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Betty Jo Tucker

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Take the Lead: Film Review
By Betty Jo Tucker
Last edited: Saturday, February 28, 2015
Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2015

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Betty Jo Tucker

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What makes a great teacher? A passion for what he or she is teaching, of course. But a great teacher also cares as much for the students as the subject. In "Take the Lead," Antonio Banderas’s ballroom dance instructor exemplifies such a teacher. He inspires his students to be better human beings while motivating them to learn dances they would ordinarily avoid like the plague.

Banderas fits the role of Pierre Dulaine, a former professional dancer turned ballroom instructor, as if he were born to play it. Oozing old-school gentility and grace, he commands the screen with elegant body language and an intensity that draws us to him immediately. (In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being an avid Banderas fan – so I might be a bit biased about his performance.)


After witnessing an act of violence by an inner-city high school student (Rob Brown), Dulaine decides to volunteer as a ballroom dance teacher at the school this student attends. When Dulaine makes his offer to no-nonsense Principal Augustine James (Alfre Woodard), she laughs and calls him a freak. However, because Augustine has no one to supervise detention that day, she lets Dulaine try handling it, betting he won’t return after meeting with the school’s worst students. She’s wrong.                         


Dulaine uses all his charm and skill to interest these hip-hopping teens in old-fashioned dances like the fox trot, waltz, rumba and tango. Remember, this was before the tremendous success of TV’s Dancing with the Stars, so Dulaine’s task seemed an impossible dream to everyone but him. Watching this courtly gentleman win over  the skeptical students, who refer to themselves as “rejects,” should be required viewing for teacher training classes. “I don’t see any rejects here,” he tells them. “All I see is a room full of choices.”


Through his dance instruction, Dulaine also imparts lessons about courtesy, respect, discipline, trust and self-esteem. But he learns something new himself -- the exuberant current dance forms his students already know so well. And he’s smart enough to incorporate these moves into his Dancing Classroom. As Dulaine works with his inner-city class, he gets to know each student and finds out how difficult their lives are. Some have survived a gang war; others are living with parents who suffer from substance abuse problems or worse.


Yes, we’ve seen this story many times before in movies like Coach Carter and Dangerous Minds -- but Take the Lead tells it with a flair all its own. Highlights include a sexy tango featuring Banderas and a gorgeous dancer who “drops in” on Dulaine’s class one day and a final dance competition where Dulaine’s students strut their stuff. This terrific film is a wonderful fictionalized tribute to real-life Pierre Dulaine, the man responsible for introducing his popular Dancing Classrooms program into the New York City public schools.

Take the Lead
-- with its marvelous Banderas performance -- shows how one dedicated teacher can make a difference in this crazy world of ours.


(Released by New Line Home Video and rated “PG-13” for thematic material, language and some violence.)

Review also posted at ReelTalk Movie Reviews. 



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Reviewed by Ronald Hull 3/1/2015
I missed this one… But I see that you didn't. I like Banderas, too, and I love dancing. Especially Patrick Swayze, Kevin Bacon in Footloose, and Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. My former girlfriend is a professional dancer who has taught many and I keep urging her to try out for America's Got Talent for her rendition of Tina Turner's, Proud Mary.

In high school during my senior year, the noon hour, after a quick lunch, allowed men to use the gym Mondays and Wednesdays, while the women used the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays were coed and set aside for dance classes. Our teacher was a local celebrity DJ who had had many occupations in his long career, one of which was an Arthur Murray dance instructor. I am forever grateful for those classic dances that I learned in those Friday afternoons, dancing with all the best looking girls in our school. The guys who didn't join in, didn't know what they were missing.


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