Strictly Ballroom

8 August 2016

A sense of belonging is a critical component of one’s being. One person’s sense and perception of belonging is not that of another. With perceptions regularly changing over time, it is this complexity of variation and the contradictory nature of belonging that is illustrated and explored though Baz Luhrmann’s film ‘Strictly Ballroom’.

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A depiction is created throughout the film, with Luhrmann using the main character and protagonist Scott Hastings and his individuality conflicting with the need to conform within the world of ballroom dancing and a juxtaposition of two very different cultures of which are both are conveyed to the viewers on numerous accounts in the film. In Strictly Ballroom individuality and freedom is constrained by a need to conform to the glamorised and fake world of ballroom dancing.

This underpins Baz Luhrmann’s film from start to end with Scott Hastings desire to dance his own steps. This is first seen during the opening scene where Scott is dancing in the Waratah state Championship with dance partner Liz Holt where he breaks out into performing his own moves which are noticeably different to the typical dance steps of a ballroom routine. Les Kendall, who is Scott’s dancing coach, refers to his steps as ‘his own flashy crowd pleasing steps’.

The use of ‘own’ in this dialogue demonstrates that Scott’s moves aren’t accepted in the ballroom dancing world. Luhrmann’s use of costuming in this scene is a representation of the glittery and glamorised ballroom world. The bright yellow material with lots of gold sequins suggests that the couple’s performance was ‘golden’, however the transition from a tracking camera movement to close ups and slow motion action shots, emphasises Scott’s individual talent. Scott’s individuality isolates him not only from the ballroom dancing world but his family too.

Scott’s mum, Shirley Hastings’s who is living vicariously though Scott, creates a central notion of him not fitting into the embellished ballroom world though her strong statement of ‘He started doing his own thing, improvising not always strictly ballroom’. Baz Luhrmann is demonstrating the non – existent room for individuality and the importance of conforming within the ballroom dancing federation. Despite been unencouraged from all angles of his life, Scott is guided by his new dance partner, Fran and her faith to push himself and break free from the rules of ballroom.

Ironically her ‘To live in fear is like a life half lived’ is suggesting to Scott to not live his life with regrets and to take risks and opportunities. However this separates him further from the garnished world resulting in him looking for acceptance. In Baz Luhrmann’s film, ‘Strictly Ballroom’, a deliberate juxtaposition is used to compare two very different cultures which both demonstrate the complexity of belonging though alternate measures. The contrasting effect of Scott’s glamorised life in the ballroom world compared to Fran’s traditional Spanish culture is striking to viewers.

As Scott continues to break away from the conformed ballroom world, he slowly finds a sense of freedom, acceptance and unity with Fran’s stereotypically traditional family. Despite Fran’s world been an impoverished environment, Rico, Fran’s father illustrates warmth towards Scott though his challenge of ‘Come on. Show us your Paso Doble. Show me your Paso Doble. ’ The emphasis is put on the word yours as it suggests Scott is an outsider. During this scene, close up camera shots allegorize Scott’s realisation of dancing from the heart in comparison to the restrictive ballroom dancing world.

Ironically learning a dance from Fran’s family who is considered to be on the outer of the glamorised world, Scott’s matriarchal family is torn over his loss of interest in winning the Pan Pacific Grand Prix. A drastic change in attitude and fear of making a similar mistake to his dad, Doug, Scott decides to dance the Latin finals with Fran. This is supported with Doug’s ‘it was the dancing that mattered. We had the chance but we were scare. We walked away. We lived our lives in fear’ echoing helping Scott to express his individuality and pursue his dream of dancing his own steps as an individual.

Though this scene Baz Luhrmann unveils the true corrupt ballroom world when Barry Fife tries to eliminate Scott and Fran for there individuality but at the same time been caught cheating the strict guidelines of the ballroom federation. This illustrates a contrast between the two cultures with the federation clearly not taking the dancers best interest to heart as it is all about winning where as Fran’s culture embraces the passion and dances from the heart with winning been the last thing they think about.

In Baz Luhrmann’s film Strictly Ballroom, characters such as Scott Hastings are significantly impacted by the barriers associated with the ballroom dancing world’s control of individuality and requirement to conform before they are able to feel accepted. This is also demonstrated though Fran and her struggle to meet the standards of the glamorized world compared to her depleted world. Strictly Ballroom analyses and examines the complexity of variation and the contradictory nature of belonging though individualism and a contradiction of cultures.

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