Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

A couple of years ago, the New Jersey Nets (a pro basketball team for the non-sporty of you) decided to add a new dance team to their roster, which already included the standard dance squad, an acrobatic cheerleading team, and a kid’s team. This one would be made up entirely of dancers no younger than 60. Gotta Dance chronicles the team’s progress from try-outs to final performance, and it’s immensely sweet and entertaining. Though the film (rather like the dancers) has an occasionally amateurish quality to it—the pacing is inconsistent, the dance sequences themselves are given short shrift—it’s refreshingly open-hearted. In addition to all the dancing and training, we get background and details about some of the team members, a strikingly diverse bunch with little in common besides being over 60 and willing to risk looking a fool in front of 20,000 people. Peggy is a Park Avenue botox diva whose husband left her for a Playboy bunny. Fanny is an 84-year-old Filipino immigrant who lived in the jungle for 3 years to escape the Japanese invasion, has been married 55 years, and dresses up in poodle skirts to go line dancing at the local Grand Buffet. Betsy, a somewhat dowdy kindergarten teacher, invents a fully formed alter ego named Betty who thinks the squad’s uniforms aren’t sexy enough and is appointed captain of the team. And so on.

But documentaries about old people and their myriad pasts are a dime a dozen, as are movies about people who overcome some x-sized odds to succeed at something unlikely. What makes this movie particularly sweet is that there’s a striking absence of American Idol-type gawking and judgment. It is, admittedly, pretty funny to watch a bunch of seniors dancing hip hop (a fact which escapes none of the seniors), but both the film and, to their credit, the squad’s choreographers refuse to exploit that as a one-joke gimmick. Director Dori Berinstein clearly deeply admires these folks for their willingness to do something creative, publically, despite the great likelihood that they’ll be ridiculed by at least some. For a shining example of exactly not that kind of accepting take, look at the madness surrounding Susan Boyle. Yes, the consensus is that she’s genuinely talented (which, duh), but there’s also this incredulous quality to all the attention—can you believe that anyone that old and unattractive could possibly have anything to offer creatively?? There’s none of that in Gotta Dance. The squad members manage to be both self-aware and articulate about their limitations without sounding whiny or overly self-absorbed (no mean trick, and I’m tempted to credit Berinstein and her editor for some of that). The choreographers emphasize again and again that they expect the squad to dance well, not just to mug for the audience. And Berinstein manages to avoid letting the film get too preachy or condescending (as in, respect your elders, people, they aren’t the pointless has-beens you think they are!), nor does she suggest (thank god) that they’re all great artists just because they’re trying something new or working really hard, or because they’re older than you or whatever. Though these guys ain’t bad at all, no one’s trying to pretend they can hold a candle, skill-wise, to the professional squad, or even the kids’ squad. Instead, the movie just takes some time in to admire some folks who thought it’d be fun to try dancing, because why not. It’s darned refreshing.

{Gotta Dance screens next at the Kirkland Performance Center on June 3 at 4:30pm}