her music. There is not a single thing I like about any one of her songs. They are all terrible.)

But then she had to go and release this video and remind me why, oh yeah, I really can’t stand this girl.

First of all, kudos to Swift for using real professional dancers in her video. Also props for representing several different styles of dance, from ballet to hip hop to contemporary. (Though she’s got this super outdated Martha Graham version of what modern dance looks like, but okay, we’ll take it.) The thing is, I’m not sure I understand her point in using the dancers.

The prevailing lyric of “Shake It Off” is “the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” Okay. First of all, I can see why people call her a brilliant songwriter. Second of all, who are the dancers supposed to be? The haters?The popular people? Taylor Swift dresses herself up in dance attire and awkwardly attempts each of the styles. It (purposefully) does not go well. In doing so, she is essentially parodying the real dancers. Her tired “I’m awkward, like you!” schtick falls flat here because, by and large, dancers are a fairly misunderstood group while she, a pop star, is mostly revered.

Take, for example, the twerkers, who white pop stars just LOVE to use as props. At least Swift elevated twerking as a legitimate style by including it alongside the other dance genres. But then she had to go and crawl underneath the twerkers and gawk at their gyrating asses while wearing “ghetto gold.” Considering what’s going on in Ferguson right now, this seems more than a little insensitive.

Swift ends her video by bopping around with all her other awkwardly white (except for one token black!) friends like they’re at a pre-teen sleepover. Is this supposed to be Taylor Swift, the pop star, showing us how much she relates to us, the outsider plebs? Is this her “take down” of the professional dancers/haters?

And this is where I realized what really grinds my gears about Taylor Swift. For her entire career she’s been going, “Oh, I’m an outsider! I’m so misunderstood!”, but I’m not buying it. She was commercially successful at an age when most people were crying in the bathroom stall because their classmate pointed out their hideous zit was oozing in class. What makes you so unaccepted, Taylor? You’ve been one of the top-selling pop artists since you were 17 years old! Yes, you get a lot of hate thrown your way, and that has to be tough to take—especially as a young person. But don’t package it up as “I’m the awkward girl in the bleachers no one likes.” NOPE! You are not that girl. You are totally the fucking cheerleader who the boys all drool over.

And here’s another thing—it does not make you charming or endearing to don a tutu and pointe shoes, or (and God, the racial tone-deafness here is just frightening) hold a boom box and wear a trucker hat to show us that you can’t do what professional dancers train hard to do for decades. That just makes you NOT A PROFESSIONAL DANCER. And I’m all for having an awkward dance-off—me and my best friend practice giant pas de bourrees and jazz runs across our living rooms on the regular. But the context here is not just having a little fun—it’s showing us that it’s “cool” to be awkward by shitting on the people who are not.

Before people get all snippy at me (because this happened before with Free People Gate, and everyone was like…seriously, there are waaaaaay more important things to be mad about in the world), I am not really angry at this video. At the end of the day, it’s a piece of fluff and I’m SURE Swift didn’t think something this bubblegum would piss anyone off. But it’s annoying as shit, and it’s adding fuel to my already hotly-burning hatred for Taylor Swift.

Let me just end this by saying that I don’t think it’s very nice to say that you hate a person you’ve never met. I imagine being Taylor Swift and having monkeys like me flinging poo at her all day long, and it can’t be fun. I bet Taylor Swift the person is completely lovely. But Taylor Swift the pop star entity is grating on a level that leaves me seething. Her fake modesty act is such bullshit. “Oh my gosh, I won another award?! I can’t even believe it!” [insert Taylor Swift surprise face] Yes, yes you can, Taylor Swift. You won 16 other awards this year, and this is your fourth of the night.

How about you knock off the fake modesty, cut it out with the pretend-awkwardness, stop posturing that you are so misunderstood and just sing? The more you call attention to the haters, the more we’re going to just keep on hating. You be you, Taylor Swift. Stop feeding the trolls.

On Living With Chronic Back Pain

I shift in my chair uncomfortably. I’ve been staring at my computer screen for the last two hours and I’ve written and deleted and rewritten a passage that I’m still not satisfied with. Something is gnawing at me.

I crack my neck. Left, right, left again. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I roll my shoulders once, twice, three times. The gnawing persists. I tuck my left leg under my butt and purposefully hunch forward.

Another hour passes and I’ve moved on to work on a post for my company’s tech blog. Eight tabs are open in Chrome and the post is looking more hyperlinked than a Wiki page. I stand up and hop around lightly in my office. A familiar tingling has started down my right leg, and two of my toes feel as though they’re frozen over. I bring my left knee up to my stomach, then my right knee. I crack my neck. Left, right, left again.

pillsBack in my seat. Where was I? It takes a minute to reorient myself to my research. I shift on my haunches and stare at the clock. Is it time to take my pills yet? Not yet. You take those just before noon, with your lunch. I curse my former dance career for the first time of the day—the millionth time over the last nine years since I slammed into the floor during rehearsal and herniated my disc.

Some days are better than others. Some days, I’m laying on the floor in my living room with my feet on the couch and a softball under my spine, pressing on the muscles that have contracted themselves around my vertebrae. Other days the pain is red hot, flowing through my nerves like molten magma, flooding my brain with a miasma of distress.

But most days are like today—an exhausting exercise in discomfort. A series of neck rolls and twists and shifts and distractions. An undercurrent of fatigue and frustration. A dull, constant companion that, despite my efforts, I’m unable to shake.

If I’m sounding melodramatic, it’s because I’m meeting with my orthopedic physician on Thursday, and that never goes well. In the nine years since that fateful rehearsal that ended my dance career, I’ve seen a dozen doctors who’ve diagnosed me with sacroiliitis, facet syndrome, sciatica, and, wait for it, “just some pulled muscles.” I finally received a proper diagnosis of “lumbar disc herniation and disc degeneration” three years ago. Prior to that, I had gone to physical therapy twice, seen a chiropractor, gone through traction, been injected with cortisone shots, received epidural steroid injections, gotten deep tissue massages, went to reflexology, been prescribed anti-depressants (for the pain and for the misery caused by the pain), took anti-inflammatories, and finally landed on pain killers when, after everything else failed, my doctor just shrugged his shoulders, tossed the pills at me, and said, “There’s really not much we can do except manage the pain.”

Every time I go to the doctor about my chronic back pain I end up in tears. In one of my more recent visits, while newly pregnant with Lucas and wondering what I could do to “manage the pain” while refusing pain killers, my doctor wrote down the name of a book and told me to read it. The book contained step-by-step instructions for various back stretches.

A book.

So for this visit, I’m not expecting much. I’m steeling myself for his less-than-sympathetic advice, and for his likely suggestion to keep doing the same old shit I’ve been doing that has barely made a difference over nearly a decade. I’m hoping, after he runs all the requisite tests necessary to bleed my health insurance dry, he’ll sign me up for another epidural steroid injection—this time in the right location. (A previous doctor gave me an epidural injection in a different area of the spine based on an educated guess, having misread my MRI and having completely missed the herniated disc between L5 and S1. It did not go well.)

I’m not sure why I want this injection when I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work. Maybe I need to show myself that I’m still trying. Maybe I’m sick of staring at the clock and waiting, waiting, waiting until it’s appropriate-time-for-pills-o-clock. Maybe I’m disheartened that the effects of the pills seem to be waning, and I’m wondering how many of these things I’m going to have to pop in 30 years to make a dent in my pain.

Maybe I just want to make it through one day without squirming in my chair.

Why Center Stage Might Be the Best Worst Dance Movie Ever

Center StageBefore I officially begin this review, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Lindy West, my favoritest of Internet writers. She has something of a movie review series on Jezebel wherein she rewatches movie favorites and tears them to shreds. It makes me snort-laugh while I slap my knees (I’m a knee-slapper). This is an homage to that, only with classic dance movies. And I will begin with what is arguably one of the best.

We open on an audition scene, cut to the chase, these girls get the job and it’s on to the American Ballet Academy, the fictional feeder school for the American Ballet Company (Hollywood’s attempt at mirroring the real-life, uber-prestigious American Ballet Theatre). Zoe Saldana hangs out with her “ethnic” Queens friends and chain smokes while she ponders working at Hooters instead of taking the scholarship to ABA. 1. Do dancers still smoke? They sure as shit did in 2000, when this movie came out and when I was still dancing. Sure, cigarettes didn’t help so much with stamina, but they did help with dealing with stress and curbing the appetite and dealing with the stress of having to curb the appetite. 2. No one in their right mind with the technique and the ticket into ABA (ABT) would ever consider working at Hooters. No one trains a bajillion hours and puts herself through ballet auditions and gets into a top program…and goes to Hooters. This is the least plausible storyline in the entire movie.

However, I’ve got to bow down to the dance gods/casting directors of Center Stage. This movie features the best dance technique, outside of anything Baryshnikov does in White Knights, that has ever made a motion picture splash. Step Up? Yeah. Amazing hip hop. But the best breaker doesn’t have to train the way a serious principal ballerina does. He (generally) doesn’t need the years and years and years of obsessive striving for perfection and body mangling that a true ballerina needs. Ballet is just harder. I say this having studied both ballet and hip-hop. Other movies purporting to showcase ballet during this time, like the laughable Save the Last Dance, were just NO. I’m sorry, but Julia Stiles is maaaaybe passable as an actress. Prima ballerina, she is not. Her arabesque made me want to cat vomit into her shoes.

Moving on. Jonathan, the caterpillar-eyebrowed director of the ABA/ABC, gives students a little pep talk to start the program. He tells them: “Maybe you were the best dancer in your class. You received praise from your teachers, you won awards, you got into this program. You think, it’s only a matter of time before you are dancing before packed houses at Lincoln Center. For most of you, that will never happen. I don’t say this to be cruel, I say this to help you clarify your expectations.”

This speech is supposed to be mean. I think it’s merciful. The truth is, the chances of making it into one of the very best ballet companies in the world are very slim. I think it’s far less cruel to tell dancers the truth than it is to sell the idea that if they only work hard enough and love it enough, they can make it. Newsflash: that’s bullshit.

Also, to be clear to audiences, anyone good enough to get into the ABA (ABT) student program will likely have a long, happy career in dance. With ABT? Not guaranteed. But with other regional ballet companies, very likely.

Onward. We are introduced to one of the TWO ridiculously contrived “love triangle” subplots of this movie. Cooper Nielson, ballet’s bad boy and superstar, loses the girl to the thick-browed company director. Cooper Nielson is now bitter and out for ballet revenge. Cooper Nielson sounds like the name of my leather-jacket-wearing crush I wrote about in my 4th grade novel about a girl named Jordan Byer who…did something, I don’t remember.

Next, Center Stage does the requisite “I’m busting my ass in dance class” montage, only this time we can see that the ballet teachers are not pleased about the star of this movie, Jody Sawyer, and her shaky technique and un-ballet body. Those unfamiliar with ballet might not see what they are seeing: her turnout is about 2 degrees shy of perfect, so that means it sucks, and she has, I dunno, a big head? I never quite saw the body issues they were talking about, but this is Hollywood so Lord knows they can find something.

Still, Jody finds solace in the friendships she’s forming (awwww) and all the kids sneak out onto the empty Lincoln Center stage (get it? get it?) to pretend they are dancing to packed houses, even though Jonathan told them that was likely to never happen. This scene gets me right in the depths of my beating black heart because I’ve done that before. I stood on an empty Broadway stage and gestured at a pretend audience and imagined what it would be like to really be up there, and even just thinking about it sends chills up my spine into my head, out my face, down my arms, out my fingers, into my gut, shooting down my legs, and straight out my toes.

Anyway, the good feeling doesn’t last long because the friends go out one night to escape their dance troubles and…dance. They go to a salsa club and get sweaty and hook up with women three times their age and smoke and drink and regret it the next day, when they show up to class still loopy drunk from the night before and promptly get tossed out.

Would this ever happen in the real dance world? Yup. If you’re a serious dancer, chances are, you’ve done this. You dance so much that there will come a point when you make a stupid decision the night before class and then arrive totally unprepared. It’s the worst. Guess what? You will get thrown out. That’s real. You’ll also get thrown out just for being a jackass or unfocused. This happened to me twice in my life. It was embarrassing enough for it to never happen again.

Meanwhile, Jody is still being shit on for her crappy technique while Maureen, the princess of the program, gets all the eyeroll-inducing praise from the teachers, and you just want to punch her in her leotard crotch. So Jody once again escapes the confines of the ABA program to forget about her dance troubles and…dance. She arrives at a professional New York studio that is so trying to be Broadway Dance Center, but its attempts at showing “cool” jazz dancers are laughable. These guys are cool because they wear colored leotards and bandanas in their hair, okay? Also they do hitch-kicks.

Center Stage jazz class

Jody shows up to the jazz class and they immediately launch into a full choreographed routine. I have to shoot down this Hollywood dancer stereotype right now. No one knows the goddamn steps right away at the first shout of “5-6-7-8.” You need to break it down first, and it takes nearly an entire class to learn a combination. It moves fast, yes. At a professional studio, you better be able to pick up the steps lightning quick. But yeah, teacher doesn’t turn on the music and say “Go!” and students don’t immediately know half a song’s worth of choreography.

Jody ends up hooking up with bad boy Cooper Nielson. Mistaaaaaaake! After having stinky post dance class coitus, she goes full  stalker status, showing up backstage unannounced in the middle of one of his shows. Guess what? Dude needs to focus. He just finished doing about a million fouettes. He ain’t got time for you.

Meanwhile, Zoe Saldana’s character Eva has attitude problems (surprise). So her teacher gives her this speech about practicing at the barre: “If you come back here [the barre], you’ll be home.” This is why I’m not a ballet dancer. The barre is the fucking worst. Still, for some reason, I get a lump in my throat when I see Zoe Saldana at the barre at night.

Blah blah blah, there’s also a bulimic subplot (another surprise), and it’s Maureen, the princess with an uptight asshole-clenching stage mom (yet another surprise). Maureen’s got a pre-med boyfriend from Columbia who makes her realize she’s not just a ballet dancer, she’s a person. Thanks, boyfriend, for saving the day. You just ruined her ballet career.

So all the students are preparing for this showcase at the end of the year where the fate of their ballet futures will be determined. In a surprise twist, Maureen ditches the lead role in Jonathan’s ballet all “fuck you, Mom!” and Eva comes out and kills it in her place. (By the way, Eva was not the original understudy for this part. She learned an entirely different part for this showcase. But she magically knows all the right steps.) P.S. that would never work in real life. Her partner, having never worked with her, and her, having never practiced with him, would have ate shit come performance time. Also, company directors don’t like insolent fucks. So no, she’d never get hired.

But ladies and gentlemen, the very best part of this movie is Cooper Nielson’s “ballet for the people” to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” There is nothing so iconic as Jody pirouetting out of her white costume into that red tutu, and the mid-performance pointe-shoe change and insta-cornrows. (For the uninitiated, it takes a solid five minutes at break-neck speed to put on a pair of pointe shoes. Not two seconds.)  Here’s all you need to know about this scene: Cooper Nielson drives a motorcycle on stage. He has choreographed an on-the-nose story about his love triangle that involves him and another milquetoast ballet dude pulling Jody’s arms from opposite directions. I wonder what that’s a metaphor for? This is something I would have choreographed in my 7th grade talent show dreams. But it works. It’s fantasy ballet choreography porn at its finest.

Center Stage love triangle

So the movie ends with Maureen going to regular college, Jody getting a lead role in Cooper’s new ballet company, and most of the other dancers we’ve been following getting into the American Ballet Company, even though Jonathan told them that would never happen. Happily dancing ever after!