Center Stage is a film, released in 2000, that follows the lives of a group of dancers in their first year at the American Ballet Academy in New York City. As well as the fact it features one of the most iconic finale dance numbers ever (in my opinion), there are many other reasons why it is one of my favourites. The ballet school year culminates in a showcase from which only three students will be chosen to join the company. I will not spoil the outcome of this decision in case you decide to watch it, however, you can imagine the nerves involved in such a rollercoaster of a competitive process. The film is a mixture of teenage romance and drama combined with genuine balletic artistry, technique and growth.
Now, I am not declaring Center Stage to be the best film in terms of production, acting skills or plot (as there are more than enough predictable clichés piled into this 90 minutes of entertainment to last a lifetime- I am a lover of rom-com and chick-flick style films and Center Stage definitely fits within this category). I am saying, though, that the film does a good job of depicting the highs and the lows of life at ballet school. I feel that other ballet films, such as Black Swan, emphasise the negative and overly damaging elements of a ballerina’s career. They depict the industry’s competitiveness at the detriment of the dancers’ sanity and happiness and portray ballet to be an incredibly dark industry. As someone who has danced throughout my childhood I recognise there are elements of this, however, it is equally important to recognise the highs as well as the lows. What Center Stage does well is it depicts the joys of ballet alongside the struggle. It depicts the camaraderie between those who attend classes together and the true friendships established over this time, it shows the feelings of pure elation when you finally perfect a combination of steps and it captures the sense of gratitude of when you are able to dance the role you have always wanted. It is a feel-good film and a relatable one as I distinctly remember each of these emotions.
Similarly, the film is relatable due to the diversity of representation within the main group of dancers. The group includes a gay, black boy in a predominantly white school and white industry, a girl who got into the school on a scholarship as her family did not have enough money to pay for her fees to attend, a girl who suffers with an eating disorder and a girl who has a difficult relationship with her overbearing mother. Equally, the main girl, Jodie, constantly struggles to fit in as she is told she is not good enough to be in the class with the others even though she has enough passion to supply the whole group. I feel that almost anyone watching could relate to one of these characters in some way. They are a normal group of teenagers, brought together by the common ground of ballet, and they navigate the twists and turns of teenage life together through the avenue of ballet school in New York City. Even if you are not someone who has experience of ballet, the film represents the struggles of growing up and trying to achieve your goals.
Each of the characters has a different path. Some follow a more traditional journey towards success in their career and are ecstatic to be rewarded with a place within the ballet company, whilst others define what success means to them on their own terms. Without spoiling too much of the plot, one girl decides that ballet does not make her happy anymore and decides to step away from it in order to find what truly brings her joy. This shows strength as she is brave enough to stand up to many people in order to do what is best for herself, her health and her future. I think it is great in terms of showing young people what it is like to work for something as well as showing how things do not always go to plan and that that is okay. It tackles each of these themes in a subtle and easy-to-watch way, communicating some important messages alongside some beautiful ballet dances, 2000’s fashion, and teenage love triangles.
If you have not seen Center Stage and you enjoy the likes of Fame, 10 Things I Hate About You or Clueless, I would definitely recommend it. If it doesn’t inspire you to want to attend ballet school in New York, then it is at least guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Girl Museum Inc.