Making the Grades
Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) is a classic gentleman. He opens doors for women, never accepts a kind gesture without responding with "Thank you," and he teaches the fine art of ballroom dancing.
One evening, while riding home from work on his bicycle, Dulaine witnesses a young man vandalizing a car parked outside a high school. But instead of calling the police, Dulaine approaches the perpetrator with fatherly concern and attempts to offer the teenaged delinquent some guidance. Despite the fact his efforts are ignored, the well-intentioned citizen shows up at the school's office the next morning and tells Principal Augustine James (Alfre Woodard) he wants to teach ballroom dancing to her inner-city students. Recognizing the do-gooder won't take "no" for an answer, Augustine assigns him to the toughest class in the building.
Housed in an unused basement room, the detention group looks at the spit and polished would-be instructor in disbelief. Even more surprising, one of the pupils, a kid known as "Rock" (Rob Brown), is the same hoodlum who inspired Dulaine to take this step in the first place. Their introduction is no less awkward than the relationship between the master of the hardwood and the rest of the street-tough students he hopes to teach to dance like "kings and queens."
If you think you've heard something about ballroom dancing being used in the New York City public school system before, then you are likely remembering a documentary released in 2005. Mad Hot Ballroom looked at this unusual curriculum choice, which really is being offered to fifth-graders in the Big Apple. However, in this based-on-a-true-story adaptation, many liberties have been taken to make it more "accessible" (quoting the studio's promotional terminology).
The most significant of these is placing the program into a high school setting. Obviously, this will appeal to the more lucrative teenaged demographic, as well as provide some dramatic opportunities. In this case, plotlines deal with peer pressure (a major factor contributing to Rock's decision to bust up his principal's car), broken homes, and drugs. Hewn from rough backgrounds, the movie's characters use profanities, face difficult issues (such as selling stolen goods and parents eking out a living through prostitution), and find themselves in dangerous situations (one even includes threats with a gun). These incidents provide great contrast to the relatively placid existence Dulaine enjoys. Unfortunately, they also contribute to an overall sense of implausibility that permeates this feel-good film.
Although the script's Pollyanna outlook will likely make it an easy target for criticism from reviewers, there are still some important life messages taught here. For instance, in order to cooperate on the dance floor the teens need to learn to overcome both racial and personal prejudices, and develop respect (says Dulaine, "The man may be the one who leads, but the woman must allow him to do so"). Even with ample artistic license the movie does illustrate the positive influence that can be felt by many, if one person will just Take the Lead.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Take the Lead.
Do you think the arts play an important part in public school education? Is there any value in learning to dance if you have no plans of becoming a professional dancer? Are Mr. Dulaine’s attitudes toward women “old fashioned,” or do they still have a place in today’s society?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to Take the Lead.
To see how ballroom dancing has really affected New York City’s public schools, view Mad Hot Ballroom. Another teacher helps his inner-city students rise above their environment by teaching them the mysteries of math and calculus in the movie Stand and Deliver (also based on a true story).